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It's Official: 'Soft' A-Levels DO Damage Chance Of A Place At Top Universities

30/03/2011 11:10 | Updated 22 May 2015

Top universities, Oxford university, All SoulsTop universities will today issue guidance which officially admit for the first time that they favour students who study traditional subjects at A-level and that those studying so-called 'soft' subjects are at a disadvantage.

The guide is compiled by the Russell Group, a lobbying group for Oxford, Cambridge and 18 other leading universities. It confirms rumours that have circulated for years that they favour those subjects over newer ones such as business studies or photography and prefer science and maths subjects - even for unrelated degrees.

According to The Guardian, the new handbook is a sign that universities are having to cave in to ministers and teachers' calls for far more information on how admissions tutors decide who they award places to and why.

By not studying at least two of the following subjects – maths, English, geography, history, any of the three pure sciences or a classical or modern foreign language – "many degrees at competitive universities will not be open to you," the guide, produced in collaboration with the Institute of Career Guidance, states.

It asks students to question why they are not taking traditional subjects: "Are you trying to avoid a challenge?" It states that while there is no "set definition" of a "hard" or "soft" subject, so-called "hard" subjects are like the ones the top universities prefer and are more theoretical. It gives media studies, art and design, photography and business studies as examples of "soft" subjects and states that they are "vocational or have a practical bias".

"If you plan to take more than one perceived 'soft' subject, some caution may be needed," the guidebook warns.

In June, David Willetts, the universities minister, told vice-chancellors he had been "pushing for greater transparency from universities for some time". The advice teenagers received on university courses was "of absolute importance ... so that [they] don't miss out on a particular course or a place at a particular university through not receiving the right guidance at the right time," he said. Willetts said the handbook was a "welcome step towards levelling the playing field for prospective students".

Just over 7.2 at Oxford. This may be because state school students sometimes do not receive proper guidance about what A-levels are needed to get into an elite university when they are making their subject choices.

Yesterday Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group admitted that choosing the right subjects at GCSE and A-level was "crucial to whether a teenager maximised or reduced their opportunities and life chances".

"It is really important that students do not disadvantage themselves by choosing a combination of subjects at A-level which will not equip them with the appropriate skills and knowledge for their university course or which may not demonstrate effectively their aptitude for a particular subject," she said.

Careers advisers said the handbook would mean clever pupils at comprehensives could no longer be in a weaker position to their peers in private schools when applying to leading universities, such as Oxbridge.

Critical thinking and general studies are recommended to be extra subjects, on top of three or more A-levels. Science and maths A-levels are recommended for degrees in archaeology, anthropology and geography among others, and law degrees do not require law A-level. History may be useful instead, the guidebook states.

Related content:

Are you pleased that parents and teens can finally have some transparency on the 'right' A-levels for university?

Are you worried that your teenager has taken the 'wrong' subjects?

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