Cambridge application - would dd be at a disadvantage if she did 3 A2s rather than 4?

(55 Posts)
MrsBartlet Wed 19-Feb-14 19:24:05

Dd (Y12) wants to apply to Cambridge to study English. She is currently taking English; History; RS (philosophy & ethics) and French for AS level.

At her school it is the norm for the oxbridge candidates to continue with all AS levels to A2 but I wonder if she would be better dropping French (her weakest subject and the one she enjoys the least) to free up time to do all the extra reading she wants to do to prepare for an English degree. I know the offers that Cambridge make are based on 3 A Levels but in practice would she compare badly to other candidates if she was "only" taking 3 for A2?

webwiz Wed 19-Feb-14 20:00:19

Well I could give some bad advice to get rid of some of DS's competition smile but the Cambridge outreach officer that came to his school said 3 is fine. DS is doing 5 ASs but he will be dropping down to 3 A2s next year so he has time to do extra reading and to hopefully get 3 A*.

MrsBartlet Wed 19-Feb-14 20:03:25

Thanks, webwiz! Is your ds applying for English, too?

webwiz Wed 19-Feb-14 20:05:04

Yes hopefully if AS's go to plan.

MrsBartlet Wed 19-Feb-14 20:09:21

Excellent - is he doing the Peterhouse essay competition?

Dd does quite a lot of extra-curricular stuff and I worry about how she can fit in all of this as well as the reading and her school work. She only really seems to get time to read as much as she would like in the holidays.

webwiz Wed 19-Feb-14 20:14:20

Yes he is doing the Peterhouse essay competition but he keeps changing his mind about which books to base it on!

DS has just been in the school play (Henry V so quite a useful one smile ) and has another drama thing next week but after that he should have a bit more time for reading/revision. He is generally busy though with lots extracurricular stuff and then has a reading binge in the holidays.

MrsBartlet Wed 19-Feb-14 20:20:41

I think the competition is a good opportunity for them. Dd has a friend who entered the history competition a couple of years ago. She won one of the prizes and when she went to collect it they said " we look forward to receiving your application!" What a lovely position to be in - she is now studying at Cambridge. Even if they don't win a prize, it is a good discipline to look at something beyond the A level curriculum which should hopefully stand them in good stead for an interview.

Best of luck to your ds!

webwiz Wed 19-Feb-14 20:23:39

Yes I agree its a good opportunity to do some original thinking. Best of luck to your DD as well. DS will probably be so over ambitious with his book choices that he won't get through them in time hmm

rightsaidfrederick Wed 19-Feb-14 21:18:03

She should only consider continuing on to four A2 grades if she's certain that she'll still get the grades.

She will be much, much, much better off if she has AA*A or A*A*A than AAAA

rightsaidfrederick Wed 19-Feb-14 21:20:18

Sorry that was meant to say A* A* A* rather than having random bolding!

MrsBartlet Wed 19-Feb-14 21:41:09

Thanks, rightsaidfrederick - that was what I was thinking but there is such a culture in her school of the oxbridge applicants doing more A2s that it makes me doubt myself. I think she is better having time to do those 3 A2s very well, as well as time to read lots and to spend time on her extra-curricular activities which all feed in to what she wants to do. She ought to be able to get good grades on her 3 best subjects even if she carries on with French but it will be her reading which suffers- and ultimately that could hurt her more in an interview situation.

We have a higher education information evening in a few weeks so I will discuss with her teachers then.

webwiz Wed 19-Feb-14 22:00:47

Quite a few of the colleges state on their websites that 3 is fine

https://www.emma.cam.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduates/faqs/

www.queens.cam.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduates/faqs#a4

I think for English its probably better to demonstrate extensive reading than an extra A2.

One of my friend's DDs carried on all four of her subjects to A2 and missed her Oxford offer so it can be better to stick to three.

MrsBartlet Wed 19-Feb-14 22:18:51

Thanks webwiz. Coincidentally, Emma is one of the colleges that dd is most interested in (and not just because it has an outdoor swimming pool wink). It seems it is all about showing depth rather than breadth. very useful info to have when we talk to the school.

I guess the only worry is would she use the freed up time to do extra reading etc. but I think she probably would as she is a bit of a perfectionist.

BeckAndCall Thu 20-Feb-14 08:13:47

My DD holds a Cambridge offer for this year and went from 5 ASs to 3 A2s, admittedly in a science subject.

However, for her school, that is standard. And this year I know of 8 girls going to Cambridge ( similar number to Oxford) . Standard approach is 3 A2 s except if one is further maths.

And I wouldn't assume that she will have much extra reading time in upper sixth with dropping an AS - there is more work for the A 2 year ( in my experience with 3 kids) and their preparation for Oxbridge will take a huge amount of time in the first term, so having time available for that will be useful ( TSA practice, extra subject reading, interview practice etc). So 4 A2s would be a lot on top of that, I'm trying to say.

wordfactory Thu 20-Feb-14 08:26:06

Three is fine grin.

Although, I guess it depends on subjects. If one of your three is a bit out there, four might secure things academically IYSWIM.

MrsBartlet Thu 20-Feb-14 09:58:10

Thanks both and congratulations to your dd, BeckAndCall! And good point about the work load stepping up next year - the teachers had mentioned that at parents' evening, so even more reason to drop French.

wordfactory - I think she would be fine as she would still be doing English, History and Religious Studies which are all approved subjects, I believe.

wordfactory Thu 20-Feb-14 10:01:36

Yes that's absolutely fine.

I was thinking more of the applicant I saw recently with Eng, maths and photography! Should have kept on the old history me thinks.

TheSmallPrint Thu 20-Feb-14 10:02:43

When did A levels start getting called A2s?? confused
*disclaimer, my DS is only 10

MrsBartlet Thu 20-Feb-14 10:05:48

Oh dear, wordfactory! I do feel for students who clearly are not having proper guidance.

TheSmallPrint - I think since the courses got split in to AS levels and then A2s but I could be wrong as dd is our eldest so our first time of going through this. It was all just one long A level course in my day (although obviously that was some while back!)

wordfactory Thu 20-Feb-14 10:11:28

MrsB it infuriates me!!!

I'm part of the widening access prog for Oxbridge and I cannot tell you how many studnets I meet who have scuppered their chances way before I've even been invited to give a talk!

Educatingme Thu 20-Feb-14 10:16:51

DS did 4 A2s and was asked to get A*AAA (to do NatSci); he was told if he had done 3 he would only have been asked for A*AA. But of course we will never know if 3 subjects would have got him in.

So if there is a serious risk that her French will pull her down, either lowering the French to a B or reducing the other grades, drop it. But do try to get a great AS French grade, as Cambridge do look at AS grades a lot.

Although I think that French is a very well-respected subject and it's a shame to drop it, with both English and History she is pretty safe on the subject choice front.

TheSmallPrint Thu 20-Feb-14 10:52:46

Thanks Mrs Bartlet, I opened this as my DN has an offer to study English at Cambridge she has been offered 3 x A and 1 x A*. She got A* in all her AS exams.

yourlittlesecret Thu 20-Feb-14 11:19:34

I think if they were to discriminate against those who only took 3 A levels they would be wide open to accusations of elitism. Many state schools will only allow 3 A levels now because of funding.
The most important thing is the highest possible grades / UMS at AS level.
DS has an offer for Cambridge (not English) and did 5 AS and is doing 4 A levels but his offer is for 3 A levels and they specified which ones.

MrsBartlet Thu 20-Feb-14 11:44:46

TheSmallPrint - I don't think you can get A*s at AS level (someone please correct me if I am wrong) but I am sure your DN must have got excellent marks at AS to get an offer.

Dd is predicted 4 As at AS but her 3 best subjects should be really strong As whilst French could be borderline. Whilst I think it is logical to drop the French next year, I guess a little part of me is worrying if they might unconsciously discriminate against her as she may not look so good in comparison to students taking 4 A2s.

Interesting that Educatingme's ds was asked for specific grades in all 4 A2s but yourlittlesecrets ds has an offer for 3 out of 4 of his A2s. There could be a chance that dd would get a B for French at A2 if she continues in which case she is probably better dropping it.

Educatingme Thu 20-Feb-14 12:24:51

Yes, but then he was science. It was maths and three sciences at A2. It is different for the humanities, and its very common for people in both state and private to do just three A2s in the Humanities, while in science 4 or 5 is much more common.

He was also advised that he needed to get 90-95% in his ASs to stand a good chance, by the Cambridge admissions tutor who came to talk to the school. But this is a selective school, so the expectations were that kids had no excuse not to do well.

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