A Levels & Beyond
A Levels and beyond. What if my child wants to go to university?
A Levels or Advanced Levels are not the only route to university. Vocational qualifications and apprenticeships also offer routes to higher education too. If grades were not as high as expected, universities offer clearing schemes in August, and foundation level courses, which if passed, can then progress onto undergraduate degrees. However, university foundation level still requires a minimum level of points. Each university will have different requirements some universities require 69 points with GCSE English and Maths Grade 4 or above, others allow commercial or industrial experience for mature students, but a demonstration of sufficient Maths and English skills is necessary (usually in the form of Grade 4 or above at GCSE).
More information can be found on the UCAS website;
There is a growing trend for home-educated children to remain in home-education right through their A Levels. Conventionally, home-educated children move to Sixth Form colleges at 16 but with funding being an issue for any child under the age of 16 and a tendency for home-educated students to take exams early, some parents are faced with limited options where their child is heading towards A level and still under age. Where students split GCSE across two or three years, it makes sense to make an early start on A Level study in preferred subjects. This is a good idea because it can give a child three years to study three, four or even five A Levels. Do remember though that at least three A Levels should be taken in one sitting because this is what the majority of universities expect to see. Why? Because it illustrates that a students can cope with the workload of multiple subjects.
Although the AS Level at the end of Year 12 route is no longer available in UK schools, it is still available with the CAIE exam board and is popular with home-educated students. Do be aware though that splitting an A Level into AS and A Level (A2) is certainly an easier option than being examined on the entire content across two years in one sitting and may well be viewed as so by an admissions officer at a university. This may only come to bear where two almost identical candidates are fighting for a place so I would always recommend taking the harder option, rather than breaking studies into AS and A2 with CAIE.
CAIE are however a very popular A Level option because their courses are all usually exam based. This means the issue of the NEA (non-examined coursework) is not usually a problem but conversely, it means doing four papers per subject rather than the more standard three.
On the subject of AS Levels, a standalone AS can be a useful addition to a home-educated student’s academic portfolio. A standalone AS means choosing a subject to study over one year and then take a final exam without the intention to carry it on into what would conventionally be Year 13. The advantages of doing this are several fold. For one it keeps a student exam-fit. Quite often, after the build-up to GCSES it is easy for a child to think they have two full years before they face a public exam again. That time passes quickly but for those who take it a little bit easier, the full force of Year 13 can add huge volumes of stress. A standalone AS can certainly keep a student on the ball because they never truly wind down from being in GCSE exam mode.
Another advantage is the fact that a standalone AS that is compatible with your child’s other A level choices can enhance their learning experience.
Always, be careful. All exam results, good and bad, have to be included in your child’s UCAS form university application. A poor standalone AS result can certainly mar university admission prospects so do choose a subject your child enjoys and in which they also show a high level of competence.
A Level grades are currently based on a UCAS Tariff points system, whereby Higher education courses require a certain number of points for courses. Courses which are popular, highly subscribed, or Russel Group universities ask for the highest level of points. Points are as follows:
A* – 56, A – 48, B – 40, C – 32, D – 24, E – 16
AS Level qualification also include UCAS points and therefore have a value if sat as a standalone qualification (usually at the end of Year 12)
A – 20, B – 16, C – 12, D – 10, E – 6
Please note there is no A* grade available at AS Level.
For anyone considering science A Levels – Biology, Chemistry and Physics there is usually a need to complete science practicals in each subject. Although the Edexcel International A Level offers students the chance to complete an exam-only version, forsaking the practical element, most (but not all) science related degrees, including Medicine, require these science practicals. Usually they each take place over a four day period at an exam centre. Once again, centres which offer these practicals are limited and the costs are expensive. Do check with your university course that they are needed but unfortunately, answers will differ and it is not unheard of for a student to be told they can bypass the practicals only to be told at a later date that they do in fact need them. Edexcel International A Levels are generally aimed at countries where school facilities are limited but in the UK, this is not a realistic excuse. Rather than seek ways to avoid them, bear in mind that they are actually enjoyable and informative. They are also a great experience for a home-educated student who has probably never set foot in a science laboratory. Costs are high, £900 plus VAT per science in 2022 plus an entry fee of £300 per subject (A Level), but the other option is to join a sixth form and have free access to a science laboratory as a fully enrolled student.
Admission to Oxford and Cambridge is a major challenge for a home-educating family. Make no mistake, there are no concessions because a child has been home-educated. It is not seen as a disadvantage. However, it is widely agreed and accepted that home-educated students are very capable learners who are motivated and able to successfully manage their own studies. The admissions process for home-educated students is exactly the same as for children in mainstream education who are applying pre-A level results.
They need to do the following:-
- Produce a compelling personal statement
- Achieve excellent results – A* and A in all subjects (Oxford and Cambridge slightly differ here)
- Submit an academic reference
- If they are selected for interview they will also have to –
- Take an at-interview or pre-interview test
- Face an interview
- Sit further subject specific tests such as the NSAA, BMAT or LNAT.
For students who are self-educating the academic reference can present problems. Although there is a cost in paying for tutor support it is essential that some sort of mentor works with your son or daughter for a protracted period before the application is made.
Deadlines are usually around the 15th October which is much earlier than the late January deadlines for all other universities.
In spite of the complexities and pressure, the overall experience certainly serves as excellent preparation for A level exams and even where a child does not gain an offer, the chances of them securing a place at an excellent Russell Group university are significantly increased.
Start early. At least 18 months in advance.
Make plans to attend open days.
Visit both universities – your plans may change once you have researched both
Sign up for seminars (in person) and webinars (on line). These are invaluable.
Find out the exact course requirements in terms of qualifications needed.
Consider if your son and daughter has a genuine interest in the subject and the course content. This is essential because the admissions team are excellent at seeking out genuine interest and enthusiasm rather than a wish to simply attend Oxford or Cambridge.
Encourage your child to read extensively round their subject.
Research deadlines for entry dates to pre-interview assessments if these apply. You will also need to find an exam centre who can host you for this type of test. Although there may be a list on the university website, plans change and doors close. Make sure you have plans cast in stone well in advance.
There are organisations who specifically support Oxbridge applicants and they offer a variety of packages. These are a good investment if you have no other support because there are numerous things to remember and countless deadlines.
Please note, applications for home-educated students have to follow the UCAS process. They cannot simply arrive at a university with a portfolio of work and gain a place. Do be careful of such stories because they are over unsubstantiated but they have, in the past, caused home-educators to glean a misplaced sense of hope and follow a path that has led them to a disappointing outcome.