Choosing your A-levels
An S-cool guide to choosing your A-levels, still in school now - but what's next?
So you may be at the beginning of the GCSE journey or even a good way through it, yet it probably still seems like the rest of your life is a long way away. Isn't all of this pressure to make the right choices a little unnecessary? Well it's time to think differently because it won't be long before you have to decide the next step.
This is not easy time! There are so many factors to consider which will have important repercussions later on. What you choose to do can determine so much; if you decide to pursue A-level subjects that you don't know much about you could be at serious risk of not doing as well. Eventually, this might determine the university you get in to. And, if you choose to do subjects without having done any real research then you may well be setting yourself up for studying in qualifications that certain universities turn their noses up at! This can be scarily common with people applying for Oxford and Cambridge who study things like sport or media studies and realize too late that their qualifications won't be considered.
It is so important to think about the next step before you take that deep breath and go for it. What comes to mind when you think of your preferred route through education and careers? How will employers or universities respond to the choices you have made?
So what are the options?
Most people will be taking A-Levels after GCSEs, whether in schools or colleges, as this is the most widely available option and offers more choices afterwards. You will have a choice of how many to take and a minority will feel confident enough to take four or five. But remember that this should only be considered if you feel you're up to it - at the end of the day you will be still be judged by the subjects you choose and the grades you get. Quantity does not necessarily mean quality!
There are some careers that will only be open to people who have A-levels followed by degrees. If your dream is to pursue a certain professional career, such as being a doctor, then this will be the only option for you. Even if you choose not to enter into the world of work through university, A-Levels will still offer you a lot more options in terms of getting you on to school leavers' training contracts. These could allow you to gain a professional qualification such as the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants).
But don't fret - if academic study isn't your strong point, there are still a lot of options to consider. You might want to do an apprenticeship or choose from the great variety of other similar qualifications. These are good if you want to earn as you learn since you would work as an apprentice whilst studying. The good thing about these is that they can give you a good practical knowledge as well as a qualification at the end which you can take away to other similar roles. The downside is that, once you're qualified, it's likely that you will have to continue to work in a similar field - but if you have already set your heart on a career then this shouldn't stop you.
Of course there are also the Diplomas that have been introduced this year, offering a mixture of academic study and practical experience. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where the Diploma is offered and it sounds like the sort of qualification you want to do then your first step should be to speak to your teacher or careers advisor about your best options.
Whatever qualification you settle on, it is vital that you choose subjects in which you feel you will achieve the best grades. Think of the subjects you enjoy the
most, as these are the ones in which you will be more likely to succeed. The higher the grades you get, the more options you will have whatever you choose to do.
The key is that if you have a career path planned, you should check the best routes into it before making your final decisions.
Career? What career?
If you are completely in the dark as to your future aspirations, don't worry too much. You would be surprised by the number of students who feel same; after all, you've had enough to think about just getting this far!
Without a defined career path, your choices after compulsory education will be more of a case of keeping your options open. It is surprising how many career options remain available to people despite them not following the A-Levels route. Journalists can be from any discipline; an A-level or degree may well put them at the top of the pile but will by no means be the only route in. Similarly, not all social workers were once sociology students.
Your decision will require basic common sense. If you have a feeling that you would prefer a career in the arts then perhaps English or a similar subject would be more favourably regarded by your future employer. A computer science job will be more challenging for an arts graduate, and hence employers in this field are likely to disregard your three 'A's at French, German and Ancient History, and your double first in Classical Languages. These points should be obvious.
Even if you think you have already decided on a career as a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker, keeping flexibility for the future may still be a good idea.
Resources available to you
Your school should have a teacher dedicated to careers advice who you will be able to speak to about your interests and aspirations. They will not only be able to give you helpful hints, but should also be able to introduce you to help that is available in the form of careers brochures, job descriptions or even contact with employers.
Your local library will contain a whole section dedicated to careers information. Of course if the library isn't your thing, there is always the internet. Most large firms have a recruitment section on their website. Even if you do not want to work for these companies, you will be able to glean useful insights into the sort of person required for the career you are researching.
You may also want to refer to professional bodies or societies for further guidance. These are surprisingly many and varied; did you know that there is an Institute of Acoustics (a good reference for future physicists)? A comprehensive list of such bodies should be available in your local library.
All these sources of information will give useful insight into not only the right qualifications to choose, but also detailed information concerning what the career involves and what your prospects may be.