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What Are the Benefits of Taking A-Level Subjects Not Traditionally Taken By Medicine Applicants?

Do you need to take the 'typical' A-Levels most Medicine applicants take? What are the benefits of taking alternative subjects?

June 2022
Chandan Sekhon
Cambridge University - 1st Year Medical Student

Biology, Chemistry, Maths aka ‘the golden trio’ for medicine applicants. For some universities (especially Oxbridge), this is a very sought-after combination, as is biology, chemistry, physics, and any combination of the three science subjects and maths. Got Further Maths? Even better! Right? Well, not necessarily. If these subjects are for you, then great. But, if you feel as though you would like to take another subject, or have interests outside of science/medicine, read on.

What A-Levels should I do if I want to study Medicine?

Most students will do three A-Level subjects. Some do four. Some may even do more than that. You only need three. For those doing three and applying to Oxbridge or universities that have more traditional medical curriculums, a more science and maths heavy combination is sought after (not that this is the only combination you can do to apply to these universities), meaning other combinations are less common amongst applicants. But please don’t let that deter you – it is still possible to do alternative A-Level combinations and study Medicine. I know people who did Biology, Chemistry, Geography; Biology, Chemistry, Economics; Biology, Chemistry, Psychology; Biology, Chemistry, Spanish etc. Now, in that list you may have noticed I have a lot of combinations reading “Biology, Chemistry, X” but again, this is NOT the only permissible combination – it is just the most common and a lot of examples that come to mind follow this trend! Most medical schools only require one of Chemistry or Biology, but please do check this if you already have universities in mind before choosing you’re A-Level subjects!

Some students do four A-Levels. Now, this gives students the chance to get more creative with subjects. I know people who did English Literature, Economics, Music, Psychology, Sociology etc. I myself initially picked Ancient History and Punjabi as A-Level subjects! I couldn’t continue with them due to timetable clashes and external commitments, but I was very keen to stray outside of the sciences for a fourth A-Level so instead decided to do an EPQ (extended project qualification) which was heavily psychology/psychiatry related. As previously mentioned, four A-Levels are NOT required and it is important to consider whether, for you, it may be advantageous or not. Of course, an additional A-Level will require time and effort and therefore if you feel it may compromise your ability to do well in your three core A-Levels it should be avoided. However, if this is not the case, go for it! Whilst your university offer may not consider the additional A-Level it is a great thing to mention in your personal statement and interview to show you have other interests and are a well-rounded individual!

What are the benefits of doing alternative A-Levels?

It doesn’t need saying but the skill sets required to do different subjects vary. This means the abilities you develop will vary with different subjects. These skills may come in useful in the wider world outside Medicine (not everything should be about Medicine!), or even within the field of Medicine – but these are not talked about enough. The table below highlights key skills inside and outside medicine that certain subjects can develop and improve:

Mentioning the skills you have gained from studying these alternative subjects in your personal statement and/or interview and explaining how they apply to Medicine and/or in a wider context will certainly help strengthen your application!

To Summarise…

There are so many subjects outside the traditional ‘Medicine’ subjects that offer a variety of skills that are useful both for Medicine and for the wider world. Please do not feel as though you are limited in your choice if you wish to pursue medicine – think about what you want to get out of you’re A-Levels and choose your options based on that. Whilst you should do your research on the different entry requirements and ensure your options consider that – outside of the minimum requirements, you have a lot of choices. And if you do choose to go for a traditional combination of subjects, there is always the option of doing an extended project or external research into a topic that interests you. Either way, the takeaway is that it is important to make sure you have interests outside Medicine and the hard sciences and to pursue these as much as you can.

Author: Chandan Sekhon

Editor: Allegra Wisking

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