telegraph.co.uktelegraph.co.uk - August 13 view article

Students choosing A-levels in career specific subjects are less attractive to elite universities, new study suggests

Students choosing A-levels in career-specific subjects they intend to study at university are putting themselves at a disadvantage compared to peers who opt for more traditional courses, a new study suggests.

Whilst sixth formers planning on entering higher education often choose similar A-levels in a bid to bolster their university applications, they would be better off choosing core subjects such as maths, science and history.

The research, carried out by the Institute of Education, University College London, found that the Russell Group, comprised of Britain’s 24 leading universities including Oxford and Cambridge, tend to favour students with a grounding in the fundamentals.

The author of the study, Catherine Dilnot, found that students applying to elite institutions in the fields of law, accounting and business were less likely to be accepted if they studied the subject at secondary.

Instead, the survey--which monitored the admissions outcomes of 475,000 English students attending British universities between 2010-12--found that top universities appear to prioritise those taking the sciences, maths or languages.

The findings appear to fly in the face of conventional thinking among some educationalists, with many students advised by their parents and teachers to choose subjects they intend to pursue either at university or as a career later down the line.

However, others  have long cautioned against the dangers of tailoring education to improve career prospects.

They include Mary Curnock Cook, former head of Ucas, who warned earlier this year that middle class parents had become “utilitarian” and “too fixated” with employment post-education.

In order to make the most of their schooling, Ms Curnock Cook said that students should take up subjects that “sets your brain on fire… something that motivates you, that gets you really engaged with the subject.”

Her comments are supported by advice distributed by the Russell Group, which identifies a list of “facilitating subjects” that are often preferred, or required, in order to be considered for undergraduate study.

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Meanwhile, Oxford advises law applicants that whilst it accepts all A-level subjects with the exception of General Studies, candidates should demonstrate that they are are “appropriately numerate”, and for those wishing to study abroad, they should possess a qualification in a modern language.

This is echoed by the study’s conclusions, which found that students taking A-level law, for example, were more likely to attend a lower-ranked university than those who studied subjects on the list.

"A student who aspires to a career in a professional services firm might easily think that taking an A-level in law, accounting or business would be helpful in achieving that goal,” Ms Dilnot adds.

"But it may be that choosing these subjects is actually unhelpful in high status university admission.

"Students may be unconcerned about the ranking of university they attend. But given that 42 per cent of those reading law have law A-level...the results described here are likely to be counter-intuitive for these students."

"So an apparently sensible subject choice for students wishing to prepare for a professional career may, in fact, put them at a disadvantage."

Commenting on the study, Jessica Cole, head of policy at the Russell Group, said that it was of “vital” importance” that students were given the correct information and advice when making choices at A-level.

"Choosing facilitating subjects allows students to keep their options open, meaning they have a wider choice of degree courses,” she added.

“Our advice is that if students don't know what they want to study at university then it's a really good rule of thumb that taking two facilitating subjects will keep a wide range of degree courses open.

"Students who aren't sure which subjects they need to take for a specific course should be able find information in university prospectuses, or they can speak to the university directly who will be able to help them."

telegraph.co.uktelegraph.co.uk - August 13 view article