How to Advise Students About A-Level Choices
At various points in their young lives, your students will have to make difficult decisions, most notably the choices surrounding A-levels. An exceptionally unenviable position, especially with the university application process’s ongoing deadlines and persistent pressures.
As they come to deal with this, they will face the frustrating paradox of the decision being impactful on a much larger swathe of their life, yet at the same time having so much less experience through which to frame the decision. This is where teachers come in, but are you really that much better equipped? You have subject knowledge, and a plentiful understanding of pedagogy, and your own life experience of course. But even with all that, there is only going to be so much that you can realistically offer, especially in the vastly changing world we find ourselves living in.
Instead, maybe you need to change angles. Advising a student on which courses they should take could well be a lost cause, but this could be a ‘give a man a fish vs teach a man to fish’ scenario. Maybe instead of trying to choose the A-level subjects for a student, you should help them in the choosing process itself. The following six strategies give a broad swathe of the ways in which you might want to choose something as important and impactful as your A-Levels.
This is the simplest and potentially most obvious way to make this kind of decision. What subjects do you do best in? What subjects are they most likely to get the very best possible grades in when in two years they come to take the A-Level exams? To get the best handle on whether this is a good idea, suggest your students go and talk to the apt teachers, or research past exam material. In some subjects the GCSE and A-Level syllabuses work very differently, so high performance in one might not correlate to the same results in the other. A clear understanding of the jump over can be very useful if performance is the key measure for the A-Level choice process.
The question “what do you want to be when you get older” has doubtless haunted many students, especially as the prospect of leaving school approaches. But for those with clearer ideas about the answer, the research they need to do for their A-levels choices becomes much clearer. Services like Glass Door and the National Careers Service make it very clear and open the kinds of qualifications and academic backgrounds all sorts of roles require. If your student knows what they want to do, these kinds of services, along with some well-placed questions to some of the larger employers in the apt field, will be the best way to go forward.
If a student has a very particular higher education institution they want to get into, the course of action becomes clear. The student’s process of picking their A-level subjects becomes researching the course and the university in question, maybe inquiring after alumni, or reading up on industry press coverage of the institution in question. When it coms to elite universities, such as those belonging to the Russell Group or the Ivy League, assistance from specialist consultants could be very useful indeed.
There are certain subjects that come together and compliment one another, either with their study styles, their content, or just the form of the teaching approaches applied by the syllabuses. History, religious studies, philosophy and sociology may well connect with the way their essay questions involve presenting arguments and invite analysis. Physics and maths are natural partners due to the former’s heavy use of the latter, and while computer science and modern languages may not seem like a natural pairing, the reality is that syntax and linguistics are key elements of both. If a student wants to get the most out of their studies in a way that could see them overlapping into a collective skill set, thinking in this manner could prove very useful.
Equally however there are plenty of students who would very much like to take the opposing approach. If they are uncertain about a direction, or unclear on a career path, they may want to sample from a varied and even seemingly disparate selection of subjects. English Literature, tech studies, Mandarin, and chemistry could be a real chopping and changing drive when it comes to switching gears in a student’s brain, but maybe that is exactly the kind of thing they need to keep themselves going along the best way in their studies.
The long-standing optimistic brand of advice “do what you love” has become overused well beyond the point of cliché, and is now aggressively advancing on the territory of the axiom. Despite this, however, there is still some underlying truth going on here. A subject or field that a student enjoys is one they will work harder in, and one they can actually see themselves doing in the long term. With this kind of fuel, a student can go much further than they otherwise might. Such advice needs some light tempering with practicality, but at the end of the day, too much optimism is vastly preferable to too little.
As a teacher, your pastoral responsibilities and your educational duties will naturally sometimes blur. Nowhere does this happen more potently than in the case of subject choices and advice on the university application process. With care and apt concern, you can make a student’s anxiety in this situation that little bit more bearable.