The subjects that are a passport to the top universities

29 March 2016

Students who specialise in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) subjects at A Level are more likely to attend top universities, according to research by Cambridge Assessment which is out today.

By contrast, students who specialised in ‘applied’ or ‘expressive’ subjects – such as accounting, law, music and performing arts – were less likely to go on to study at a Russell Group university.

Writing in The effect of specialism and attainment in secondary school on the choice of Higher Education institution and field of study, researchers Tom Sutch, Nadir Zanini and Carmen Vidal Rodeiro say that their findings will contribute to the debate about the role of subject choice in determining future career opportunities. While previous research has shown that students with a Russell Group degree tend to get better paid jobs, a non-Russell Group university may be a more appropriate choice for students in particular subject areas. The researchers say that the key thing is that students need to make informed choices.

Their study, which uses data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, is published today in Research Matters, Cambridge Assessment's biannual research publication.

The main focus of the research was to better understand how A Levels are used by students to progress to higher education. The researchers found the strongest link between A Level subject choice and university subject area was in medicine and dentistry, where the specialist knowledge required means that students need to have specialised in science at A Level.