Subject choice FAQ’s

Here are some common queries relating to subject choice.

Q. I want to study medicine. Which subjects should I do at A level/Higher?

A. Entry requirements vary, but you usually need at least two sciences/maths. Most medical schools specify chemistry and/or biology. If you only take one of these subjects, many medical schools will require you to have the other at AS-level/Higher. The other subjects offered can usually be in any academic discipline.

Q. There seem to be lots of engineering degree specialities so which are the best subjects to choose?

A. You’re right – there are many engineering degree courses to choose from. You may need certain post-16 subjects for the more specialised engineering courses – chemistry and maths for chemical engineering, and a design and technology subject and maths for design engineering, for instance. However, for most HE courses in engineering, the best subjects you can choose are maths and physics or another science or technology-based subject. Engineering itself can give you a good background, but is unlikely to be a required subject for degree course entry.

Q. Do I always have to take a subject at A level/Higher in order to study it in HE?

A. Although there are always exceptions, for many broader science subjects, you don’t need to have studied them before. For example, for entry to HE courses in:

  • Economics, maths may be more important than economics
  • Computer science, maths may be required or preferred; you don’t necessarily need computing or ICT
  • Psychology, you don’t need any particular A levels/Highers
  • Geology or environmental science, subjects like geography, maths, chemistry and physics are useful

Q. Which subjects should I take for the health-related jobs, such as radiography or occupational therapy?

A. This depends on the actual career – post-16 subject requirements for radiography may be very different from occupational therapy. Look on the NHS Careers website for more information.

Q. I’m interested in taking a work-related course. How acceptable are these?

A. If you want to continue your learning in the workplace (e.g. by undertaking technician-level training), a vocational course post-16, such as a BTEC National, applied A level, apprenticeship or Diploma, can be useful. If you’re thinking about HE, check with individual universities about their acceptability. For more vocational HE subjects and courses, such as foundation degrees, a work-related course would give you a good grounding, but for others, there may be concern about the depth of scientific or mathematical study, so you may be asked for an accompanying A level/Higher (e.g. in maths).

Q. I want to get a job with training. Is it worth taking A levels/Highers or equivalent?

A. There are fewer opportunities if you don’t have an HE qualification, but, occasionally, training positions become available (e.g. through Apprenticeships – although many people start these at the age of 16) if you have taken science or maths subjects post-16. These include training for actuarial work, technician-level work in engineering or research labs, airline pilot training, architectural technology, forensic science (assistant work), clinical physiology and careers in financial services.

Q. Is it worth taking further maths?

A. Further maths allows you to study maths in greater depth post-16 than ordinary maths. This would provide useful preparation for study at university for maths or other science-related courses. Most HE courses do not specify further maths as an entry requirement, but many welcome it and you may be given preferential offers as a result.