How Important Are GCSEs (To Universities, Employers, And Colleges)?

How Important Are GCSEs (To Universities, Employers, And Colleges)?

In GCSE by Think Student Editor2 Comments

GCSEs are the first proper set of exams that you’ll take in your life. They are useful all throughout the rest of your education (and even after that), but at what point in your life do your GCSEs become less representative of your academic ability.

In this article, I’ll be taking a look at the importance of your GCSE grades after school. If you’re looking for where your results can get you (or even how long your poor results will be dragging you down), you’ve come to the right place.

GCSE are very, very important to colleges. In fact, the only factor that colleges assess about you to determine whether you are suitable for a course (or not) is your GCSE grades. However, at university, they care much less about your GCSE grades – and a lot more about your A-Levels. University’s and employers, only use your GCSE grades as an assessment of your work ethic, motivation and resilience during learning.

How Important Are Your GCSEs When Applying For University?

GCSE School LibraryBy the time you get to university, your GCSEs will be far behind you – even further if you’ve taken a gap year. So, how important could they really be to your chances of entering university?

Universities get many applicants every year, and it can be hard to differentiate between students – especially if they have got equally brilliant A-Level results.

For this reason, they tend to look at your GCSEs to help gain a sense of who you are as a person. Many students decide to slack off during their GCSEs, and only really get going when they’re in college.

Using this fact, universities look at GCSE results to see who the real slackers are, and who works hard. If you want to get into your university of choice, it helps massively if you have some good GCSE results. 

For reference, there are no actual GCSE entry requirements for top universities like Cambridge and Oxford. What they do is take in your grades with context to the rest of your application.

Universities look at your GCSE grades as a performance indicator. What they much prefer to use as a prediction of your success is your A-Level results.

Even if you haven’t done well in your GCSEs, there’s still a chance you can get into university. As it says on the Cambridge University website, there are always exceptions for applicants.

For example, if you have absolutely smashed your GCSEs, but have absolutely failed your A-Levels, your GCSEs may be taken in as an appropriate excuse.

There are also other things that are inspected, too. Your personal statement, CV, and predicted grades all count towards your application alongside your GCSEs.

So in essence, yes, they are important. If you’re applying to a popular university with lots of competition then they could be the difference you need to get in.

However, if you’re applying to a less prestigious college, your GCSEs may not be considered as important. In this case, your A-Level results will be more useful. 

What GCSEs Do Universities Find The Most Impressive?

How Important Are GCSEs For UniversitiesWe know that the best universities look for the best GCSEs, but what specific GCSEs do they look for?

First of all, I’ll mention the most important 3 – English, Maths, and the Sciences. 

Good English skills are important no matter what you’re doing, be it applying for university or writing an article (like me). Universities look for good English GCSE grades to prove that you can handle the terminology of the course.

A good GCSE Maths result proves that you are adept with handling not only numbers, but data too. Maths is becoming more prominent in every course at university, and so you’ll need at least a 6 if you want to enter top universities.

Science GCSEs are a great way to show universities your understanding of the natural world. If you’ve got good GCSE science results, you can pretty much apply yourself and succeed in anything you put your mind to.

Any GCSEs that is only offered to exceptionally performing students, university’s like. Two great examples of GCSEs like this are:

  • A good GCSE if you want to impress universities is Triple Science. Technically it’s 3 GCSEs, but it will be certain to boost your chances of being accepted into university.
  • Another impressive GCSE to mention is Further Maths. Basically an extension of normal GCSE Maths, it gives an insight into A-Level content.

Universities love this, as it shows you take initiative to get as ahead as possible. In an environment where opportunities are few and far between, this skill is invaluable. 

Taking an extra language (such as French or Spanish) is also a good idea. This, alongside a humanities subject, is commonly called the Baccalaureate.

The Baccalaureate is what universities look for in the brightest of students. It can seriously boost your chances of being accepted, and is also a useful qualification set to have next to your name.

It helps if you have a range of GCSEs, too. A broad range of good GCSE results will show universities that you can succeed in most subject areas. Most universities, like a student who can excel in both the creative subjects (such as Art, Languages and Drama) as well as the more academic subjects (such as Maths, Computer Science and the Sciences).

This will mean that they’re more likely to accept your application – they want the best grades, and that means the best students.

Can You Get Into University Without A Good Set Of GCSEs?

University GraduationUniversity is a difficult part of life, if you choose to do it. High stress, high independence, and high work amounts are not uncommon.

Can you get in without GCSEs? Is that even possible?

The answer is yes, but there are a few conditions. University is extremely hard, and you will only succeed if you’re talented and dedicated.

According to Mark Anderson from WhatNext?‘Most universities will require C grade equivalents (or a 4 under the new system) in English and Maths’. 

This means that there are few universities willing to accept candidates with no GCSEs. If you haven’t got any GCSEs, you’re going to find it hard to get a university to accept you.

If you are applying for university without any GCSEs, there are a few things that will help. If you’ve got an outstanding CV and personal statement, you may be taken into special consideration. 

If you do have poor GCSE grades, aim to get as many other qualifications and assets as you can on your record. This means boy scouts, brownies, cadets, student reps, extracurricular activities, and charity work.

Having this experience can sometimes make up for the GCSEs you lack. To some universities, and depending on the course you’re doing, experience can often be more important than your GCSEs.

It’s easier to get into lower ranked universities if you have no GCSEs. If you’re in this situation, I’d suggest applying to universities that aren’t in the Russell group. 

If you’re unsure as to what that means, it’s basically the top universities in England. Here’s a link to the website for a comprehensive list of the Russell group universities.

Applying for a university that is less prestigious will make it easier to get accepted. Less applicants means that the university will have less ability to choose, and so are more likely to choose you.

Not that you’re necessarily a bad choice! Just that if you have no GCSEs, it can be hard to access further education such as university.

How Important Are GCSEs To Employers?

How Important Are GCSEs To EmployersWhether you’re looking for a job after school, during college, or in university, employers will always look at your GCSEs. But, how do they stack up with other application materials?

Your CV is hugely important when applying for jobs. Not only this, but your GCSEs are a prominent feature of your CV too.

A shining GCSE report will show your employer that you can work hard to achieve goals. This is a common skill needed in the working world, and so good GCSEs can definitely work in your favour.

Most employers these days are interested in your GCSE Maths and GCSE English grades. These GCSEs are required if you want to get a good job early on in your life (before college).

If you fail GCSE English and/or GCSE Maths in school, it will stay with you for the rest of your life. On your job applications, employers will see that you took those GCSEs again – and that isn’t good. 

However, GCSEs aren’t the only thing you’ll need for your job applications.

More than most things, employers will value experience. If you’ve already got experience in the field of work you’re applying for, it will help you out massively.

Employers love this because it means that they don’t have to train you – you already have an idea of what you’re doing. This can sometime be more useful than GCSEs, if an employer is looking for quick and efficient work.

Taking in both of these reasons, you could say that GCSEs are equally as important to employers as experience.

However, if you’ve only just left school, or are in your first year of college, you won’t have any experience. Therefore, your GCSE results are going to be a lot more valuable. 

Employers also tend to look at A-Level results more than GCSEs anyway. A-Levels are a much more accurate representation of your strengths and talents, and that’s what employers are interested in. 

The older you get, the less GCSEs will be a factor in determining your suitability for a job. Therefore, if you are no longer in education, your workplace experience will be weighted with more importance than your GCSE results.

What GCSEs Do Employers Find Most Impressive?

Best GCSEs To EmployersMost employers take a look at your GCSEs to decide whether or not to employ you. So, if you want to impress your employer, what are the best GCSEs to have?

Just like universities, English, Maths, and Science are the most important 3.

Employers love students with a good English Language GCSE because of their ability to handle customers. It also makes writing up reports and receipts a lot easier.

Employers really don’t care about your English Literature GCSE grade – they don’t want to employ you because you can write a perfect sonnet, they want to employ you because you can actually perform in the workplace.

A Maths GCSE is good for any job, as it’s used in nearly everything. Counting cash, making spreadsheets, and monitoring finance sheets are all skills employers are looking for in applicants.

Science GCSEs are a great indicator of your applicability to unusual situations. Science is an understanding of the world around you, and employers need that in tricky work environments.

Further Maths and Triple Science are the golden GCSEs of employment. Employers look for these GCSEs when assessing applicants to pick out the best candidates to employ.

As I’ve also said, employers look for experience in addition to GCSEs. For this reason, they’ll be impressed by any practical exams you do.

For example, Food Tech is a great one – especially if you work in fast food. Employers love to see that you’re good at actually doing the job, rather than just knowing how it works.

Depending on what job you do, Design Technology can also be good for your employment chances. Because of how hands on the GSCE is, it can prove to employers that you can do the more ‘physically straining’ tasks.

Languages GCSEs are very impressive to employers, too. Employers will look for students who took a language GCSE, as they are usually better with customer service and support.

Usually it depends on what job you’re going for – as long as you have some subjects related to the job, you’ll be fine. Only specialised GCSEs such as Further Maths and Triple Science really impress employers, the rest of them depend on the grade you get.

The most important GCSEs to employers will be the GCSEs that are related to the job you are applying for. So, if you are applying to become a waiter, GCSE Catering would be the most important GCSE to the employer.

What GCSEs Lead To The Highest Paid Jobs?

GCSEs That Lead To Highest Paying JobsSome GCSEs are most definitely likely to land you in a high paying job, whereas some might not. What are the differences, and how can you use the best GCSEs to your advantage?

Disclaimer: the assessments made here are a bit flaky – this is because it is extremely hard to predict what GCSE will lead to the highest paid job. This is because GCSEs are a very low-level qualification and there are many more factors that can affect employment, after school. But… let’s take a look anyway!

The highest paying GCSEs are the ones that lead you into the highest paying jobs. The best route to the most amount of money is down the business/economics side of things, according to the Telegraph

So, how would you get to this through GCSEs? First of all, you’ll want to take the Economics GCSE. This is probably the most important one to have, alongside GCSE Maths. 

GCSE Economics leads to a wide array of high-paying jobs. On average per year, an accountant earns £30,000, a financial advisor earns £35000, and an actuary earns £55,000, according to PayScale.

If you really want to guarantee a high paying job in economics for your future, the maybe GCSE Further Maths is the one for you.

This GCSE can lead you onto some of the hardest A-Levels out there, usually the ones that give the highest paying jobs. It shows employers your ability to handle difficult problems, and that’s good for any job related to economics.

However, economics isn’t the only great GCSE to get a high paying job. Triple Science, for instance, can lead to some nicely rewarding jobs. 

You could be a chemist, a biologist, or a physicist. Any jobs related to these fields are very well paid, and a Triple Science GCSE can get you there.

Don’t be fooled by the promise of high pay, though. These jobs may be well paid, but the GCSEs that may get you there are the hardest of the bunch. 

Also, don’t worry if you’ve bombed your GCSEs. There are still loads of high paying jobs out there that you can do, and none of them require GCSEs.

If you want the highest paying job at the end of your education, I’d recommend going down the route of economics and maths. This is most likely to give you the highest paying job. 

How Important Are GCSEs When Applying For College?

Importance Of GCSEs When Applying For CollegeGCSEs probably come in most useful when applying for the stage directly after school. Colleges look for your GCSE choices and grades to determine whether or not they’ll accept you onto a course.

If you don’t have the right GCSEs for the course you want to do, you will not be allowed to do it. This means that you might not get the A-Levels you want, or even the job you want.

So yeah, GCSEs are pretty important when applying to college. What’s even worse is when you fail your GCSEs, but still want to go to college.

Like Natasha Boydell of successatschool says, ‘Students who don’t get a grade C or above in [English and Maths] now have to carry on studying them until they are 18’.

This means that you’d have to take extra courses alongside what you already wanted to do. Whether it be BTEC or A-Level, Apprenticeship or Access to HE, the extra work is definitely not something you want. 

As a general rule, the better your A-Levels, the better the college that you go to. The better the college, the more courses will be available to you.

If you’re anything like me, you might not know what you want to do when you leave education. This is why it’s important to get good GCSEs – more options mean more chance you’ll find a job you’ll like.

Most colleges will accept you no matter what GCSEs you got (or didn’t get). This is great, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get onto the course you’ve always dreamed of. 

If you’re worried about your GCSEs and the college you’re applying for, it might pay off to look into the best time to start revising for GCSEs.

However, if you are doing A-Levels and are worried about your A-Levels grades check out: the best time to start revising for A-Levels.

This way, you’ll ensure that you get the best results in your exams, and go to the college you want to. By the same logic, it might also help if you look at the things you should be avoiding during exam season.

What GCSEs Do Colleges Find The Most Impressive?

GCSEs Most Important For CollegeWe know that GCSEs are important for college, and we know the consequences for failing them. So, what GCSEs do colleges look for in their best and brightest students?

Just like both universities and employers, colleges will look for the basic three GCSEs first. These are English, Maths, and Science if you didn’t already know. 

Colleges look at these first, because all of their courses involve using skills from at least one of these GCSES. 

They look for good English GCSE grades to find students who are good at extended writing, essays, etc. These students will be recommended subjects such as A-Level Business Studies or A-Level English itself. 

Colleges also love students who have good Maths grades, as it shows that they can problem solve. Students that have a high GCSE Maths result will be suggested subjects like Economics or Further Maths.

They look at the GCSE Science grades as just that – science grades. Most colleges offer all three sciences (Chemistry, Biology, and Physics) and also some extra sciences, like Psychology and Computer Science.

When colleges decide which applicants to accept, they go for the most academically skilled students. This means that they are impressed by Baccalaureate students, and students who have succeeded in a wide range of GCSEs.

Two great GCSEs that have always impressed colleges are GCSE Further Maths and GCSE Triple Science. 

Further Maths could be considered the hardest GCSE out there. This is similar to its A-Level counterpart, A-Level Further Maths.

Triple Science is a great GCSE because it splits up the content into 3 sections. Colleges know this, and are impressed by those who succeed in this difficult GCSE.

So yeah, these GCSEs are impressive to colleges, but they only work if you succeed in them. If you don’t work hard and put in the hours, these GCSEs will get you nowhere.

Does It Matter If You Have Failed All Of Your GCSEs?

Does It Matter If You Have Failed Your GCSEsGCSEs can be hard, so can A-Levels, and university even harder. Many students fail GCSEs each year, so what do they do?

In fact, only ‘66.9%’ of GCSE entries achieved a grade 4 or above in 2018, according to Independent News. This means that 33.1% of the population failed at least 1 GCSE – does this really matter?

As we’ve looked at, GCSEs are very important to universities, employers, and colleges. If you don’t get what you need, you might not be allowed on your course – or even college at all. 

But it’s important to remember that GCSEs are not the be all and end all of education. You can go into apprenticeships without GCSEs, and there are lots of high paying jobs you can do without GCSEs too.

Plus, as I’ve said before, not only can you retake the most important GCSEs at college, you’re required to. This means that even if you don’t quite get it the first time, you’ll get another chance – for the main subjects that is. 

GCSEs don’t add up to all of your CV, either. If you have other experiences, like cadets or community work, that can help your chances of getting into college or securing a job.

Unfortunately, it’s a bit harder to land a place in university with no GCSEs. Universities will look at your GCSEs to try and pick out the best students, and if you haven’t got any, it doesn’t look good. 

However, you can still get into university. If you’ve managed to get into college and absolutely smash your A-Levels, you’re in with a chance of university.

If you’ve failed all of your GCSEs, it may be worth trying to retake the big ones at college. This way, you’ll have something to put on your CV, and also shows employers that you’re dedicated to your work.

You could also consider taking an apprenticeship instead. Apprenticeships are great for leading you straight into work, and you get paid whilst learning how to do the job. What more could you possibly want?

Can You Get A Proper Job With Zero GCSEs?

Jobs You Can Get With No GCSEsSo, it’s looking like you’re not going to pass your GCSEs. That’s okay, because you can still get into college and retake them. The real question is, who will employ you with zero GCSEs? 

Employers make good use of your CV when deciding whether or not to employ you. They look at not only your GCSE grades, but your work experience, personal statement, and extracurricular activities. 

This means that GCSEs only make up a part of your CV. If you want a good job after education, it’s up to you to make the rest of your CV shine. 

Any work experience you do will count towards your application. This means either through school or college, as I’m sure you’ll have opportunities in both.

As Laura Mitchell of the Daily Star says, ‘Not everyone is programmed to do well at exams, but that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in life’. 

There are lots of examples of highly paid jobs that you can do with no GCSEs. Some require experience, but that can come with time.

A good job that most people do at some point in their life is retailing. Retail consists of stacking shelves and monitoring stock, and involves some customer service too.

Most people take this job as a temporary source of income until they can move on to something better. However, if you stick at it, you can earn in excess of £28,000, according to PayScale.

Another great job that lots of students transition to at some point in their life is working at a fast food chain. Places like KFC and McDonalds offer nice salaries to experienced workers.

If you’re really stuck on what jobs you can get, I’d recommend you take a look at this article. It’s a comprehensive list of the jobs you can get with no GCSEs at all.

If you want to know more about how you can prevent failing your GCSEs, check out some of Think Student’s GCSE articles.

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Zachary Tomlinson
3 years ago

My brother is interested in transferring into the UK to continue his studies but he’s clueless about what to expect regarding their education system. I had no idea that you’d need to pass the GCSE if you want to march into college. I should share this with him so he’d be able to prepare and look for a tutor before taking the GCSE.

Reply to  Zachary Tomlinson
3 years ago

Hi Zachary,

This article is mostly generalised towards UK-based students. It is my knowledge that students entering in from other countries can most likely substitute GCSEs with their country’s equivalent qualifications. However, I am not certain of this and each college has different policies. If your brother has a particular college in mind, I would recommend he contacts them directly and discusses his unique situation.