Helping your child choose their A levels

Posted November 26, 2019

When your child comes to choose their A Levels, it’s an exciting time for them and you. With the potential impact it can have on their future though, it can be a pretty daunting process too. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to what your teen should consider when making their decisions, in the short-term and the long-term. 

 In this guide we’ll cover…

  1. Things to think about for the short-term
  2. Things to think about for the next couple of years
  3. Things to think about for the long-term
  4. Degree courses and their required A levels
  5. Common jobs sectors and their requirements, skills & typical salaries
  6. Stories from students
  7. Mentorship with MyTutor
  8. Useful links

1. Things to think about for the short-term

It is important to remember that your child will be studying these subjects for the next two years. A levels are more difficult than GCSEs: they are broader, deeper and require more independent work than the same subjects at Key Stage 4.

So encourage your child to choose subjects they enjoy (and not just the subjects their friends are taking). This is an opportunity for them to control their education for the next two years. They should be excited for what they choose to do next!

Action Points:

✅ What GCSE subjects has your child enjoyed the most?
✅ Is your child interested in taking up a new subject, such as politics or psychology? Help them research it in advance.
✅ Try a taster course, talk to someone who is already studying it or read the curriculum to make sure it’s the right choice for them.

Top Tip 💡 Due to changes to A levels, the curriculum of many subjects has altered. Make sure you and your child are up-to-date with the current specifications by looking on the exam board website to ensure you are both familiar with the new course design.

2. Things to think about for the next couple of years

A levels influence the next steps of your child’s education: the subjects they choose and the grades they achieve will determine the universities they can apply to and the courses they can study. Spend some time thinking and talking about how your child’s choices might fit into a longer-term plan.

If your child knows exactly what they want to do then this is quite straightforward. If they’re 100% focussed on a life in the arts or sciences, for example, then it can be totally fine for them to specialise in that way now. If they don’t have a clear idea yet (like most 16-year-olds!), then it’s a good idea to keep a few different paths open with their subject choices. 

Action Points:

If your child knows what they want to study at university…

✅ Research the requirements for the course they want to do 
✅ Check whether or not GCSE results are taken into account for their desired university course

And if they don’t know…

✅ Have a talk with them and their teachers (if you can) to get a clear idea of what they’re passionate about and what they’re best at
✅ Try to choose a range of subjects that keeps their options open

Scottish Highers & Welsh Baccalaureate

Scottish students normally study four or five Highers in their 5th year (S5) of secondary school. Depending on those results, students can then take Advanced Highers or additional Highers in their final year.

The minimum requirement for university is normally four Highers, but more competitive universities might ask for five Highers from S5 as well as Advanced Highers in S6. 

The Welsh Baccalaureate Core is a programme of activities and projects that some Welsh students take alongside their A-levels. It is officially worth 120 UCAS points, equivalent to an A grade at A-level. That said, not all universities necessarily include the Welsh Bac. in their entry requirements, so do double check university websites.

3. Things to think about for the long-term

In many ways, A levels also determine your child’s future career. It doesn’t set the rest of their life in stone, but it can definitely set them down a particular path for at least the next few years. If they’ve already got their heart set on a particular dream job or degree course, then they should check that the subjects they are considering choosing are compatible.

Action Points:

✅ Use the National Careers Service to check the requirements for your child’s ideal profession
✅ Use the Prospects careers site to see what jobs lead on from your child’s ideal degree

Even if your child has a long-term plan in mind, it’s worth bearing in mind that industries are continually changing and new jobs are being created all the time. So even if they’re absolutely sure about what they want to do now, this might change in a few years.

It’s also much more normal than it used to be for young people to change specialism and jobs more than once in their career. Millennials are doing shorter terms at each company they work with and changing careers more often than previous generations, and workplaces have adapted to this too. So unless you have a crystal ball, don’t feel too much pressure on yourself or your child to perfectly predict what they’ll end up doing in ten years time. As long as they choose subjects they enjoy and are good at now, they’ll end up doing what they love in the long-term too.

4. Degree courses and their required A levels

If your teen knows what degree they’d like to study at university, or would like to research a few ideas and see what the A Level requirements are, they can do that by looking up their degree on this search tool. As well as checking what essential requirements there are, they’ll get an idea of which subjects might make good supporting A levels.

5. Common employment sectors and their requirements, skills and typical salaries

There are thousands of different jobs out there, many that your child might never have even heard of before. To see a wide range of jobs that are out there at the moment, it’s worth your child having a look at the National Careers Service. 

There are also lots of jobs that require specific training and qualifications. If your child is considering a career in Medicine, Teaching or Law then now is a good time to double check what A level requirements there might be and what the additional training might entail. We’ve outlined some common jobs below, along with their typical requirements, skills and salaries.

Secondary School Teacher 👩🏻‍🏫

What they do: Teach a specific subject to students aged 11-16 and upwards in a secondary school.

Salary range: £22,500 – £66,750

Skills:

  • Ability to motivate and inspire
  • Ability to use IT
  • Organisation and planning
  • Creativity
  • Ability to manage challenging behaviour

Requirements:

  • GCSEs A*-C (or grade 4) in English and maths, or equivalent qualifications
  • Passes in literacy and numeracy tests
  • School experience
  • A degree in your subject (or an approximating field) OR you will need to take an alternative course that gives you QTS (qualified teaching status)

Barrister 👨🏽‍⚖️

What they do: Give specialist legal advice and represent clients in court and at tribunals.

Salary range: £12,000 – £210,000

Skills:

  • Ability to analyse large amounts of information
  • Research and writing skills
  • A logical, methodical approach
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Confidence with public speaking

Requirements:

  • Law degree OR a degree followed by a postgraduate
  • Common Professional Examination or Graduate Diploma in Law
    Work-based training and practical experience (‘pupillage’)

Software Developer 👩🏻‍💻

What they do: Design, build and test computer systems (also known as coding)

Salary range: £22,000 – £70,000+

Requirements:

A foundation degree, HND or degree in computing or a related subject

Skills:

  • Ability to manage projects
  • Ability to understand technical plans

General Practitioner (GP) 👨🏼‍⚕️

What they do: Provide medical services to people in the community

Salary range: £26,350 – £84,500

Requirements:

  • A degree in Medicine (5 years)
  • 2-year foundation course of general training
  • Specialist training in General Practice (an intense and varied programme run by the NHS)

Skills:

  • Leadership and management
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Practical ability to examine patients and perform procedures
  • Ability to communicate well
  • Ability to inspire trust and confidence

6. Stories from students

At MyTutor, our tutors are all students at top UK universities. We asked a couple of our top tutors if they have any advice for teens choosing their A Levels now – here’s what they had to say!

Maddy M., Science tutor with MyTutor

Thinking back to when I took my A-Levels (Psychology, Biology and Sociology) I definitely empathise with the strain that students are put under. MyTutor would have been so beneficial to me during my time ahead of Sixth Form as being able to talk through the content of a subject with someone is invaluable.

Charlotte W., Maths tutor with MyTutor

I am currently in my final year studying Geography at the University of Exeter and I absolutely love it. I didn’t always know what I wanted to do though. I even picked my A Levels (Maths, Product Design, Geography and Physics) for a career in Architecture!” However, after studying Geography in more detail at A Level this inspired me to learn more about the subject. I found A Levels very difficult at first as they are such a step up from GCSEs which I didn’t expect at the time so it was quite a shock. As time went on, things got easier as you really learn how you work best and how to manage your time. Some good advice would be: do your own thing as not everyone works in the same way.

7. Mentorship with MyTutor

A big benefit of our tutors being uni students is that they’re in the perfect position to advise teens making big decisions about their subject choices, uni choices and career paths. Here are some things that our tutors can cover in lessons…

  • What it’s like to study a particular degree
  • What their university is like – from the professors to the societies
  • Which A Level subjects can be relevant to particular career paths

If you’d like to book a free 15-minute meeting with one (or a few) of our tutors to help your child with their A Level and uni choices, feel free to get in touch. Just give us a call on 0203 773 6020 or email support@mytutor.co.uk and one of our Tutor Experts will help you find the perfect person. 

8. Useful links

UCAS (for official information and advice about applying for UK universities)

The Student Room (for advice from experts and university students on choosing subjects and applying for university)

UK exam boards (for details about curriculums):

AQA 

Pearson

OCR

SQA (for Scottish qualifications)

WJEC (for Welsh Baccalaureate) 

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