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A Level Chemistry, German or Economics as a choice for DS who wants to study Physics?

(71 Posts)
ShellingPeasAgain Tue 09-Dec-14 15:29:47

DS (yr 11) has to choose A level options soon. He wants to study astro physics at university so has got maths, further maths and physics as his main choices. But he has to choose another two subjects as his school only counts further maths as half an A level. He's keen on doing German as he'd like to work in Europe, but not sure about whether economics or chemistry would be a better option for the last choice. Predicted A* at GCSE at all these subjects BTW.

To me, the school's decision to not count further maths as a full A level means the workload seems like a lot and hopefully he will be able to drop one subject in year 13.

Anyone who's done this before got any ideas? DH thinks DS should take chemistry as an extra science subject but DS isn't keen on chemistry and prefers economics. I think economics gives him a broader range and more options in the long term.

Leeds2 Tue 09-Dec-14 15:32:18

I would tend to agree with your DH, tbh.

I would however look on the UCAS site, and see what the universities offering astro physics have to say about what A Levels students need. Some can be quite specific.

summerends Tue 09-Dec-14 15:35:20

If he is fixed on studying physics at university then definitely chemistry.
If he may end up by preferring maths then economics seems reasonable.

BikeRunSki Tue 09-Dec-14 15:39:54

I am a Physics graduate. Definitely Chemistry. But if he doesn't like Chemistry, then worth looking into if there are any astrophysics degrees that don't require it, because I found A level Chemistry much harder than Physics or Maths.

MillyMollyMama Tue 09-Dec-14 15:49:55

Most good schools expect Further Maths to be taken as the 4th A level. He might be at a disadvantage not offering 3 plus FM when it comes down to UCAS. Check the course requirements first though. Chemistry would be the one to take though.

dapoxen Tue 09-Dec-14 16:05:58

I'm not aware of any Physics and/with astronomy/astrophysics degree which requires A-level Chemistry. Lots of Physics undergraduates do study Maths, Physics and Chemistry at A-level, but not all by any means.

Chemistry does crop up sometimes in a Physics degree (for instance in Solid State Physics) but not enough to make doing A-level Chemistry a significant advantage. As a Physics lecturer, I'd suggest weighting enjoyment of, and ability in, the 4th subject more heavily in the decision.

TalkinPeace Tue 09-Dec-14 16:24:31
is an example

catslife Tue 09-Dec-14 16:56:15

I wouldn't recommend any pupil to take a subject they are not keen on for A level OP, so unless you find out that Chemistry would be essential for university, I would let your ds choose what he wants to do. At the end of the day it's your ds who's going to be doing the work (not your DH) so ds will be better motivated if it's his choice. That way if things don't work out with Economics he can't blame you if it doesn't work out.
Economics goes well with Maths too and may open options in a different direction if he changes his mind about astrophysics.

SquirrelledAway Tue 09-Dec-14 17:02:49

I just skimmed a few entry requirements, and they were all Maths and Physics at A level with a further A level not specified. I'd look at Economics if that interests him more than Chemistry - advice that we've had from people doing Chemistry at Advanced Higher (Scottish A level equivalent) is that you really really have to like Chemistry to do at that level.

happygardening Tue 09-Dec-14 17:30:19

I looked into this extensively last year, if you want to study physics at a top university then if FM is offered at your DS school then he should take it. With regard to the final subject if he does German then he might find it very useful if he wishes to travel abroad. DN does physics at Oxford, apparently a lot of the top research is done in Germany so he thought it would make an excellent fourth/fifth A level.

Pico2 Tue 09-Dec-14 17:37:30

Economics has the advantage of being an essay subject, which would keep his writing skills going (German might do this a bit too, I'm not sure).

dapoxen Tue 09-Dec-14 17:46:13

Regarding Further Maths (although it's not really relevant to this thread since the OPs son is intending to take it anyway): Further Maths is very helpful for a Physics degree, and I'd encourage any student who has the opportunity to take it to seriously consider doing so. However it's not required for Physics, not even by Oxford or Cambridge Natural Science. The majority of Physics undergraduates at good (i.e. Russell group and similar) universities haven't done Further Maths. So if a student can't take it, it's not an obstable to studying Physics at university.

ArthurSHappeyChristmas Tue 09-Dec-14 17:52:32

I'm a physicist. My a-levels were physics, maths and chemistry (disclaimer- taken in the 1990s so not recent). I have to say I hated every second of chemistry and did not feel it benefited my physics degree at all. I would actually recommend doing something he enjoys, if he's got maths and physics (and potentially further maths - useful even if his school don't regard it as such) he'll be well equipped for his physics degree, he really doesn't need chemistry. I think a language would be very useful, having language skills will always be a benefit. Economics meh... not required but useful to know a number of my fellow physics graduates went to work in the city, one in particular earns a handsome wage as a currency trader.

PM if you want more information... I don't want to out myself too much on this thread.

ShellingPeasAgain Tue 09-Dec-14 17:54:30

Thanks for replies. I have checked the university entry requirements and all they stipulate is Maths, Further Maths and Physics which is fine as he is going to take all these to A level.

The problem is his school doesn't timetable FM as a full subject, only allotting an extra 5 lessons per fortnight to it but the students do sit the full A level exam in year 13. So he still has to select another 2 subjects, one of which could be dropped in year 13. So at the moment his list is Maths, Further Maths, Physics, German and then one of Chemistry or Economics. He really doesn't like chemistry that much so which is why I thought economics.

Is 5 subjects doable for A level? Seems like a hell of a lot.

<sigh> Seems a lot to have to choose the future path of the rest of your life at this stage - summer baby so he's only 15 and not 16 until August!

ArthurSHappeyChristmas Tue 09-Dec-14 18:01:33

Doing 5 seems crazy to me, but again mine were in the 1990s where it was common to do 3. It was also normal to do 8 GCSEs in my day, now they all seem to do 12?!

He needs to be careful he doesn't overwhelm himself by taking too many subjects. If he's set on taking 5 I'd definitely steer clear of chemistry.

ShellingPeasAgain Tue 09-Dec-14 18:58:11

Thanks for links upthread dapoxen and Talkinpeace. The more info the better.

Happygardening did your DN take chemistry as well as German? And how does/did he find Oxford for physics (on the assumption he's a student and not a lecturer)?

DH is an engineer so thinks chemistry is a good thing having taken maths, physics and chemistry at A level back in the early 80s. I'm more humanities based (music teacher) and didn't study in the UK so have no idea! My leaning is towards doing something you're interested and like, especially as it will probably be dropped at equivalent of the old AS level. (And the changes to the A level system doesn't help either. Rant.)

Arthur thanks for your input and I'll try to PM later when I've finished work. 5 A levels seems mad to me too but I did something more equivalent to the IB so may be I don't know enough about the UK system.

TalkinPeace Tue 09-Dec-14 19:07:33

DD is doing 5AS with the plan to do 4 to A2
only the uber uber bright do 5 to A2

FishWithABicycle Tue 09-Dec-14 19:17:09

I was railroaded into Chemistry when I was in this exact situation. It was a huge mistake for me. If you're not a fan of chemistry you can't force yourself to be. Physics and chemistry are very different kinds of science and the kind of brain that is excited and inspired by physics will often be bored and uninspired by chemistry at the level of simplification they do for the a-level syllabus - there's a lot of rote learning which can be very dull. I only got a C. I would have been much better off taking a subject that actually interested me.

German would be very useful especially as at postgrad level you sometimes need to refer to papers in other languages. Plus there are some unis with courses that include a year abroad and doing a year in Germany would hugely boost his employability.


TalkinPeace Tue 09-Dec-14 19:24:33

DD is doing Chemistry and Loves it.
She will not even set foot inside the Physics building at her college!

I totally agree that at A level some people cannot do both
on the other hand, some like DH did Maths, Phys CHem quite happily

jessmando Tue 09-Dec-14 19:32:25

I work in a university Physics department and I am pretty sure that the required A-levels are Physics, Maths and Further Maths. Chemistry isn't a requirement so your son can choose whichever he likes from Chemistry, Economics and German.
I think lots of universities offer the opportunity to do a year abroad in a physics degree so if your son fancies that the German is a good option.

roguedad Tue 09-Dec-14 19:35:38

Make sure he does Further Maths all the way to A2 if capable of doing well. Whatever they say on web sites, it is jolly useful for coping with the math content of a course like Cambridge Nat Sci, where single maths kids are often a bit lost. A language to A level is always good. I'd give a free choice on Econ vs Chem. The latter is probably a better idea if he ends up on a Nat Sci course at Cambridge, UCL etc.

Pico2 Tue 09-Dec-14 19:41:59

If you are good at them, physics, maths and FM won't take as much time as an arts/humanities/language subject. That's because you can get through practice questions very quickly if you get the subject matter. But an essay takes time and the difference between a very capable candidate and a poor one is the quality of the final essay, not the time taken.

TravelinColour Tue 09-Dec-14 19:46:21

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

YonicSleighdriver Tue 09-Dec-14 19:52:58

If he is doing German to AS level, will there be more focus on language than literature and does that suit him?

All those a levels give many paths in life - don't worry too much about narrowing!

stn24 Tue 09-Dec-14 22:02:16

The list of subjects or required grades is the minimum requirement. Even Oxbridge says Further Maths is not an essential subject, it would be really hard to find anyone at Oxbridge doing Physics that did not do FM at A Level smile

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