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Geography: it’s the must-have A-level. The Guardian

Geography is highly valued by universities as an A Level choice, and combines well with both arts and science subjects. It can be a facilitating subject - that is a subject most likely to be required or preferred for entry to degree courses. Choosing facilitating subjects will keep more options at the university-level; geography opens doors to other degrees such as business and administrative studies, law, engineering and technology, and the other social physical sciences.

Geography was also found to be the most relevant A Level subject in teaching students about climate change (YouGov/RGS 2020).


A Level geography

A Level geography offers a selection of new, interesting topics not covered at GCSE level, and allows you to go into greater depth in some key elements previously studied. It covers both the physical and human environments and the complex interaction of processes that shape our world. It will also, importantly, show the applied side of the subject - how human intervention affects the environment and how people adapt and mitigate the effects of processes on their environment.

There is plenty of room for discussion and extended research, which will help you become an independent thinker and learner. By the time you get to your exams, you will be able to show your understanding of a range of opinions and be able to illustrate your answers with case studies from local, national and international examples.

You will learn in a wide variety of ways, using maps, GIS skills, data analysis, photos, videos, and podcasts, as well as attending lectures and study days. You will be encouraged to frame your own questions using higher level thinking skills and show your grasp of complex issues through report and essay writing. Fieldwork will be an essential part of your A Level course.

The four key geographical themes outlined below are compulsory which, when combined with fieldwork, accounts for 60% of the course. The additional 40% is flexible and varies depending on the exam board chosen by teaching staff.

Core themes

Water and carbon cycles

You will study the physical processes which control the water and carbon cycles between land, oceans and the atmosphere, all of which are critical mechanisms in supporting life on Earth.

Listen: Forests and the carbon cycle

Landscape systems

Focusing on either dry arid, coastal or glacial environments, you will study what earth surface processes have produced their characteristic landforms.

Listen: How do glacial surfaces evolve over time?

Global systems and global governance

In a globalising world, people, places and environments are increasingly connected leading to the rapid global movement of goods, people, technology and ideas. A Level studies focus on the consequences of a highly interconnected world and the efforts to regulate it - labelled ‘global governance’.

Listen: How is globalisation changing the countryside?

Changing places

The connections and relationships between people, the economy, society and the environment help to explain why places are constantly changing. Through the study of local locations it will become apparent how flows of people, resources, money, ideas and government polices can change the nature of places.

Watch: Geographical lates: climate talks

Geographical fieldwork

Fieldwork will be an essential part of your A Level course - you will be required to complete an independent non-examined assessment (NEA). This provides an excellent opportunity to conduct a fieldwork study in relation to physical and human processes.

A minimum of four days of fieldwork is required at A Level. You may even get to go on a residential trip to experience a very different environment to the one where you live. You may visit an area that is known for its coastal, river or glaciated scenery, or carry out enquiries relating to issues in your local environment. You will have the flexibility to identify your own topic for your NEA. The write up of your study will provide an excellent insight into producing a concise university-style dissertation.

Gaining relevant skills

Studying A Level geography provides you with a variety of valuable skills and knowledge that can be transferred and used across other subject areas and in everyday life.

Building arguments requires a high level of English skills at this level. In addition maths skills are also obtained to an advanced standard with a clear focus on statistical testing. Use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) develops confidence in ICT. Researching, presenting, referencing, critical thinking, map-reading and scientific reasoning skills will all be honed along with the ability to work both independently and collaboratively.


Visual communication skills

Geography gives you the opportunity to gather, analyse and present data in a variety of ways so you will also develop your visual communication skills using maps, graphs, diagrams and images to problem solve.

Data and geospatial skills

You will develop your qualitative and quantitative geographical skills at A Level while working with images, factual text and discursive/creative material, digital data, numerical and spatial data and innovative forms of data, including crowd-sourced and 'big data'. You will also develop your maths, especially statistical testing.

Fieldwork experience

A Level study requires students to complete an independent non-examined assessment. This provides you with an excellent opportunity to conduct a fieldwork study in relation to physical and human processes. Fieldwork provides you with useful skills in collecting, understanding and later communicating data to different audiences. It can also lead you to opportunities to travel further afield to fascinating destinations.

Research skills

You will develop skills to select research questions, apply relevant techniques and skills, and find appropriate ways to analyse and communicate your findings.


Working in teams during fieldwork and in the classroom will help develop your communication and collaboration skills.

Communication skills

You will develop English skills, helping you to produce convincing arguments and to communicate ideas effectively, both in writing and in oral communcation. These skills are highly valued by all employers.

Next steps for students who studied A Level geography

Geography is a broad based subject which provides lots of opportunities for future progression. For example, geography is an obvious choice for careers in sustainability and green issues, urban regeneration, energy supply, retail location, managing the effects of hazards and climate change.

For careers in the world of business, an understanding of global economics forms an important part of geography. If you are thinking of a career in law, human rights, international relations or welfare, then geography gives you the opportunity to consider relevant issues such as: How do we measure development? What are the consequences of migration on societies? 

If you are working towards a future course in medicine or veterinary medicine then geography is a good choice to give your A Level options the breadth that universities seek, as you will gain a clear understanding of how the environment affects health and survival of people, animals and ecosystems as well as enhancing your skills of writing essays and extended reports.

Of course many A Level students do not yet have a clear idea of what kind of career they might want to pursue. If you are in this position, remember that geography as an A Level gives you the chance to keep your options open, as it covers both arts and science components. It is quite likely that when you choose geography your classmates will all be doing different combinations of A Level subjects – this adds to the interest when it comes to discussions on issues as everyone will have very different ways of thinking and expressing their opinions.

To get a top grade you will need to read around the subject in newspapers and through magazine and internet articles; TV and radio documentaries are a rich source of current issues too. The Society's Student Members and School Members have access to the full range of our award-winning resources. 


Next step: Choose geography at university