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Keep options open with A levels in Maths, Physics, Biology and.. ?
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O2HaveALittleHouse · 06/12/2021 17:48

Hi,
I have a year 11 DC who wants to keep her options open because she really doesn't know what she wants to do yet (August born so very young!). For university she is thinking of engineering, physics or possibly IT but has no real focus at this point.
She enjoys physics (predicted 9), maths (8), biology (9) and would like to do a 4th subject even though it's not that common at her state school. She doesn't really like chemistry having had poor teachers from the start and really likes history (predicted 9).
Her state school isn't great at careers advice and have said the above choices are great for either engineering or science but some googling suggests she should also do further maths for physics or computer science at the top tier universities like Imperial, Oxbridge and Durham. Likewise without chemistry, Biology is off the cards at most universities. I am worried her school are giving her poor advice. There have been no parent teacher meetings or A level choice seminars so I can't ask any questions.

So would she be better doing history because she loves it (as do I!) or taking chemistry to keep her options option in future?

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O2HaveALittleHouse · 06/12/2021 17:49

Or even further maths which I think she could do, but is told by the school is "hardcore".

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titchy · 06/12/2021 17:56

Biology won't be off the cards, lacking chem reduces her options a little, but she only needs two offers at the end of the day so it's not that much of a biggie (although would be useful - dd managed fine without chem).

I don't think she'd need CS for Imperial etc, FM would be very very useful though if she's up to it. If she's not then she probably isn't quite Oxbridge/Imperial material.

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Fenelladepompom · 06/12/2021 18:04

DS currently applying for Biology without Chemistry. Most of the pure Biology degress did not require chemistry. Many of the more specific ones did. He currently has offers from Southampton, Bristol and Loughborough.

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EwwSprouts · 06/12/2021 18:13

DS is currently studying those 3 subjects and applying for biology. The only place that he has not been able to apply is Edinburgh. The majority just want two sciences of any hue. One or two of the Cambridge colleges want chemistry but more don't. In the end he did not apply there as Nat Sci has a significant maths focus, so don't drop the maths!

There are lots of biology, marine biology, environmental studies, oceanography etc for her to look at if she leans that way. Bio-medical would want chemistry.

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Revengeofthepangolins · 06/12/2021 18:48

For engineering, physics or IT at top flight universities, FM would be very helpful. Assuming she likes maths and is up to it!

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Revengeofthepangolins · 06/12/2021 18:50

Also, four a levels where FM is number 4 is the most manageable way of doing 4 (assuming me is good at maths!) as maths, physics and FM overlap and reinforce.

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blubells · 06/12/2021 18:56

Maths and FM is often taught over the two years with Maths in yr12 and FM in yr13. In other words while technically 4 A levels, it's taught more like 3.

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mathanxiety · 06/12/2021 19:01

I would drop the biology and do physics, maths, and economics instead, along with either history or geography.

Bio without chemistry is harder than it needs to be. Unless she's keen on medicine it's not necessary.

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titchy · 06/12/2021 19:30

@mathanxiety

I would drop the biology and do physics, maths, and economics instead, along with either history or geography.

Bio without chemistry is harder than it needs to be. Unless she's keen on medicine it's not necessary.

Why? That's rules out Biology degrees, but doesn't rule anything else in.
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clary · 06/12/2021 20:09

This stood out from your post OP without chemistry, Biology is off the cards at most universities

As others have said, this is not true. My DS got five offers for biology including four prestigious universities and he did maths, biology and PE. Any second science (maths included) will count. Some unis, even highly rated ones, don't even necessarily need a second science (tho often the offer is higher).

I don't even think lack of chemistry A level reduces her options at all, tho @titchy knows more than I do about this stuff. But DS2's offers were from Leeds and Newcastle and Nottingham without it.

I think FM might be a good idea if she is looking at physics etc - she could always drop it if she found it too hard and that would not be a disaster.

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ErrolTheDragon · 06/12/2021 20:47

Bio without chemistry is harder than it needs to be. Unless she's keen on medicine it's not necessary.
I thought most (not quite all) med schools require chemistry, but not so many need biology?

Anyway... if she's mainly thinking of engineering, physics or IT/CS then the best bet is maths, FM, physics and a fourth subject, at least initially. That gives her time to figure out what she wants to do and/or drop either the FM or the fourth subject.

As others have implied, if she can't manage a good grade in those 3 then oxbridge/imperial isn't realistic but there are lots of other excellent unis where that doesn't apply.

As to what the fourth should be...depends really how likely she thinks it is that she would want to do biology (or maybe biophysics... not sure what the requirements are but the bits I know something about are very mathsy). CS is useful for any STEM subject nowadays I'd have thought. But keeping an essay subject such as history keeps some of the non STEM subjects in play.

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GOODCAT · 06/12/2021 20:53

Can she go to a different school or FE college to do chemistry? I went to a school where chemistry was terrible. We literally taught ourselves for GCSE chemistry. Someone in my year did chemistry A level at a local FE college and did his other two subjects at school.

Biology without chemistry is limiting. I did maths, biology and economics because the chemistry was so badly taught, but for me I should have found a way to do it.

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O2HaveALittleHouse · 06/12/2021 21:38

Hi, thanks so much for all the amazing replies! I won’t name check but will try to answer the points made so well here.

Re: point about FM/maths/physics being a good combination for CS/physics, I can see that. Her school don’t encourage anyone to do further maths unless they really love it as half their life becomes maths (only 5/year do it). She’s always been strong at maths (predicted 8, only kangaroo in her year at maths challenges etc.) so should be able I’d imagine? Physics is predicted 9 at this point.

Re: biology, thanks to the many posters who say that she can do biology on its own, albeit not with the same choice of universities. That’s very good to know.

Re economics, it’s an interesting idea but she has never shown any interest! So it would be a bit of a risk.

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clary · 06/12/2021 22:27

Honestly op I am struggling to find a uni which demands chemistry to study biology. I have checked Warwick, Bristol, Oxford, and as I said ds had offers from Nottingham, Newcastle, Leeds. Pretty good choice there! All she needs us a second science which she has.

Medicine without chem A level is an issue, but you don't suggest she is interested in that.

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middleager · 06/12/2021 22:35

I have two year 11s who are keeping options open as neither really know what they want to do. Possibly CS...

One is doing ALevels in CS, Maths and Physics
The other is doing the same, plus Further Maths
They are at different schools.

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middleager · 06/12/2021 22:35

Hoping to do, should I say, fingers crossed.

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ErrolTheDragon · 06/12/2021 23:02

@middleager

I have two year 11s who are keeping options open as neither really know what they want to do. Possibly CS...

One is doing ALevels in CS, Maths and Physics
The other is doing the same, plus Further Maths
They are at different schools.

Those keep open engineering (lots of types, bar chemical), physics, CS, maths. It's a good combo for those.

The CS A level isn't essential to study CS at uni, so although it's useful to all the above it's the one they could consider swapping if they wanted to keep things even more open (and if they like and have an aptitude for another subject of course).
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mathanxiety · 07/12/2021 05:43

...thanks to the many posters who say that she can do biology on its own, albeit not with the same choice of universities.

Technically you can do it on its own. But if you don't have a solid foundation in chemistry you will be very much at sea in biology. There will be a lot that you do not understand.

It's not a question of what various universities have on their admissions checklists. Studying biology at third level requires a solid chemistry background. It's the nature of the subject.

Why? That's rules out Biology degrees, but doesn't rule anything else in.

Maths, physics, economics and geography - good combo if she decides to do economics (and anyone who is strong in maths should consider this).

Maths, physics, econ and history - the DD likes history and might do well in it. She would look like an excellent all rounder and a student who is intellectually curious if she achieved good grades.

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ViceLikeBlip · 07/12/2021 05:58

Teacher here- she should only take a 4th subject if she loves all four so much that she can't bear to drop one. Top grades in maths, physics and biology will keep plenty of doors open.

I have a Yr12 at present who started off doing four A Levels (very similar profile to yours - mixture of 8s and 9s, 8 in maths) and he's really struggling in maths. He's picked up considerably since he dropped one subject, but he's still behind, and his confidence is in tatters.

I would usually only suggest further maths to students with a 9 at GCSE. It depends massively on whether the school timetables it as two subjects, or whether they teach twice the content in one lesson block.

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halloweenie13 · 07/12/2021 06:06

@clary

This stood out from your post OP without chemistry, Biology is off the cards at most universities

As others have said, this is not true. My DS got five offers for biology including four prestigious universities and he did maths, biology and PE. Any second science (maths included) will count. Some unis, even highly rated ones, don't even necessarily need a second science (tho often the offer is higher).

I don't even think lack of chemistry A level reduces her options at all, tho *@titchy* knows more than I do about this stuff. But DS2's offers were from Leeds and Newcastle and Nottingham without it.

I think FM might be a good idea if she is looking at physics etc - she could always drop it if she found it too hard and that would not be a disaster.

I did Bioinformatics and Biotechnology at University with an international foundation diploma in natural sciences, you don't even need to do science half the time to get onto a science course, they will accept mathematics or design technology or even for health sciences sociology is preferred.
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GlacindaTheTroll · 07/12/2021 06:59

If you want to do comp sci at Cambridge or Imperial, then in practice you need further maths (unless your school doesn't offer it).

You should be OK for others, but may struggle in the first year in particular if you're having to learn from scratch (and very rapidly) what is the A level recap to many in the room (assuming you even get a recap)

CS A level isn't essential anywhere, but since the new spec course rolled out, it is a desirable one to have. Useful for engineering too.

Yes she should do biology if that's a subject she really likes. It won't open as many doors as chemistry does. But it's not all about utility, unless she knows exactly where she wants to be (medicine, for example)

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ErrolTheDragon · 07/12/2021 08:21

Maths, physics, economics and geography - good combo if she decides to do economics (and anyone who is strong in maths should consider this).

Maths, physics, econ and history - the DD likes history and might do well in it. She would look like an excellent all rounder and a student who is intellectually curious if she achieved good grades.
But maybe not as good as a more focussed selection if she didn't get particularly good grades in all of them. She's not mentioned economics, and it's not a required subject to study it, is it? (I don't think my DDs school even offered it).

Having history in the mix with maths and physics (and maybe the FM or biology) would still allow for some of the non STEM options such as economics or law, wouldn't it? There are probably quite a few other subjects such as psychology or sociology where there's not a requirement to have done it at A level which that combo would enable ... inc history. Even some geography degrees. There's reasons to take seriously the idea of keeping history especially as she loves it, but I can't see much point in replacing one of the subjects she's already considering by economics.

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TizerorFizz · 07/12/2021 10:00

@O2HaveALittleHouse
I notice you mentioned engineering. There are MEng courses snd BEng courses. Both tend to share the first year. It is not remotely vital to have FM to do very many engineering courses. It can be helpful but only at the top ranked universities do you really need it. If DD is likely to get 8 at gcse at maths I wouldn’t think Imperial snd Cambridge is realistic as they would want FM for a competitive application and FM sounds like a step too far for her. Sorry.

The very good news is that there are lots of universities that offer great university courses in engineering and DC are very employable. So please do not think that DC must go to Imperial or similar to be successful. That’s simply not the case! Students can transfer between BEng and MEng anyway so even her initial choice doesn’t have to determine where she finishes! If FM isn’t realistic, don’t do it. It’s not vital at all!

However I think she might look at Environmental Science. Biology and Maths are fine for that. She could also look at Civil Engineering. There are now courses that have environmental engineering as a component and this is now a field of employment that’s expanding. So I think she might enjoy these courses more than CS. Anyone with a maths A level is fine for Engineering but you would need physics. Hope that helps.

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ErrolTheDragon · 07/12/2021 10:12

Yes... I'm afraid MN threads too often get a bit sidetracked into specific requirements at a few unis.

Just adding, bioengineering might be something the OPs DD might like to look into

www.lboro.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/subjects/bioengineering/


If she wanted to get an overview of all the different types of engineering and an idea of requirements then a scan through the courses offered by a uni with a good solid reputation for engineering like Loughborough might not be a daft idea.

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O2HaveALittleHouse · 07/12/2021 10:15

Thanks again for your help which is invaluable to us.

Re :Biology - the point raised by @mathanxiety is what my friend told me. She's a renowned biologist (won't give exact field but anyone in that area would know her). She said do biology if she enjoys it at school but don't attempt it at a top tier Russell group uni without chemistry. I know there will be many who have done it and cope extremely well with the chemistry catch-up, but she doesn't enjoy it now (be that the teacher who seems shocking) or just aptitude.

Sadly her school doesn't offer Computer Science at GCSE, let alone A levels, because they can't keep the teachers - they keep leaving to earn more money elsewhere. It's a sad reflection of the importance we place on IT in this country. Otherwise she'd be doing what @middleager twins are doing.

Re; law and economics, I guess you'd need to know her but both seem very very unlikely for her personality type. She has shown no interest in either. She has never done geography so that's out too.

@ViceLikeBlip 's point on 4 A levels is well made actually. We were seeing it as a way to keep options open but maybe it'll hurt more than it helps.

Thanks all. I think we're lining up to a trade-off between
Further Maths, Maths, Physics and one of History or Biology or neither - IF physics/eng/CS is her future
Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology - IF she thinks Biology is her future

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