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Choosing physics: A-levels, Highers and Leaving Cert

Uh oh... decision time. If you’re about to pick your A-levels (if you’re in England, Wales or Northern Ireland), Highers (Scotland) or Leaving Cert (Ireland), then let us make the case for choosing physics. 

Does it feel like life just got pretty serious? You’re being asked to make choices that could shape your career.

Perhaps you have a subject in mind that you want to study at uni. Maybe you have a career planned out, so it’s just a matter of picking the subjects to get you there. But, if you’re like most people, your future is a blank canvas. So where do you begin?

Wherever you are and whatever your circumstances, there are resources to help you pick the right subjects for you. Try:

Informed Choices

UCAS advice on choosing A-levels

Choosing Scottish Highers from The Complete University Guide

Careers Portal, Ireland

SACU Student - match your A-levels to degree subjects

Meet the student: Vhytal

“There will be a topic which you fall in love with and which you may find forms the basis of your future career.”

Meet Vhytal

So why physics?

You might think we’re biased – but we know what we’re talking about. Physics is a “facilitating subject”, meaning that it’s highly regarded whatever degree or career path you choose. It’s considered essential for science and engineering courses, so it keeps a lot of doors open for you.

Physics opens these doors because of the skills and ways of thinking it teaches you. You’ll pick up mathematical and analytical techniques that are valued in a huge range of careers (just have a look at these career options...). You’ll become a critical and creative thinker, and a problem solver.

Meet the student: Dominic

“A-level is a step up from GCSE, but it’s an exciting and interesting step up, one that will teach you core values for life after college.”

Meet Dominic

What will I study?

Topics depend on the exam board your school or college follows, so it varies – but most will delve deeper into familiar topics like measurement, forces, waves, radioactivity, electricity and magnetism.

But you may also get to explore exciting new areas such as particle physics, quantum physics, cosmology and medical physics. Physics gives you an understanding of the scientific principles that govern our world. You’ll develop the tools needed to tackle questions about the universe that you’ve always wanted to answer for yourself.

Meet the student: Rosie

“There are so many interesting routes you can take with physics that I don’t really mind where I end up in 10 years.”

Meet Rosie

Where can it lead?

Many physics students go on to further study at university. Some choose to continue with physics, studying a physics degree or specialising in topics like theoretical physics, astrophysics or geophysics. Others choose related subjects like chemistry, biology or maths – but physics also opens pathways to subjects like engineering, design, computing, sports science, medicine, economics and law.

If uni doesn’t appeal and you want to enter the world of work straight after school or college, having physics on your CV can give you an advantage. It shows employers that you have an aptitude for logical reasoning, problem-solving and creative thinking – and it helps you to stand out from the crowd.

It’s also an advantage when applying for many apprenticeships, where you can earn while you learn to become a civil engineering technician, software developer, sound technician – and hundreds of other professions.

Meet the student: Jolie

You don’t have to be amazing at maths to do it – and it does become easier with practice.”

Meet Jolie

Becoming an apprentice

Apprenticeships are real, paid jobs with training programmes attached. Interested? We have all the information you need right here.

Find out more

Where physics could take you

What sort of jobs can physics qualifications lead to? Hear from people who studied physics about where it's taken them – and why they love it. 

Find out more
Eve and Sian

Meet the family: Eve and Sian

What happens if your child chooses a subject you don’t understand? We spoke to a physics A-level student and her mum to find out what it was like and what advice they have for families in the same boat.

Read their story