Deciding which GCSE and Level 3 qualifications to choose before studying at university

Compulsory subjects
Some GCSE subjects are part of the UK National Curriculum, which means you must study these as part of your Secondary Education.
The compulsory GCSE subjects in the UK are:

  • English Language
  • Mathematics
  • Science (For Science, you may have the option to do a Combined Science course which is worth 2 GCSEs or you might be able to choose separate sciences, where you’ll study Biology, Chemistry, and Physics separately and will achieve 3 GCSEs.)

    For the rest of your GCSEs, you’ll probably be given a choice of a range of optional subjects to take depending on the specialisms of your school. To find out more about what subjects you will have to choose from you can speak with your teacher.

Find out what subjects your school has to offer

Make sure you know what GCSE subjects you can choose from at your school. This information will usually be shared with you by your teachers, or you might be able to find it on your school website.

All schools have different ways of organising GCSE subjects. In many cases, you would be asked to pick the block that includes a selection of subjects you’d like to choose. Once you decided on that, you will have a much better idea about what your interests are so that you can choose the specific subjects.

Choosing the subjects is a big decision because it can help you to study related subjects at Level 3 (such as college) and Higher Education, so it is good to consider your strengths, interests, and what you would like to do in the future.

Your teachers will be able to help you with this and will also be able to point you in the right direction of helpful resources such as BBC Bitesize, which is also great for revision.


Attend an Options Evening for more advice

Your school may be running an ‘Options Evening’ or similar events throughout the year. Colleges also do this for Level 3 subjects where you can attend with a parent or guardian.

Both are really helpful events to attend because they usually have taster sessions where you can get to know more about the subject and ask any questions you have about why you might study a subject and what exciting careers it can lead to.

If you can, make sure you go along or check out online resources about it on the school, sixth form, or college website.  

Talk to your friends and family 

Your parents/carers and teachers are really helpful people to speak to about your choices.
Even if you’re sure that you know exactly what you’d like to choose, it’s still useful to talk
your options through. Even if you are shy, try to think of some questions that can help you with your decisions. You could ask your teacher at the end of a class, write them down to give them to your teacher, email them, or get the support of your parent or carer to ask. Remember that teachers are very knowledgeable about this and are there to help you with this decision too, especially if you are wondering what options could lead to different careers.

If you have older siblings or other family members that you think you’d like to talk to as well then make sure to do so, they have likely chosen their options before and should be able to help you to understand how your strengths and interests would be good for certain subjects or careers. 

The more people you speak to, the more informed your decision will be.

Analyse your strengths to choose a subject that you enjoy 

Remember, you’re going to have to put a lot of effort into any GCSE subjects you choose, so enjoying what you’re doing and knowing what opportunities it is creating for your future is important. That's why you should act early to gain as much understanding as you can about the subject area before choosing. This way you will be confident with your choices since it can be difficult to change a choice once you have started.

You’ll be studying these subjects for 2 or 3 years so it’s really, really important that you’re interested in the subjects and enjoy learning about them.


Think about how your subject links to your future

If you think you know what you’d like to do in the future, then it’s a good idea to do a bit of research before you pick your GCSE options. For example, if you’re hoping to go to university and study something like medicine, then it’s a good idea to do a triple science GCSE (Biology, Chemistry, Physics). This is because some sixth forms and colleges prefer for you to have studied Triple Science if you’d like to do a science subject at A-Level. For Medicine, you usually need to have an A-Level in Chemistry and an A-level in one other Science/Mathematics subject - so Triple Science GCSE would be a good foundation for this.

There are other ways to gain experiences in similar subjects, such as summer schools or extra classes that may be available in or out of school, but your GCSEs will give a good indication about your interests and ability to study and work at higher levels, whether it's academically, vocationally, or anything else!

Remember it is your choice

Lots of your friends are likely to be making their GCSE options choices at this time too. It's
important to remember that you and your friends will all want to do your best in your GCSEs and that each of you has a choice.

Just because a friend is choosing an option doesn't mean that you have to, if you choose a different subject, you will still see them or make new friends studying your option. Ask more questions to make sure the option is what you really want to do.

Ask Lots of Questions 

If you’re still unsure about something to do with your GCSE choices, then make sure you ask for help. Don’t stop asking questions until you’re happy you have all of the information you need to make a decision.

If there are any support services in school that you have access to discuss this impartially you can try there too.

You can also chat with our staff directly every Wednesday from 2 pm - 4 pm and periodically throughout the working week.

Alternatively, chat with our current students who will be able to share this information with you and any other course-related queries.

Or book onto one of our Open Days or Course Advice Days to find out more and speak with the team.

What is #UniAsItShouldBe? A University that puts its students and their needs first through a supportive learning environment. Welcome to the University of Bolton.