Trying to choose A-Levels can be a very stressful time. There are so many factors you need to consider, not only what you enjoy but also what will help you get into university, and your previous grades. Furthermore, the complex terminology which is used by universities and colleges about A-Levels can make this even more confusing, particularly terms such as “facilitating subjects”. However, in this article we will explore the concept of a facilitating subject, explaining how it is relevant to your choices, to help you make the right choice for you when taking this big step in your education.
Facilitating subjects are those which are most likely to be required by universities for entry onto a degree course. The list of subjects was created by the Russell Group (a collection of some of the top UK universities) to encompass as many of these as possible, to guide students in making the best choices at A-Level. These subjects include English Literature, Maths, Sciences, and Languages. Generally, the Russell Group recommends that you take 2 facilitating subjects at A-Level, alongside another choice such as an arts subject, or one more specific to your chosen degree pathway.
While this should have given you a short answer to your questions, please read on for full details about facilitating subjects including a full list of all the subjects at A-Level.
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What is a facilitating subject?
Simply put, facilitating subjects are the most likely to be required by universities for entry onto a degree course. They therefore tend to be preferred by universities in admissions, even if they are not required. Facilitating subjects tend to be seen as more academically rigorous than other subjects.
Due to this, facilitating subjects help you to make sure you have a lot of options in choosing a degree. Often to get onto a course you will need some prior experience of the subject you will study, either by taking an A-Level in it or by taking similar A-Levels. This experience is what facilitating subjects are suggested to give – they are broad and overarching subjects with many applications when applying to university.
Furthermore, because they are more general courses, facilitating subjects often have useful applications within your other A-Level subjects. More specialised courses, for example Psychology A-Level, have many parts which are also covered in facilitating subjects, such as the Biology A-Level course. This means facilitating subjects are useful baselines at A-Level, particularly alongside other more specialised courses.
Think Student has a great article with tips for choosing your A-Levels, which can be found here.
Which A-Levels are facilitating subjects?
The Russell Group represents 24 leading UK universities. They have previously published a list of the top facilitating subjects required by their universities, to help students understand the most common requirements of subject for admissions.
These subjects are typically “core” subjects and tend to be things that students would have taken throughout secondary school, with a few exceptions such as for classical languages.
Facilitating humanities subjects at A-Level are English Literature, History, and Geography. These subjects were chosen because, as suggested above, they provide a good foundation in essay skills and research, which can then be used as a basis for other subjects at A-Level and beyond.
Languages such as French, German, Spanish, and other modern foreign languages are also facilitating subjects. This can also include classical languages like Latin and Ancient Greek. These subjects are often useful for degrees where other cultures are studied, and Latin can even be useful in Biology, helping students understand plant and animal classifications with ease.
Finally, science subjects which are facilitating A-Levels include Maths, Further Maths, Physics, Biology, and Chemistry. These are the most general forms of science which can be taken, and therefore prepare students for university courses in any STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) subject.
For more information on which subjects are considered facilitating at A-Level, please visit this article from Success at School.
Do facilitating subjects still exist?
The Russel Group, who originally published this list of subjects, decided to stop suggesting subjects in this way in 2019. In a quote from Dr Tim Bradshaw, their chief executive, they suggested that this change was to “avoid misinterpretation” of the list, which was becoming more frequent.
This is because many teachers and parents had begun to view the list of facilitating subjects as “the only subjects pupils should consider to get into a Russell Group university”. They said that this was a misconception, and that facilitating subjects were never intended to be used in this way.
The Russell Group has replaced facilitating subjects lists with a new website called “Informed Choices”, which can be found here. This tool allows pupils to input information such as what they want to study at university, and get suggestions for A-Level choices, as well as suggesting courses for students based on the A-Levels they are taking. It also has advice for choosing subjects for students who have not yet decided what they want to study at university.
Dr Bradshaw stated that “subject choice is often overlooked” when students are applying to university, but that it is “hugely important”. He suggested that this change will ensure that “all pupils and their parents have clear information at their fingertips”, through the Informed Choices website.
Therefore, while the list of facilitating subjects is no longer published, the Informed Choices can still help pupils choose A-Level subjects which will be most applicable to their future applications. Furthermore, the list of facilitating subjects is still very useful to students looking to ensure they have a broad range of well-considered A-Levels, to enhance their chances of admission to university.
Why are facilitating subjects at A-Level important?
The key reason why facilitating subjects are so important is clear: they open doors after A-Level and keep your options open. Taking facilitating subjects means you have many more possible choices in degree course. Furthermore, it can help prepare you for the world of work, with problem solving or analytical skills, which can also be useful in an apprenticeship.
Overall, these facilitating subjects are considered to be a solid academic foundation. The same is true of any career path or higher education choice. Because these are core subjects which everyone recognises, it is clear to employers and admissions officers what you are achieving, and that you will be ready for whatever they need from you in a role.
As already discussed, facilitating subjects also develop your key skills, which can be transferred to many other areas. Students often wonder why we need to do algebra, or analyse Shakespeare, when we will never do that in “real life”. The truth is that these exercises are simply creating skills like problem solving and analytical skills in a manner which is easy to learn them!
Therefore, facilitating subjects at A-Level are not necessarily about the course content being more important, or more academically rigorous than other subjects. They are important because they give you the skills and opportunities which will allow you to make the most of life, and to achieve as much as you can later.
For more information on the most well-respected A-Levels, please visit this Think Student article.
Are facilitating subjects harder than other A-Levels?
Part of the reason why the facilitating subjects were chosen by the Russell Group is because they are considered academically rigorous. Therefore, they likely are harder than some other A-Level choices.
This academic rigour is what prepares students for university-style study, particularly at the top-tier universities which the Russell Group represents. The skills development, individual thinking, problem solving, and creativity which are “facilitated” by taking these subjects are all hugely valuable to any field of study at university.
However, they are not necessarily much harder than other A-Levels. Some non-facilitating subjects are considered more difficult than the facilitating subjects, and some facilitating subjects may be easier than others. Difficulty is individual, and each person has different strengths, so what you find hard may be easy for someone else!
What are the easiest facilitating subjects to take at A-Level?
As suggested above, difficulty is completely subjective. With everyone having different interests and strengths in school, everyone will also have corresponding opinions about what subjects are harder or easier than others.
Think Student’s article (found here) ranking the easiest A-Levels suggests that both Maths and Geography are among the easiest A-Levels to take. These are both facilitating subjects, but their high proportion of grades C or above, and polling of students suggests that they are easier than other A-Levels. This might suggest that Maths and Geography are easier than some other facilitating subjects, however I would advise caution in interpreting these results.
Difficulty really is an individual opinion and relying on someone else’s ranking will never be the best way to choose “easy” A-Levels. All A-Levels are difficult in different ways, so playing to your strengths (such as what you enjoyed and got good grades in at GCSE) is the most sensible way to choose “easy” and fun A-Levels.
Should you only take facilitating subjects for A-Level?
All of this might make it sound like facilitating subjects are the only useful things to take for A-Levels. However, this sort of misconception is why the Russell Group ultimately decided to stop publishing their list. Facilitating subjects are broad overviews which are commonly required by universities, but specific subjects (especially creative) are also a great addition to your education.
In life, a rounded education will be the most useful. This is true both in higher education and in the workplace: diversity of study means you will have diverse skills, able to apply these to many situations.
Furthermore, A-Levels do need to be interesting to you for you to do well. If you hate a subject, you are very unlikely to study it, or undertake the depth of learning required.
You could take a subject you enjoy, such as a creative subject or a more specific subject (like music, or psychology) alongside facilitating subjects. This will both enhance your enjoyment of studying, and help you choose what you want to study later on.
Is it okay to not take any facilitating subjects at A-Level?
The Russell Group suggests that taking two facilitating subjects at A-Level will keep the widest range of degrees and careers open to you. Many courses require one or more of the facilitating subjects, so not taking any is not the best route if you want to go to university.
Even taking one facilitating subject is better than nothing, as they are important to further study, and do develop skills more than other subjects give you the chance to. Even if you do not plan to go on to university, employers and apprenticeships will still value more “well known” A-Levels such as the facilitating subjects tend to be.
However, ultimately your A-Levels are your choice, and if you really do not want to take any facilitating subjects then it is fine. Choosing other subjects which align with your interests will be more productive than forcing yourself to do many subjects which you hate, or find incredibly difficult.
This can be the case particularly for arts students, as there are no arts subjects on the list of facilitating options. If you know that you want to go to a conservatoire, or to art college, then taking music or art is going to be facilitating to your pathway. However, I would say that taking facilitating subjects will still help you develop key skills such as essay writing and problem solving which you will need in the course of your degree.
The Russell Group has more information about their recommendations on their website, which can be found here. Furthermore, their page on the importance of subject choice is also a great resource of anyone choosing A-Levels, and can be found here.
Can you get into university if you do not take any facilitating subjects at A-Level?
It is possible to get into university if you do not take any facilitating subjects at A-Level. Many courses do not have required subjects, and many others will take alternatives (or those with a strong interest demonstrated in other ways) to facilitating subjects.
However, it is important to note that these are likely to be lower ranking universities. Furthermore, the courses will likely be in less common subjects. For example, you are unlikely to get onto a degree in English without English Literature A-Level. However, getting onto a media degree will likely require only an essay-based subject, which can be any A-Level which is based around essays.
More information on applying to university and facilitating subjects can be found here, from the Academic Performance Coach.
Therefore, while facilitating subjects are important, they are not everything. Education is a personal choice, and going for what you are interested in is likely to be the most practical and rewarding path for your future. However, choosing facilitating subjects is likely to give you the broadest opportunities in life, so it is still important to consider them when choosing your A-Levels.