Our Favourite Tips for Choosing A-Levels

Education Special: What's next after GCSEs? We take a look at A-Levels, finding out how they work, their benefits, and how you can help your child decide which A-Level subjects to take

Highly valued by universities and employers, AS and A-Levels are the traditional qualifications offered by schools and colleges for 16-19 year olds.

They're an academic progression from GCSEs, and as careers advice website Careerpilot says:

"To study A-Levels you will need to have done well in your GCSEs. Most schools and colleges will expect you to have gained A*-C grades in your GCSEs."

If your child fits into these categories, A-Levels may provide the chance for them to explore their GCSE subjects in greater depth. Alternatively, your child may choose to study a new subject that's only available to study from A-Level onwards.

In any case, A-Levels are a potential minefield to navigate! We asked the pros at Careerpilot for their advice, and they've given us the complete lowdown.

Everything you need to know about A-Levels

AS and A-Level qualifications

A full A-Level qualification is achieved after two years of study. In the first year of study your child will gain AS qualifications, which are qualifications in their own right. Exams normally take place in June of Year 12 or Year 13.

With AS Levels qualifications, students could continue their education or training with an Apprenticeship or a vocational qualification. However, most students do choose to continue with their A-Level studies into the second year.

Both universities and employers really value A-Level qualifications, but there are other pathways to both work and university - perhaps through a vocational qualification like a BTEC, or via an Apprenticeship.

How many A-Levels subjects should your child take?

Most students take four or five subjects in Year 12. After AS Level exams, they drop one or two subjects, and continue the other three through Year 13.

Generally speaking - though some exceptions do apply - the GCSE grades you achieve determine the number of AS subjects taken; it's far better for your child to get three good grades at A-Level than stretch themselves too far and produce lower exam grades.

A-Level teaching and assessment

A-Levels are graded A*-E, and these are all regarded as pass grades and gain points towards university entrance. Some employers now specify a required number of UCAS points for their jobs

To see just how many points your child could gain, look at the Tariff tables on the UCAS website. If their qualification doesn't appear, contact the Admissions department at your child's desired university to check whether it will be considered.

Things to consider when choosing A-Level subjects

A-Levels are harder than GCSEs (this shouldn't come as a surprise!) as they are the next step up. When your child is thinking about taking A-Levels, Careerpilot suggests reminding them to:

"Choose subjects that they'll enjoy, believe they'll do well in, and that will help them get to where they want to go in the future."

If your child has a specific degree or career in mind

They should check to see if they'll need to take specific A-Level subjects; this can be done by checking job profiles on The National Careers Service to find out more.

If your child has a specific degree course in mind, they need to check the entry requirements. Some university courses are very specific about the A-Level subjects required - other degree subjects are very flexible. Look up entry requirements on the UCAS website or on individual university websites.

If your child doesn't have a specific degree or career in mind

If your child has no idea about their choice of career or choice of degree subject at this stage (many students are in this position!), then make sure they choose a combination of subjects that will keep their preferred options open.

Some A-Level subjects are regarded by virtually all universities as being acceptable. These are sometimes known as 'facilitating' subjects - such as Maths, English, Physics, Biology or Chemistry, History, Geography or a language.

Think carefully about subjects

Encourage your child not to be afraid to email the universities during Year 11 to ask for their advice about the subjects required for a course of interest - either email the Admissions Tutor or the Course Tutor.

If your child is unsure of their career choice or degree choice, then they need to think carefully about their combination of subjects. It's hard to pick up three or four new subjects that you've never studied before!

More information and career advice

Careerpilot provides free careers information for teenagers - and their parents - so they know all their choices at ages 14, 16 and 18 - including to degree level and information on job sectors.

Careerpilot has also developed an app to enable young people to explore choices and plan their future. Keep an eye out for the site's 'Parents' Zone', coming soon, which will be tailored to all the things parents want to know.