University Tips Blog
Image of different option choices

by Jon Cheek


posted on 6 Feb '20

How to support students to make post-16 option choices with university in mind – my top tips for schools

The UniTasterDays National Review of University Guidance survey revealed that most schools are starting their university engagement by the end of Year 9. This is likely to include students receiving advice on the importance of making post-16 option choices with one eye on university.

It is important to remember that if students wish to progress to higher education, they need to understand that the subjects they choose in their post-16 options can have an impact on the degree they may wish to study in the future.

Advice on university-ready option choices may come during Year 10 or towards the start of Year 11. I support a lot of schools on this very subject – and my top three tips are below for schools advising students on this directly.

1: If students know the university course they want to study – encourage them to cross-check university entry requirements

If a student knows the course they want to study at university, they should look at university entry requirements for that subject. This would avoid the potential for students to reach what I call the university subject dead end where the university course they aspire to study requires a post-16 subject they have not studied. Students should not assume university entry is all about grades. Choosing the right post-16 subjects can be as important as getting good grades for those applying to competitive courses.

Some degrees – for example, certain science or language degrees, may have specific subject requirements. Unless pupils meet those requirements, they will not be able to take the course. This may be because they need prior knowledge, experience or skills learned from previous study. Without the right subjects, they risk closing off the path they wish to follow.

For example… Physiotherapy usually needs Biology, Economics usually needs Maths, Medicine will need Biology and Chemistry (and perhaps Physics and/Maths too), Engineering usually needs Maths, and then dependant on the strand of Engineering maybe Physics/Chemistry too.

Image of a teacher supporting students with option choices

2: If a student doesn’t know the university course they are considering, encourage them to pick subjects which will open doors rather than close them.

The advice for students unsure of their future university choices, but wishing to keep as many university subject choices available as possible, was previously to try and consider picking some facilitating subjects – these are subjects which were seen to open doors to university.

The Russell Group of universities previously helped with this by publishing a list of facilitating subjects (English Literature, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Geography, History and Languages). This list is no longer provided, instead, the Russell Group have revamped their Informing Choices website. This is far more useful.

The guidance on the Informed Choices website is aimed at Year 10 and 11 pupils to help them make informed decisions about what subjects to study at sixth form or college. Users can see which subjects are most useful for the degrees they are interested in, as well as test numerous A-Level combinations to see which degrees then open up. This allows pupils to build up a personalised picture of the post-16 subjects that may be best for them, whether they already know which degree they want to study or not. You can find an introduction to this resource on page 42 of the UniTasterDays Teachers’ Guide to University.

3: Grades are very important

I would also encourage students to select subjects they are good at too. The comparison I always use is that if you buy a car, the more money you have available, the wider your choice. University works in the same way – the better your grades, the more university doors will be open to you in the future. That is not to say all the top ranked universities (who often have the highest entry requirements) will be the best choice for all students – as they won’t be. That is a different blog subject altogether, but top grades do mean that students will have more and more university choices available by both institution (there is 150+ universities in the UK alone) offering over 40,000 degree subject choices too!

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