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PPE at Oxford - What A Levels Do You Need to Study?

(44 Posts)
AnastasiaBrown Fri 12-Jun-15 21:35:43

Hi, I'm supporting a Year 11 student whose mum is not well and I have offered to be her 'uni choices' supporter. She wants to study PPE and one of the courses she likes is at Oxford. She has chosen to study Maths and English at A level and her third choice is Economics. I'm wondering if that is a good combination. She could also study Politics and Government. I would appreciate any advice from those of you in the know as to what is a good foundation for this subject at degree level. Thank you.

Preminstreltension Fri 12-Jun-15 21:40:41

I did exactly those - maths, English and economics and studied PPE at Oxford. None was absolutely necessary - economics gave me a decent start but it's all covered again in Y1. I'd choose economics over politics and government though as I think it's slightly better regarded but willing to be proved wrong

senua Fri 12-Jun-15 21:48:19

Their website says "You may apply for PPE having done any combination of subjects at school; it is not necessary to have studied Politics, Philosophy or Economics. History and Mathematics are useful backgrounds, but are not essential." and then goes on to say that, actually, Maths is pretty essential

Apart from that, choose subjects where she is likely to get A/A* grades!

TheOneWiththeNicestSmile Fri 12-Jun-15 21:51:52

DS2 did History, Politics & Economics A Levels. He was interviewed for PPE but didn't get an offer (didn't want to go anyway, wasn't comfortable with the other people he encountered but that was his problem, not Oxford's)

He was told by more than one teacher that Maths was pretty essential (he had been happy to drop it after GCSE), & in fact his Economics A Level grade was much poorer than the other 2 because he didn't have the Maths expertise; certainly Maths is a good choice for her.

She doesn't need to do Economics A Level, so if there's something else she'd rather do then Maths, English + preferred alternative (academic rather than vocational) should be better for her

Preminstreltension Fri 12-Jun-15 21:51:59

You definitely don't need maths for the course itself, even if you need it to get in iyswim. I barely saw a number in my whole three years! But having maths probably gives you the confidence to tackle a subject that sounds fairly crunchy even though it's not actually (economics - at least not at undergrad level)

Molio Sat 13-Jun-15 09:41:16

DD's boyfriend teaches the economics component of the course at Oxford. Maths is pretty key. History would be a good choice alongside Maths and English since she's bound to have a general interest in politics, by definition. History may well give a better base.

senua Sat 13-Jun-15 10:43:37

History A Level teaches various transferable skills: the scrutiny of evidence for veracity especially to find its source (and hence its bias); the ability to look at two sides of a story; the appreciation that "the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there" i.e. understanding otherness; the ability to bring together this mass of data and analyse it; the ability to come to a conclusion and argue it convincingly.

If she can't / doesn't want to do History then she could do the above by other means. The English A Level will be good for collecting reams of data, analysing and debating. A Level R.E. looks at 'otherness', encourages open discussion and, depending on modules, can go into Philosophy and Ethics. Join a debating club. Do charity work to see more of real life 'otherness' or join a pressure group. Draw on experience of trips abroad. etc etc.

PlainHunting Sat 13-Jun-15 10:54:53

I think the best combination would be economics, maths, history.

I did PPE and found not having done maths a huge disadvantage for economics. I can't imagine doing the economics part without economics a level but I imagine it is
possible if one is very dedicated.

MrsHathaway Sat 13-Jun-15 11:00:12

DB read PPE. I don't remember what A Levels he did but certainly Maths and History. If there's a choice within Maths then statistics is the way to go - DB got DM to go over and do a refresher for him and some of his classmates as she is a maths teacher and stats specialist. They will teach you what you need to know, but fast, so it's often easier to spend two years learning it at school/SFC than in one week at university.

It's a v competitive course to get on to, though, and many if not all of the other applicants will have four subjects at A Level. Her extenuating circumstances will be important but she needs to be realistic about whether the course would be manageable.

Molio Sat 13-Jun-15 11:28:37

I don't think it's factually correct that most other applicants will have four A levels MrsH. Only 51% of those currently at Oxford have four A levels and the majority of those are in the science/ maths areas. Also, the numbers taking four may well decrease in the brave new world of no modules and not necessarily ASs either. It's definitely a tough course to get onto though, but adding a fourth A level probably won't make or break the deal, so I wouldn't worry about that myself.

AnastasiaBrown Sat 13-Jun-15 11:53:58

Thank you - this is all very helpful advice. I am seeing the young lady this evening and so will piece all this together and she can chew it over. Thank you again smile

senua Sat 13-Jun-15 12:14:57

Another argument in favour of historical knowledge, especially for one looking to the future in Politics or Economics, comes from the George Santayana quotation - "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

PatriciaHolm Sat 13-Jun-15 12:19:33

Another one here who did Maths, Economics and English and did PPE!

That was many years ago though :-)

Its a course where 2 people can end up with vastly different degrees; I did a lot of maths and logic, but dropped Politics completely, whereas is sounds as if Preminstreltension did something very different.

Decorhate Sat 13-Jun-15 13:04:30

I know someone with an offer for the coming year, is doing History, Maths & GovPol.
I would not recommend doing 4 A Levels, too much of a risk of spreading yourself too thin.

MrsHathaway Sat 13-Jun-15 16:33:03

Sorry, I expressed myself badly.

I don't think the young person described in the OP would be expected or should be encouraged to do four, but she does need to appreciate the fact that three As at A level is standard for Oxbridge applicants and that many PPE applicants will also have A* and/or an additional subject (eg a mother tongue MFL, or maybe further maths) particularly at the more popular colleges. Choosing the right college with advice from current staff and students will be important - not necessarily an easy one but a good fit socially as well.

Molio Sat 13-Jun-15 19:40:08

MrsH it's probably only the very ablest who can be at all confident of ending up at the college they select with subjects such as PPE. There's a very significant amount of movement these days, both before interviews and during the interview process. So the current advice given by Oxford is don't stress too much about college because a) you may well not end up at the college you select and b) you're very likely to love whichever college you do end up at. It's almost better not to overthink college really. Two of my DC were pooled to different colleges and both pooled colleges seems/ seem a far better 'fit' than the colleges they originally chose - as they themselves freely admit. It's also not the case that you can game it by opting for a less popular college - there's too much departmental involvement for that.

securitylecturer Sat 13-Jun-15 19:47:28

a mother tongue MFL

Several universities whose admissions policies I am familiar with discount mother tongue MFL A Levels completely, as a matter of central admissions policy. I would be astounded if Oxford or Cambridge didn't have the same policy.

Molio Sat 13-Jun-15 19:48:58

seemed/ seem

TheOneWiththeNicestSmile Sat 13-Jun-15 19:53:50

Several universities whose admissions policies I am familiar with discount mother tongue MFL A Levels completely, as a matter of central admissions policy

if it's a bilingual student with a non-foreign name, can they tell?

Myricales Sat 13-Jun-15 19:57:46

if it's a bilingual student with a non-foreign name, can they tell?

I have asked that question. I suspect that if you took it at the end of year 13 with the school being willing to give a predicted grade it would be hard to detect.

But LSE, for example, state "An A level (or equivalent) in your first/native language may not be counted" and universities can, and do, expel people for dishonesty in admissions. I suspect that in event of doubt they just ask.

Preminstreltension Sat 13-Jun-15 20:20:00

There were a few people in my college doing a modern language that they were fluent in because their mother spoke it at home so they grew up bilingual. They were effectively there on a free pass and you could tell.

jeanne16 Sun 14-Jun-15 08:26:01

A pupil in the 6th form at our school changed her surname to her Mother's English surname to avoid her Father's Italian surname giving the game away that Italian is her native language. As far as is apparent, it was not spotted in her top Uni applications.

Btw, it was mentioned in the school reference and that doesn't seem to have mattered either, which confirmed my suspicion that school references and personal statements are not read very thoroughly by Admissions staff.

BrendaBlackhead Mon 15-Jun-15 09:14:00

It's what put ds off doing A Level French. 18 years ago there was clearly a good deal of entente cordiale in this area because there seem to be loads of kids around with French mothers. If you extrapolate this across the country then your average bumbling student is not going to stand a chance. It's a real shame as learning a foreign language shouldn't be about the final grade, but students have to be realistic and if you are up against mother tongue candidates then you can't afford to risk a lesser grade.

Gemauve Mon 15-Jun-15 09:28:12

If you extrapolate this across the country then your average bumbling student is not going to stand a chance

A Levels haven't been norm-referenced since the late 1980s, so I'm not quite sure what your concern is. There isn't a fixed proportion of each grade any more.

if you are up against mother tongue candidates then you can't afford to risk a lesser grade.

Why would that be an issue? You meet the criteria, you get the grade.

That's not true for the US SAT, and taking the Spanish subject paper (in particular) is extremely unwise unless you are a native speaker. There you're awarded in effect a centile, so you are in competition. But that's not true in the UK, and hasn't been for getting on for thirty years. I suspect that a lot of parents and teachers still steer by the star of their own A Levels, which probably were norm referenced.

UptheChimney Mon 15-Jun-15 09:41:25

Going back to the OP's question -- I'd second/third History as a good pick if the pupil enjoys the subject. For PPE, or ANY degree really, it might be a better indication of ability to read, analyse, and argue.

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