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Welsh Government

Choosing subjects and courses at 16

With the Government confirming that GCSEs and A Levels exams will not take place this year due to Covid-19, it's important for you to know of the latest updates from key organisations. Check out:
- The college website you applied to for the latest updates on their plans for admissions
- Qualifications Wales for coronavirus updates
- Student Finance Wales

Thinking about what A Levels, BTECs or other courses to take after your GCSEs? We can help you with this important decision.

The subjects and courses you choose now are very important for:

  • Career choice -  Certain careers may need certain subjects. Some jobs and careers may need you to get specific vocational qualifications like Art and Design. Universities may want good grades in particular subjects. Some examples:

    • Maths and Physics are often essential for many engineering courses
    • Biology is almost always required to study a Physiotherapy degree
    • Some universities have a preferred list of A level subjects for general admission as well as specific requirements for particular courses
    • Critical Thinking or General Studies are often not accepted by universities as one of your A level grades
    • But remember! Many universities will consider your application whatever subjects you choose
  • Employers - may also want good grades in preferred subjects. For example, Science, Maths or Construction may be preferred for a level 4 Construction Apprenticeship
  • UCAS Points & Grades - What are they? Good grades in A level or equivalent subjects can earn you more UCAS points needed for entry to many university courses

If you are still unsure about what to do after GCSEs explore your Options at 16.

BTECs or A levels? Academic or Vocational subjects? Which to choose? 

A levels are usually exam-focused in many academic and well established subjects. You can also do A levels in newer, vocational subjects like Media Studies. You can usually study between 1 and 3 different A level subjects which will allow you to study a range of subjects, particularly useful if you want to keep your options open.

BTECs and other vocational courses tend to be coursework based and more career-focused. Subjects like Sport, Engineering or Hospitality. Depending on the level you are studying, the qualification may be equivalent to 1, 2 or even 3 A levels. BTECs and other vocational qualifications are useful if you have a particular career in mind.

Find out more about Qualifications.

Facilitating subjects  – what are they? Why should I take them?

  • English Literature
  • Maths and Further Maths
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Geography
  • History
  • Modern and Classical Languages

The facilitating subjects are the subjects most often needed for entry to degree courses. The Russell Group of universities call them ‘facilitating subjects’ because choosing them can widen your options for university study.

This does not mean that subjects not listed as a ‘facilitating subject’ have less value. They are just less often required for general entry to degree courses.  Some non-facilitating subjects are specifically required for certain courses, like Welsh, Economics and Religious Studies.


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I don't know what to do. How do I keep my options open?"

You might still be unsure on a career and that’s fine.  Keep your options open:

  • Choose facilitating subjects. If you want to go to university but not sure what you want to study, a good rule of thumb is to take two facilitating subjects to keep your options open
  • Keep a balance. Having a good balance of subjects will keep your options open if you do not have a career in mind

    What next?

    There is a lot to think about:

    • Research your subject options and your career ideas
    • Take time to think through your decision
    • Listen to the advice of your teachers, careers advisers and parents, but make your own decision
    • Make a short list
    • You may hear lots of different ideas and opinions. Check the facts out for yourself

    See also

    How to choose the right subject or course

    Get help with choosing subjects and courses. Find out the entry requirements, jobs of the future, career ideas, and your learning style.

    Find out about qualifications

    Understand qualification levels and why they matter. Learn about qualifications, including NVQs, GCSEs, BTECs, A levels, degrees and HNDs.

    Started a new course? – 6 questions you might be asking

    Get help and advice to navigate through the start of a new course, dealing with nerves and pressures, finances, and planning your time.

    Options at 16

    Access information about your career options after your GCSE's.