How Many GCSEs Should You Take?

Deciding on how many GCSEs you should take depends on what you want to do after you leave secondary school. However, most students choose to take between nine and ten.

GCSEs are academic qualifications that are taught to most pupils as part of the National Curriculum towards the end of compulsory education.

If you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you’ll normally take your GCSEs when you’re aged 14 to 16, with final exams at the end of the two years.

It’s a legal requirement to stay in education until you’re 16-years-old; after this, you can either choose to leave school or continue with your studies.

GCSEs are a stepping stone to the next stage in your life, so it’s important to start thinking about what it is you want to do after you leave secondary education.

How many GCSEs should you take?

Most students choose to take between nine and ten GCSEs, but the number of GCSEs you should take depends on what you want to do after you leave school, whether that’s continuing on to sixth form at your current place of study or going straight into the world of work.

It can be difficult to decide exactly what you want to do with your life at this age, but having a bit of an idea can be really beneficial when choosing how many GCSEs you should take.

To help with your decision, we’ve outlined some of the things you might want to do after you leave school, so you can work out how many GCSEs you need to take for whichever path you choose.

Higher and further education

Try not to get stressed out by putting too much pressure on yourself at this stage, but it can be a good idea to think about where you might want to be in two, five and even ten years time.

If you do decide to go down the academic route, it depends on where you go and which field of study you want to go into. Most colleges like you to take a minimum of five GCSEs, including English Language and Maths at grade 4 (C) or above, while sixth forms have slightly higher entry requirements, looking for at least six GCSE examination results achieving at least a grade 4 (C).

As we mentioned before, though, the entry requirements vary between different institutes. Some sixth forms and colleges, for example, Norfolk Sixth Form College, will take on students with as few as four GCSEs for Level 3 courses, while more prestigious places like Cardiff Sixth Form are harder to get into as you’ll be required to achieve at least six grade 9 (A*) GCSE qualifications.

It’s worth noting that you may not even need any GCSEs to do a Level 1 course at college. Sometimes just a good report from your school and a keen interest in the subject matter will do. Of course, you can always go into the world of work after higher education, but if you want to take your studies even further by studying for a degree or diploma, it’s highly likely that your chosen university will look at your GCSE grades as well as your A-Level (or equivalent) results.

Again, getting into a top place like Oxford and Cambridge will be much harder. Successful applicants to both universities generally have around eight grade 9 to 7 (A* to A) GCSEs. But having said all this, you should take into account the number of GCSEs you want to do and how much work you’ll need to put into doing them – it’s important to strike the right balance, otherwise you’ll wear yourself out.

Doing an apprenticeship

Most apprenticeships or traineeships combine on-the-job training with classroom learning and can be really beneficial if you have a clear idea of what exactly it is you want to do after leaving school.

They’re a good option if you’ve had enough of traditional schooling but don’t want to give up learning yet, as you can adopt new skills while getting ready for the world of work. You’ll be an employee, getting paid and taking holiday leave, with a contract of employment.

Apprenticeships fall into four main areas – industrial, construction, motive power and service – with some of the most popular types including business administration, children’s care, learning and development, construction skills and health and social care.

Working for a well-known employer like HMRC, BT, Mitchells and Butlers or the NHS can be a good option as they are able to offer long-term career progression and job security. However, smaller companies have their benefits too, in that you can gain experience in a wide range of areas and get a grasp of how the whole organisation operates.

How many GCSEs you need to do an apprenticeship depends on what you’re doing and where you’re doing it. Generally speaking, at least three is ideal, however other qualifications and experience are usually taken into consideration too.

One of the benefits of doing an apprenticeship is that the entry requirements are usually pretty flexible. Plus, they range from Level 2 (Intermediate) to Level 7 (Degree), so you have the option to apply for the level that coincides with how many GCSEs you have.

As long as you’re over 16-years-old and can show an ability to complete the programme, you should be accepted for a Level 2 apprenticeship without any GCSEs at all. Level 3 (Advanced) apprenticeships are considered equivalent to A-Levels and employers will look for GCSEs that include English and Maths.

It’s useful to have some experience to get accepted at this level too. After this, employers will want to see A-Level (or the equivalent) qualifications as well as GCSEs, with the entry requirements for a Level 7 apprenticeship typically including at least five GCSEs, achieving grades 9 to 4 (A to C).

Getting a job

If you decide you don’t want do an apprenticeship or continue with your studies, you might think you don’t need to worry about getting any GCSE qualifications.

But even if you want to go straight into work after finishing secondary school, leaving with at least some GCSEs can be very beneficial to everyday life. Maths, for example, is an essential skill to have.

Whether you’re doing your weekly supermarket shop or budgeting for a holiday, you’ll be surprised at how often you need to use it, while a good command of the English language can ensure that you’re presenting yourself to future employers in the best light possible.

Even if you’re not inspired by the other optional subjects you can take, getting good grades in English, Maths and Science can provide you with some extremely valuable life skills. Most employers – whatever the industry – will expect you to have good Maths and English grades, so without these it could be difficult for you to get a foot in the door.

In fact, many people choose to retake their GCSEs for this very reason, which is possible regardless of age or experience. The GCSE qualification is also internationally recognised, so it’s worth thinking twice before you dismiss it entirely.

Choosing your subjects

The core GCSE subjects are English, Maths and Science, meaning everybody has to take them.

English Language is compulsory in all schools and English Literature is compulsory in most schools, however there are exceptions to this.

Alongside the core GCSEs, there’s a wide range of other subjects you can take too. These include languages like German, French, Spanish and even Mandarin or Russian; Geography, History or Religious Studies; Drama, Music, Media Studies, Ceramics or Art and Design; and technical subjects like Food Technology, Computer Science or Design and Technology.

You still have to do PE in years 10 and 11, but you can also take it as a GCSE option if you wish. When deciding which subjects to take, it’s important to have a long, hard think about where you see yourself going at the end of year eleven.

If, for example, you want to be a neurosurgeon, the qualifications you’ll need are seven GCSEs, including sciences, getting grades 9 to 7 (A* or A) in five of them and Maths and English at grade 6 to 5 (B) or higher.

Whereas, if your end goal is to work as a motor mechanic, the entry requirements to get you accepted on a college vehicle diploma are two or more GCSEs at grade 9 to 3 (A* to D) for a Level 2 course or four or five GCSEs at grade 9 to 4 (A* to C) for a Level 3 course. But as well as thinking about the career you eventually want to have, it’s also a good idea to choose subjects that you’re interested in. It’s no good picking a topic that bores you, as you’ll be less motivated to study for it and will look for any excuse to be doing something else instead.

We hope we’ve given you some food for thought about how many GCSEs you should take. However, it’s also worth remembering that if you decide to change your mind further down the track, you can always go back to school or retrain.