Do universities prefer History or Geography?

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History and Geography, at both GCSE and A-Level, are some of the most popular subjects. They’re versatile, respected, and just generally interesting! However, the dilemma many students face is picking the one that universities will appreciate more. Will universities turn you away if you don’t have a History qualification, or do they ask students for a Geography qualification? Which subject do universities prefer more?

Generally, universities prefer History over Geography. However, this is specific to your course. The reason universities prefer History over Geography is because the transferable skills offered by Geography are quite broad, whereas the subjects they can be used for are quite niche, like Biomedical Sciences. On the other hand, the transferable skills from History are less varied than Geography, but they can be used in a wider range of fields, including, Law, Business, English, Human Sciences, and Economics.

As a student who studied GCSE History and GCSE Geography, and A-Level History and A-Level Geography, in this article I’ll be taking you through whether universities will prefer you to have History or Geography on your application!

Should you choose Geography or History for university?

Both subjects are highly valued by universities. A 2022 study by the Sutton Trust found that students who chose subjects including History and Geography were more likely to receive offers from top universities, like the Russell Group universities.

You can view this study on the Sutton Trust website.

Therefore, no matter which you choose, or whether you even decide to do both, universities respect Geography and History as subjects! However, surely universities value one more than the other?

Although there is no statistical evidence to suggest one subject is preferred, more university degrees require or recommend History A-Level over Geography A-Level. Geography A-Level is still useful, but History A-Level is more adaptable, i.e. it pairs well with a wider range of subjects.

Pros and Cons of History

Now that you’ve seen that universities like both History and Geography, let’s look at the pros and cons of studying these subjects. First, we’ll look at History!

As previously mentioned, History is, if only marginally, preferred by universities over Geography. In the following sections, I’ll be taking you through why this is the case, whilst also giving you some potential downsides to studying History.

Pros of A-Level History

A-Level History is arguably one of the best subjects you can take if you plan on entering higher education. A-Level History is useful for several major degree pathways including Law, Business Management, English, History, and more.

Another upside of A-Level History is that it’s an adaptable subject, and pairs nicely with other A-Level subjects. These include A-Level Geography, English Literature, Economics, Psychology, Law, Classics, and many more subjects!

A-Level History also offers a lot of transferable skills. I’d recommend checking out this page of the University of Cambridge website, for a list of transferable skills you get from History. Although the page is talking about BA History, many of the skills listed are ones you first pick up in A-Level History!

Cons of A-Level History

In my opinion, the biggest con of A-Level History is that it’s a hard subject to study. It requires a lot of effort and revision, and it can be quite difficult to achieve the top grades even with maximum effort.

If you’d like to read more about how hard A-Level History is, I’d recommend checking out this Think Student article.

Pros of GCSE History

Of course, studying History at GCSE is good if you want to study A-Level History. However, it’s also just a good subject to study overall!

Universities like GCSE History because as a qualification, it demonstrates that you have learnt some of the skills you need for university. These include independent research and essay writing.

GCSE History also requires a lot of revision. Therefore, if you pass it, it shows universities that you’re willing to put time and dedication into your studies!

For advice on how to revise for GCSE History, check out the Think Student guide.

Cons of GCSE History

A con of GCSE History, which is similar to GCSE Geography, is that GCSE History is a difficult subject. I’d recommend this Think Student article for a student opinion on whether GCSE History is harder than GCSE Geography!

This Think Student article listed History as one of the hardest GCSE subjects. Check it out to see where GCSE History placed and the other articles on the list!

Many students often find it difficult to achieve the top grades with GCSE History. However, if you’re considering applying to the prestigious universities in the UK like the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, you will more than likely need 8s and 9s in your GCSEs.

Pros and Cons of Geography

Now that we’ve seen the pros and cons of GCSE and A-Level History, it’s time to look at Geography! Although it is probably not preferred by universities overall, it is still preferred over History by some degree subjects.

Of course, even if universities don’t tend to ‘prefer’ a subject, if you want to study it don’t let that put you off! Universities care more about your passion and interest for a subject than if it’s ‘preferred’.

Pros of A-Level Geography

Geography A-Level is a great subject for university. It can help you access pathways to the sciences and humanities, so it’s really adaptable for your future career plans.

A-Level Geography has scientific elements, in that you’ll often be working with and have to collect your own data. These skills can benefit you in a range of BSc degrees such as Biomedical Sciences, Computer Science, or even Geography if you want to continue the subject!

A-Level Geography also has literature-based elements, in that you will be writing lots of essays and eventually writing your coursework. These skills can benefit you in a range of BA degrees such as English Literature, History, Law, and Human Sciences.

You can check out the Pearson Edexcel specification as an example.

Since the transferable skills you gain from Geography cover several different fields, universities value it greatly as a qualification. However, universities tend to prefer it for science-based subjects over the humanities.

Cons of A-Level Geography

While Geography A-Level is a desired subject for university, choosing it might not always work in your favour. Here are a few reasons why.

Firstly, the A-Level Geography NEA (coursework) is worth 20% of the A-Level. It requires a lot of time, dedication, and effort, so it may take away some of your time for other subjects that are more closely related to your future degree.

I’d recommend checking out this Think Student article for advice on how to get an A* in your A-Level Geography NEA. Alternatively, this Think Student article has many ideas for your NEA investigation!

Secondly, if you aren’t planning to study in a scientific field, universities might prefer A-Level History. A-Level Geography offer skills in both science and the humanities, but that also means you don’t really ‘specialise’ in one, which you need to for a degree.

Pros of GCSE Geography

Naturally, studying GCSE Geography opens up a pathway for you to study A-Level Geography. Universities prioritise your A-Levels over GCSEs, so make sure to keep your A-Levels in mind when choosing your GCSE options.

Regardless, GCSE Geography is respected by universities because it teaches you fundamental skills you can take to university, even if you don’t pursue A-Level Geography. These skills include analysis, evaluation, data collection and more.

GCSE Geography was ranked as one of the best GCSE subjects to take in 2024! To see where it placed and the other rankings, check out this Think Student article.

Cons of GCSE Geography

A con of GCSE Geography is that, simply, it is a GCSE subject. As I mentioned earlier, universities prioritise A-Level qualifications, so they prefer A-Level Geography to GCSE Geography.

It may be difficult, but it’s possible to study A-Level Geography without ever having studied GCSE Geography. I know someone who did, and they passed with great grades!

Another con is that GCSE Geography is quite a hard subject. Therefore, students may find it more difficult to achieve the top grades. Check out this page of the University of Oxford website, which explains which degree subjects require the top grades.

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