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How Many GCSEs Do You Need for University?

5th November 20

Undergraduate study allows you to explore the area of study you find most interesting and valuable to your future studies or career. Obtaining a degree can often be the difference between achieving your career goals and not.

Should you be considering university, you’ll no doubt be reviewing your existing qualifications to see if they meet the university’s requirements. Or assessing your options of how to get them.

Either way, you’ll need to think about GCSE qualifications as these can play a part in getting you a place at university.

Universities are becoming more open to applicants who have work experience and professional qualifications over formal ones such as A-levels or Diplomas. However, this makes GCSEs even more valuable as they serve as a reliable measure of your ability to both understand information and work in a structured way.

If you have considerable work experience but lack any formal qualifications then GCSEs will certainly help you with your application.

learndirect - How Many GCSEs Do You Need for University?

GCSEs for University Course Eligibility

Many universities expect at least a grade C in English, maths and in some cases science (a 4 or 5 under the new structure). However, depending on the course you wish to study, some will go further and ask for specific GCSE subjects with certain grades. Some requesting up to seven GCSE subjects with excellent marks. This is evident in many career-related degrees such as:


To study Chemical Engineering, you will typically need A Levels or equivalent qualifications in Chemistry and Maths, plus Physics for other engineering courses. You will therefore need to have good grades in Science and Maths GCSE.

Veterinary Science

To qualify for veterinary schools, you are generally required to have at least five GCSEs (or equivalent Level 2 qualifications). These typically include Maths, English Language and Science as Double or Triple Award with preferably Biology and Chemistry. As courses are competitive at least a 6/B or higher should be achieved in all subjects.

Medicine and Dentistry

To work in the medical profession at least seven GCSEs (or equivalent Level 2 qualifications) will be required at grades 6/B or above. This again must include Science, English Language and Maths. Where Science can be taken as a Double Award you should prioritise Biology and Chemistry, though a Triple Award including Physics would be wise.


At least a grade 4/C in GCSE Maths, English Language and Science (or an equivalent Level 2 qualification) will be required. If you wish to teach particular subjects then good marks in those subjects would greatly help your application.  

learndirect - How Many GCSEs Do You Need for University? Depends on Your Degree Subject

The Value of Your Experience

While your academic performance is taken highly into account, an increasing number of universities are also considering various other factors when assessing applications.

Work experience, skills, professional and vocational qualifications, hobbies and portfolios of work can all prove your aptitude for a specific course and help make your application stand out in other areas. If you were looking to study Photography, for instance, you could demonstrate your strong interest in the subject with an impressive portfolio. However, bear in mind that should you have no attributing A Levels or other Level 3 qualifications, universities are more likely to refer to your GCSEs to determine your academic ability.

As is the case when applying for work, if you can demonstrate you have the relevant experience, knowledge and you would be a good fit for the position, you can secure it over those solely with qualifications.

In fact, those looking to go back into education later in life are often preferred by universities as they can have a wealth of valuable experience and often a better attitude to learning. So, if you are looking to re-enter education but are concerned about the current GCSEs you hold, it would be worth contacting your preferred institution to see if they would consider you.

Universities while stating strict entry requirements place a high value on the characteristics of the individual. Older students are often easier to teach since they tend to be more mature and more committed to learning.

Mature students usually have a better work ethic due to being in employment, which can rub off on younger students. Plus, they are more likely to pay for their course than their younger coursemates!

In short, while you may not have the GCSEs most universities ask for, if you develop your skills and gain experience in your chosen subject, you can prove why you should have that place over another candidate.

learndirect - How Many GCSEs Do You Need for University? Experience Counts Towards Your Application

Foundation Degrees

You could also consider taking a foundation degree if they are offered in your subject area. These tend to last two years and have an optional third year which allows you to obtain the full honours degree.

Foundation degrees have minimal entry requirements so the anxiety over your GCSE results can often be avoided. These degrees were designed to give students without the best GCSE grades a second chance to get a university-level education. Again, it is worth looking into these options at your chosen universities and seeing exactly what they will accept before you try to enrol.

learndirect - How Many GCSEs Do You Need for University? Consider a Foundation Degree

Taking GCSE Online Courses

With a growing focus on technical skills and experience in the job market, there are an increasing number of routes into university that don’t follow the traditional well-trodden paths.

That being said, the reason why academic performance plays a large part in your university application is that you need to prove you have what it takes to succeed in an academic setting. So, if you don’t have any GCSEs or any other form of academic qualification, you may struggle to find a university that will accept you.

If you would like to learn and experience the self-discipline required for independent university study, consider taking an online course with learndirect. Our range of GCSEs, Functional Skills Courses, Access to Higher Education Diplomas and A-levels, can all help you on your way to higher education.

What’s more, studying online gives you the ability to acquire the qualifications you need, outside of your existing work or family commitments. So, you can continue to work full-time and support your family, while doing what it takes to reach that higher level of study.

With no classes or timetables, you decide when and where you learn. Plus, with a dedicated online tutor, any assistance you may need is only an email away.

Take the first step on the path to your future by studying online, at home with learndirect – a leading UK distance learning provider. Browse our range of GCSE subjects by clicking the link below.

learndirect - How Many GCSEs Do You Need for University? Take GCSEs Online

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