The 10 Least Popular A-Level Subjects – Ranked for 2021

In A-Level by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

A-Levels are one of the toughest and most stressful times in a student’s life, yet one of the most important experiences. Deciding your subjects can be both overwhelming and scarySo, what subjects should you take? When I was a student, I pondered the same question, but I found that knowing which subjects are the least popular helped me narrow it down and decide.  

This article will delve into the least popular A-Levels in 2021 so read on to find out more. You might want to check these articles out too to make the most informed decision possible:  

Disclaimer: This list is not ranked in order of unpopularity, but merely a culmination of general unpopular subjects that have seen a decline in recent years. These subjects are based on student polls and research. They are subjective to change depending on the factors mentioned later in the article and are not definite or limiting in any way. While choosing your A-Levels, consider all the factors that affect your decision. 

10. Physical Education

A-Level physical education is considered a “Tier 4” subject (these are subjects that are the least preferred by universities) and is not offered in a lot of schools or sixth forms. It caters to a very specific crowd of students that are aiming to pursue sports sciences as a career, or for the ones truly passionate about the topic.  

It requires skills from popular subjects like maths, physics, biology, even chemistry, and practical knowledge of the myriad of sports available. It’s mixed nature of being hands-on in the sports aspect and theoretical knowledge to support it makes it unlike many of the other A-Levels. The coursework plus examinations can be overwhelming if you aren’t a very organised person and are prone to procrastination.   

The point that drives its unpopularity is the fact that most students don’t take it seriously enough to consider it a subject, especially at an A-Level. The view of it being more of an extracurricular is why it’s typically not even considered as a viable option.  

On the other hand, taking this subject will not in any case drag you down while you apply; on the contrary, places of study will see your foundation and the already acquired abilities you possess, especially if you are taking a sports science major. 

Cambridge International Examinations have put out a statement saying that they are going to be withdrawing this subject; the last series will be in November 2023.  

9. Music

Music might set trends and be an escape for many, but this A-Level is one of the least popular ones in demand worldwide. In the past 5 years, there has been a drop by 30% in the number of students in the UK who took the subject, and the chief executive of UK Music even warned the public of a “crisis” that faced the music industry and teaching because of this. The strict marking and subjective tastes of the examiners has discouraged many students from taking the subject or dropping it at an AS Level.  

Many budget cuts to education also means that many schools now no longer offer it as they do not have the appropriate equipment and instruments anymore.  

Different exam boards (AQA, CIE, OCR, etc) also have varying requirements, so if you are considering taking it, it would be beneficial to check the corresponding mark schemes or assessment criteria. Their vague nature has put off students in the past and made their journey more cumbersome.  

It’s rigor also means that it is for the more experienced and confident musicians that can prove they have a range of skills that can be demonstrated. Essentially, if you are thinking of taking this A-Level, remember that it is not for the ones who are merely passionate about the art, but ones that can excel and perform in it too.

8. Media / Film Studies

This relatively new A-Level centres around studying media disciplines. Students study a diverse range of media and have to apply it in their 70% exams and 30% coursework framework. It is unlike other A-Levels in the sense that it involves a lot of self-based knowledge and being proactive in staying informed about current affairs, which can throw students off. Not all skills are classroom taught, and you are expected to bring along critical, analytical, and independent thinking while learning.  

An essential point to note is that media studies is considered one of the easiest A-Levels, if not the easiest. Universities therefore may not give it the same importance or weight than other similarly based subjects. Research done a while ago also found that students who took it were deemed “less impressive” in comparison to their peers who had taken Literature or History. Even if universities today regard most A-Levels in the same light, the subjects you take do affect the impression you make, even if a little, especially in the application process at tertiary studies.  

If you are however keen on taking this subject, it is recommended that it be combined with two or three reputably difficult courses like History, Maths, or the core sciences to keep your options open and stand out in applications.

7. Religious Studies

Religious studies cover an umbrella of areas like world religions, philosophy, and ethicsIn the UK, there have been ongoing speculations that this area of study is slowly and increasingly being moved out of syllabuses and schools. The Religious Education Council in Wales and England has expressed concern about the fact that there has already been a 22.8% decline in the number of students taking the A-Level.  

Fewer students are opting to take this A-Level in recent years, and it could be because of the low level of seriousness it is regarded with for most. Numerous schools deem it “necessary” to learn about religions and be more aware about these matters. Ironically though, many-a-times, they don’t have dedicated teachers and resources to provide to it. The likely reason is that it focuses more on worldly and societal topics than logical thinking and factual work, which can be culminated otherwise at home or with personal experiences.  

In the case that you are set on taking religious studies as part of your course, to offset the unpopularity of this and keep your options open, avoid taking similar topics. For example, a combination of Religious Studies, Chemistry and Mathematics and Literature would widen your prospects, rather than taking it along with Philosophy, Sociology and Literature. Taking a mixture of traditional and modern subjects will provide you with a good balance during these 2 years.

6. Modern Languages

While languages like German, French and Spanish have large demands in schools globally, relatively uncommon languages like Arabic and Portuguese do not see much demand from students. The full diverse range that the exam boards offer is not fully taken advantage of, due to a lack in interest shown for the unique options available. Moreover, in England, there has been more than a 5% decline in popularity for modern languages in the past 6 years or so. 

Taking a language other than the country you live in is recommended, being integrated into syllabuses from primary schools. Recurring languages that pop up in a person’s mind when they consider taking a foreign language are English, European based ones and also less consistently, Mandarin. While these are perfectly good choices, learning a unique language can make you an interesting figure in your college applications.  

Languages are considered both a skill and an advantage in the real world and knowing a variety of them makes you a desirable candidate for most jobs. The myriad of benefits that come along with learning them include multitasking, enhanced listening, and concentration capabilities, as well as better memory. Moreover, it will greatly come in handy if you plan to study for a year abroad during an exchange program!  

A-Level languages are a highly rewarding subject that are overlooked in the face of all the other mainstream options. Consider taking one if you feel confident about picking up a useful talent, whether it be a common language or not. 

5. Geography

Geography is one of the more commonly known humanities that is offered in the majority of schools worldwide. The high passing rate of 98.7% for the subject means that many students see it as an easy A, but this is not always the case. It is regarded with a fair amount of criticism amongst society, as many views it as an easier option to avoid the harder but more fruitful sciences.  

The content covered in geography tends to be lighter than that of history, which can be both a blessing and downfall. It would give you relatively more time to study for your other subjects, but if taken too lightly, it could mean saying goodbye to the easy A. 

Teachers, advisors, parents and even your friends are expected to be persuading you to consider taking an alternative or think twice before taking geography. This concern is understandable; as it’s one of those subjects that doesn’t give you any groundwork in an advanced field, but merely a supporting one that could provide you with some bits of knowledge. This holds true for most cases unless you plan on doing something like geology.  

After reading all this, if the temptation of getting that easy A trumps all the downfalls that come along with the unpopularity of it, think about taking it at a GCSE first if possible, and if not, pick your other options to be on the more respected side of the spectrum.  

Check out the list of The Most Respected A-Level Subjects to help you out!

4. Information Technology

Technology has become accessible more than ever to people around the world. That should mean that more students are more comfortable with this subject because they have grown up using these digital tools, so why aren’t they? 

Having an IT degree is a very distinguished achievement, as the industry is rapidly growing, and the demand in the job market is high. It is a very rewarding subject but can be monotonous at some stages. This may put you off at the start, but as the course goes on, it does get better once you become familiar enough to start working on your own projects and understand the material at a deeper level.   

There is a huge gap between the number of male and female students who take the subject too. On average, girls choose to take more heavy humanities and facilitating subjects; but taking this A-Level would provide the same importance that any of the other subjects do and give you a start towards one of the biggest industries out there today. 

The unpopularity of this subject is one that should not be given too much though and gotten ahead of. Having this knowledge could pave the way for a prosperous career and job, particularly if you have a flair for it. 

3. Performing Arts

The importance of art in societies across the world is acknowledged as they are an essential point of identity, culture, expression, and history. The performing arts at A-Levels encompasses dance, music and drama, and students have to produce a portfolio, as well as a performance in their final piece. It is perfect for the ones aspiring to get into the performing arts industry as it would give them the much-needed experience.  

Even with the rise of the showbiz industry, research shows from less than 5 years ago, that the number of students opting to study this area has dropped to the lowest in a decade. This could be because many schools don’t have a flourishing arts sector, or because of the volatility and insecure nature that the performing arts industry is regarded with. Parental disapproval towards taking the subject also plays a role in the discouragement of taking this A-Level – it’s seen to be one of those subjects that’s “pointless”. 

For the passionate spotlight lovers although, this subject will be your calling. Despite the high passing rates, it is by no means an easy A-Level. A lot of hard work, less free time, and dedication towards it will be rewarding. If you are not sure about following this path completely, consider keeping it on the bottom of your list, something to fall back on. 

2. Home Sciences

More popularly known as Home Economics, this A-Level focuses on knowledge about food, society, and health amongst other things. Its specific nature makes it undersubscribed, as it is a niche and likely unknown science. In the face of all its other counterparts, it is considered as a “softer science”.  

On the scale of esteemed A-Levels, unfortunately, this one comes along with the ones on the far end. This is because it doesn’t pave the pathway to a top-paying job or come in the list of degrees universities are known for, which puts off students who are prone to wanting more security and stability in their course of actions after school.   

Considering all the flaws, home sciences does possess some qualities that are advantageous. It prepares you for experiences and offers you a wholesome understanding on aspects like personal finance and management.  

If you already have 2 or 3 solid choices down for A-Levels and are looking to take one that isn’t as serious or as a backup, this might be the choice for you. As this is on the low demand side, check to see if it is viable or available in your place of study. 

Home economics can be fairly interesting if you are an inquisitive person who likes to learn. Don’t let the opinions surrounding it put you off completely. 

1. Environmental studies

Environmental activism has never been more prominent than before, and increasingly more jobs are popping up that specialise in this field. However, it remains an unchosen subject amongst the A-Level students. There is a common misconception that environmental science is a low-paying, low in demand and undermined job, discouraging students from taking it as an A-level and even at university.  This may have been true in previous years, but with global warming and the environment becoming matters of national and global concern, there is a lack of people who are taking it as seriously and pursuing it as a qualification. 

In many developed countries, this topic is embedded into science curriculums in primary school, but many nations do not recognise it fully and give it the importance it deserves. This shows in the mindsets of pupils, young and old. Conventional science doesn’t include this area of study in depth and is hence viewed unimportant to study as much in depth in contrast. 

If you are a passionate environmental scientist wishing to make some change, taking this A-Level would give you a great foundation for your further studies. Don’t let the fact that this is not in demand discourage you from taking it – the popularity of the subject is estimated to pick up as syllabuses change to accommodate it more.  

Does it Really Matter if You Take a Popular or Unpopular Subject? 

As times change, education also evolves. The cause for subjects, university courses and careers to fall out of or jump into favour is because requirements and circumstances change. Unpopularity of a subject is subjective to a substantial extent – it depends on numerous circumstances such as the country you are studying in, the school or sixth form you are attending, and even the gender demographic.  

A general rule of thumb for the popularity question is how academically based the subject is. Ones that focus on the arts, humanities or social sciences and traditional values like religion, deemed “soft subjects” tend to fall back in comparison to the general critical subjects (known as facilitating subjects) like the core sciences and mathematics.  

Taking these so-called unpopular subjects should not affect the chances of you getting into a university. As long as you make sure you’re hitting the entry requirements for the course at the university you’re planning to attend.  

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