020 7267 0975
  • Home
  • 24 Haverstock Hill
  • Chalk Farm
  • London
  • NW3 2BQ

Choosing Courses

1. Which courses should I choose?

Choose courses that:

  • You know you can do well in
  • You enjoy- these are likely to lead you on to university courses and careers that you enjoy!
  • Reflect your interests and personal qualities
  • Help you learn in the best way for you- courses that suit your learning style
  • Will help keep your options open in the future.

Courses in subjects that are new to you:

It is always possible to take new subjects that you have never studied before, such as Geography A’level even if you didn’t study it at GCSE or Economics, which was not offered at KS4. If you are thinking of doing this

  • it is important that you find out about the course and make sure you will enjoy it.
  • you need to speak to the subject teacher and look at text books to find out what topics you will be studying
  • talk to students currently on the course to find out more about it

2. Qualifications:

A levels, BTECs and Diplomas explained!

Gaining qualifications are a very important part of the next two years. However, what you learn is just as important. The value of examination results lies in their power to tell other people, like employers or colleges, what subjects you have studied and the level you have reached in them.

There are a lot of different qualifications you can get. The main ones that you will come across are A levels, BTECs and Diplomas.

A levels

All A level courses are level 3 courses. A full A level or A2 generally takes two years to complete. Most students take AS levels after their first year, and then go on to do A2 levels in their second year. 
AS levels are worth half an A level or A2 level.

Russell group universities will expect students to have a full A level or A2 in at least three subjects. Two out of three of these A levels should be in traditional subjects. They also like students to have AS levels in one or two other subjects. For example, in their first year a Russell group student might take AS levels in English Literature, English Language, History, Geography and Media and be part of the Creative and Media Academy. The following year they might go on to take English Literature, English Language and Media studies A2 as they hope to go to Durham to study English.

A level examinations test memory and organisation. They also test your understanding, your ability to pose and solve problems, listening, and other practical skills, often through course work.  

Applied A levels

Applied A levels are A levels that relate more to the world of work and have a more practical element. Applied A levels are considered to be ‘non-traditional’ by many institutions, so students should be cautious about taking too many Applied A levels if they are trying to get into some of the most academic universities.


BTECS and Diplomas test how you would apply your learning in the context of work. These qualifications are just as valuable as A’levels but can be taken at a range of levels. You can take BTECs at level 1, 2 or 3, whereas A’levels are always level 3 courses.

Again, the advice might be that you should do no more than one as these are considered to be ‘non traditional’ by many top universities.
If you are considering a variety of university institution and courses, it may be appropriate for you to do a spread of non-traditional courses.

For more information about diplomas, go to: www.direct.gov.uk/en/ EducationAndLearning/ QualificationsExplained/DG_10039020


Diplomas can be taken at a range of levels, level 1,2 or 3. They offer students a mixture of classroom based learning along with practical work and work experience.

For more information about diplomas, go to: yp.direct.gov.uk/ diplomas/ ?pro=diplomas or yp.direct.gov.uk/diplomas/what_is_a_diploma/

3. Traditional versus non traditional subjects at A level

There has been a lot of debate in the press about the ‘value’ of certain subjects when compared to others. You may be aiming for admission into one of the country’s top universities. This might include applying to Oxford or Cambridge (known as Oxbridge) or other Russell group universities. Russell group universities are considered by some to be the top 20 universities in the UK and include universities such as Bristol, Leeds, LSE, Warwick, Edinburgh, Imperial and Kings. Many of these top universities expect applicants to have taken A’levels in at least two ‘traditional’ subjects.  Listed on the next page are subjects that are generally considered to be ‘traditional’ and ‘non traditional.’
It is important that you bare this in mind when you are making your choices.

Universities like a breadth of subjects and often appreciate students that do AS levels or enrichment activities that offer students broader knowledge of the world. 

‘Traditional’ subjects         

Classics *
Computing *
English Language
English Literature
Fine Art
Further Maths

‘Non traditional’ subjects

Accounting *
Applied Business*
BTEC Art and design 
Business studies
Communication studies *
Dance *
Product Design
Drama and theatre studies
Film studies
Financial Services
Graphic Art
Health and social care
Food Technology
ICT Diploma (level 3)*
Leisure studies *
Media studies
Music technology
Physical education
Sports studies *
Travel and tourism

* = subjects not offered at Haverstock due to low demand

4. Good subject combinations

It is important that you choose a combination of subjects that go well together and that they will get you onto the courses you want to do. For example, if you are hoping to do Medicine you will need to take two out of Maths, Physics, Biology, Chemistry.

5. What else should I consider?

If you:

  • have a general idea of the broad area of work you’d like to go into, find out what courses it is recommended that you take.
  • if have an interest in Maths, Business and Economics, or are thinking about going into careers such as business, finance, accountancy, marketing, PR & corporate hospitality or business consultancy you should definitely consider becoming part of the Finance Careers Academy (see information later in this booklet)
  • if you are considering a future in journalism, broadcasting or production (radio, tv, film), directing, design, media, advertising, publishing, theatre or writing you should seriously consider becoming part of the Creative and Media Careers Academy (see information later in this booklet)
  • are considering applying to Oxford, Cambridge or other Russell group universities, look into what standards you need to meet and consider not only which courses to take but what enrichment and extra curricular activities you are doing
  • don’t have any clear ideas about what career or course you are aiming for, don’t worry – choose a range of courses that you enjoy and will do well in, and that keep your options open