Frequently Asked Questions

Below are a series of frequently asked questions on pre- and post-16 subject choices. For further information, see Informed Choices or the websites of individual universities.

Why have you updated Informed Choices?

This is the third edition of Informed Choices. It has been updated to:

  1. Make sure information in the guide reflects recent changes in UK qualifications and exams systems.
  2. Ensure the advice is still in line with the current admissions practices at our universities. This is especially important because four new members have joined the Russell Group since the previous version of informed choices was published.
  3. Take on board comments and suggestions about earlier versions so that Informed Choices is as helpful as possible.

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Do I need to have passed the English Baccalaureate to get into a Russell Group university?

The English Baccalaureate includes academic subjects highly valued by the Russell Group but it is not required for entry to any Russell Group university. With the exception of English and Maths, and in a few cases a Modern Foreign Language, most universities have no universal entry requirements in terms of specific GCSE subjects. Subject choice is ultimately much more important at the post-16 or A-level stage.

However, entrance requirements do vary between universities and courses (for example Medicine courses sometimes require certain subjects and grades at GCSE). Therefore, we strongly encourage students to check universities’ websites for further information published by individual institutions.

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Is it true that a Modern Foreign Language at GCSE or equivalent is required for entry to Russell Group universities?

Our institutions very much value language skills but there is no universal entry requirement that students must have studied a Modern Foreign Language at GCSE or equivalent. However, there may be course-specific requirements, so we strongly encourage students to check universities’ websites for details of these.

Currently University College London (UCL) is the only Russell Group institution to require a Modern Language GCSE at grade C or above for all of its programmes. However if you did not take a Modern Foreign Language GCSE, or if you got a D grade or below you can still apply to any UCL degree programme, and it won’t negatively affect your application. You will not be rejected just because you don’t have it but you will need to complete a short course in a modern foreign language, either on a summer school or in the first year of your degree, to catch up.

Please see http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/undergraduate-study/application-and-entry/ug-requirements for more details.

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How do Russell Group universities view particular subjects at advanced level?

The Russell Group has published Informed Choices, a guide for students making decisions about their education after the age of 16.

Some courses at universities require applicants to have studied certain subjects already, so students should be clear how their choices at school and college may close off certain subjects at university. Within Informed Choices we list subjects that are usually considered by universities to be helpful and/or required at advanced level (e.g. A-level) for particular courses.

Some advanced level subjects are more frequently required for entry to degree courses than others. We call these subjects ‘facilitating’ because choosing them at advanced level leaves open a wide range of options for university study. These facilitating subjects include: Maths and further maths; Physics; Biology; Chemistry; History; Geography; Modern and classical languages; English Literature.

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What subjects can give me the most options?

Many courses at university level build on knowledge or skills which you will gain while still at school. Where this is the case, universities need to make sure that all the students they admit have prepared themselves in the best way to cope with their chosen course. For this reason, some university courses may require you to have studied a specific subject prior to entry, others may not. For example, if you have not studied certain science subjects there will be a number of degree subjects you will be unable to study. However, there are some subjects that are required more often than others. These subjects are sometimes referred to as facilitating subjects. Choosing facilitating subjects therefore leaves open a wide range of courses to you for study at university.

Subjects that can be viewed as facilitating subjects: Maths and further maths; Physics; Biology; Chemistry; History; Geography; Modern and classical languages; English Literature.

You will probably have many other subjects open to you at advanced level but, unlike the facilitating subjects listed above, they are unlikely to be required for any particular degree course and so choosing them doesn’t increase your options at university.

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Why isn't my subject listed as a facilitating subject?

If a particular subject is not listed as a facilitating subject, this is because it is not generally required for entry onto degree courses. This classification does not imply any judgement about the importance of the subject per se; it merely reflects typical university entrance requirements.

There are some advanced level subjects which provide suitable preparation for entry to university generally, but which we do not include within the facilitating subjects, because there are relatively few degree programmes where an advanced level qualification in these subjects would be a requirement for entry. Examples of such subjects include Economics, Religious Studies and Welsh.

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I want to study Music or Art at university but Art and Music A levels are not facilitating subjects. Should I study them at A-level?

If you have talent in music and want to study it at university it is important that you take Music to advanced level (along with performance grades).

If you have a talent in art you may well be thinking about an art foundation course as a precursor to a degree programme. You might want to consider an advanced level qualification in either Art or Art and Design. Either of these will provide you with the basis for your portfolio, which you will need to gain entry to an art foundation course.

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Do I need to study three facilitating subjects at A-level to go to a Russell Group university?

It depends. If you know what you want to study then check the entrance requirements. Some Medicine, Veterinary Science and certain engineering courses may, for example, require three specific subjects. But for most other courses you won’t necessarily need to have studied three facilitating subjects at A-level. Some courses require one or two facilitating subjects, whilst for other courses there are no specific subject requirements. Some institutions publish a list of preferred A-level subjects which are acceptable for general admission, as well as specific requirements for individual courses. If you don’t know what you want to study then it’s a really good rule of thumb that taking two facilitating subjects will keep a wide range of degree courses open to you.

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English is listed as a facilitating subject, does this mean English Literature, Language, or Language and Literature?

In our list of facilitating subjects, English refers to English Literature. However, individual universities will have their own admissions policies, and entrance requirements will vary by courses within institutions. In general, English Literature or a combined English Language and Literature course is required at advanced level for entry to study English at university. A few universities will also accept English Language without a Literature qualification.

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Can you tell me what subjects I need to study for X course?

The Russell Group does not administer or coordinate admissions policies for its members, and each university and each course will have its own entry requirements. We strongly advise you to check the guidance given by institutions very carefully. This information should be easily accessible on universities’ websites or in their prospectuses. Further information can be found on the UCAS website.

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What subjects do you think are 'hard' or 'soft'?

The Russell Group does not define subjects in this way.

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Can I count subjects like Critical Thinking, Citizenship Studies and/or General Studies?

These subjects are usually better taken only as ‘extra’ subjects, rather than being one of the advanced level subjects on which your university application relies. For more information check entry requirements.

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If I choose to study a BTEC can I still go to a Russell Group university?

Some of our universities consider vocational qualifications like BTECs in certain circumstances. However, for many courses they are not considered suitable preparation. Where BTECs are accepted, it is likely that you will be required to achieve very high grades, for example three Distinctions. You may also be required to have studied the BTEC in combination with other qualifications such as A-levels.

Entry requirements vary between courses and between universities. If you intend to study at a Russell Group university we would strongly advise that you carefully check entry requirements online before making your decision to study a BTEC.

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Can I enter Russell Group universities with qualifications other than those mentioned in Informed Choices?

Our universities accept a wide range of qualifications and Informed Choices only discusses those most likely to be taken by students at ages 16 to 19 in the UK. Russell Group universities also recognise a wide range of qualifications from other countries and UK qualifications like Access to HE diplomas and Foundation courses. But as admissions policies and entry requirements vary for each course and university within the Russell Group, we would advise that you look on the websites of our universities for further guidance.

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Can I photocopy or print multiple copies of Informed Choices for my students?

Teachers, careers advisers and other school professionals are free to photocopy or print multiple copies of Informed Choices.

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