Will my GCSE grades affect my UCAS application?

21 August 2018 | University Advice | Guest Author

If you’re considering applying to university, it’s not only your A levels (or equivalent level 3 qualifications) that higher education institutions will be looking at. Your GCSE grades will be taken into account too. This may particularly be the case now because of the changes to A levels – universities may now pay even closer attention to your GCSE grades when deciding whether or not to offer you a place. So if you’re doing your GCSEs now, bear in mind that your grades can have long term implications on your future. And not just the grades for the subjects that are directly relevant for your degree choice too.

So why do universities pay attention to GCSEs?

Well, when you apply to university you will not have your A level results – only your predicted grades. However, universities are aware that there is a strong link between GCSE grades and A level grades. Universities will generally assume that if you get mainly C grades in your GCSEs, you’re likely to get mainly D grades for those same subjects at A level. If you get B’s you’re likely to get C grades and so on. This is why they like to pay attention to your GCSE grades.

So what GCSE grades are they looking for?

Firstly, most universities will require C grade equivalents (or a 4 under the new system) in English and Maths. If you miss out on these grades, you could retake them the following year in most colleges. However, it is worth bearing in mind that certain competitive university degree courses may not accept retake grades.

If you’d like to go to one of the top universities in the UK, you’ll need to be looking at the Russell Group. This is a group of universities which are renowned for their research and academic achievement. We’re not just talking about Oxford and Cambridge here, but also the likes of Exeter, Leeds, Liverpool and several others. Because these universities receive a high number of applications they can afford to be fussy about who they accept. They are therefore likely to require very high GCSE grades (A-B) for their courses.

Having said that, if you are unable to get into a Russell Group university, it’s not the end of the world and there are some excellent alternative universities to choose from with lower grade requirements.

So if you have a degree in mind, now is a good time to find out what GCSE grades are expected for that course at a range of universities.

For example, Psychology at Cardiff will require you to have the equivalent of a B grade in English and Maths

Impact on career choice

Your GCSE grades can also have an impact on your future career choice. Here are a few examples:

If for example you would like to become a Vet in the future, it will be very difficult to get on to a degree in Veterinary Science without mainly A*-A grades in your GCSEs (or a minimum of 7 in Maths and English under the new scoring system).

If you dream about becoming an automotive engineer with Red Bull, you will require A levels in Maths and Physics. Many colleges and 6th forms will require at least B grades in these subjects at GCSE if you plan to do the A levels.

If you’ve been inspired to become a Doctor by watching episodes of Casualty, you will be expected to have good GCSE grades, especially in Science. For example, the University of Birmingham will give preference to applicants with A* grades in Maths, English and Science.

If you can’t get enough of school and you’d like to become a secondary Teacher, you will need to have a least a grade 4 or equivalent in Maths and English. If primary school teaching is your thing, you’ll also need a C in Science.

Back up plans

If your GCSE results are not what you expected or hoped for, you could get them remarked. If this is something you might consider, speak to your school first and get some advice from your teachers.

Don’t forget, if you do have future career ideas, it’s not just the GCSE grades you need to consider. You also need to be aware of choosing the right subjects after GCSEs, as there may be specific requirements for certain careers. If you need help considering your options then join us at one of our exhibitions where you can get expert advice on your post-16 options.

And remember that good grades do not guarantee entry to whatever you want to do. Universities will also take into account your extra curricular interests, work experience and passion for the subject in mind.

The key thing is that whatever grades you achieve, there will be options available for you. It may just mean you take a different route to the same destination or you follow a slightly different pathway towards a career that brings out the best in you.

University open days

 Whether or not you get the grades you expect, there are plenty of university open days that you can attend throughout the year. Attending an open day can be a great way of find out more about whether or not university life if for you. 

Whilst the getting the grades play an important role in your choice of university, it's also advised to do your homework on each of your choices before you make a decision on where you'd like to study.


Mark Anderson is an award winning Careers Adviser who works in a range of schools across Surrey and Sussex. He is passionate about helping young people to choose the right career path. Kickstartcareers.co.uk

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