New guidance on post-16 study choices

04 February 2011

The Russell Group of 20 leading UK universities has published its first ever guide to post-16 subject choices.

Informed Choices, produced in collaboration with the Institute of Career Guidance, is aimed at all students considering A-level and equivalent options. It includes advice on the best subject combinations for a wide range of university courses as well as advice on the best choices if you don’t know what you want to study after school and need to keep your options open.

Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said:
“Russell Group universities are committed to attracting students with the most talent, potential and ability from all backgrounds. All students - particularly those from less advantaged backgrounds - must have access to appropriate information and guidance about the choices that will maximise or reduce their opportunities and life chances from an early age. Achievement at school is the key to increasing your chances of winning a place at a leading university.[2] But choosing the best subjects at GCSE and A Level is also crucial.

“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.

Informed Choices emphasises the importance of ‘facilitating’ subjects, such as Maths and English, which are particularly effective in equipping students with the skills they need for a large number of competitive courses and in increasing a student’s chances of getting on to those courses.

“In Informed Choices we’ve tried to make it clear which information is particularly important to note when making subject choices.  It should be emphasised, however, that the guide should be used in conjunction with—and not as a substitute for— more detailed information published by individual universities.

“Our universities are constantly looking for new ways to be as transparent as possible in their search for the very best students. Websites, prospectuses, open days, school outreach programmes amongst other communications initiatives, enable potential students to find out how best to maximise their chances of entering competitive courses at Russell Group universities. Informed Choices is a new addition to this expanding range of initiatives and we hope this guide will be useful to teachers, parents and – most importantly – students as they learn more about the relationship between post-16 choices and university entry.  We would welcome feedback on this first edition and on how future editions might be improved.”

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said:
"I congratulate the Russell Group for taking the initiative in providing this excellent resource, it is a welcome step towards levelling the playing field for prospective students. It is crucial that all potential students have access to timely and comparable information about choosing the best course for them. It is also an important development in helping people make the right choices early on so they can pursue their chosen career.

"Improving information for prospective students is a priority for the government, and will form a key part of our plans for higher education. We are committed to making information clearer for students from all backgrounds, to improve access to the most selective universities."

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said of Informed Choices:
“Subject choice during the sixth form years is one of the key decisions teenagers make in their lives—determining their future university and life prospects. We welcome this new guide and hope that it will help bright non-privileged students in particular, who all too often do not receive the support and guidance they need at this key juncture in their lives.”

Speaking on behalf of the Institute of Career Guidance, which collaborated on the new guide, Andy Gardner said:
"School students considering their A-level choices can face a torrent of misleading information. Most advice on making subject choices presumes that you know what you want to do at university. What if you don't? This information from the Russell Group universities themselves and a team of experienced Careers Advisers will help students plot a sensible path with their choices."

Ofqual  chief executive, Isabel Nisbet, said: "In December I challenged the Higher Education sector to give applicants better information about which qualifications they need to win a place at university. Students are not clairvoyants. They need clear information on which qualifications they need for their chosen university courses so they can make informed decisions.

"Today's report from the Russell Group is an excellent step in the right direction."

Click here to view Informed Choices. We recommend viewing the PDF in full screen mode.

At present Informed Choices is only available electronically.

The Institute of Career Guidance is the leading professional association for career guidance practitioners in the UK.  The Institute has over 4,000 members involved in the careers guidance sector, working in schools, Connexions services, further and higher education, research and adult guidance. Visit for further information.

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