Q6. What proportion of A level students chooses to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects at university?

Why this is important

  • There is evidence that, on average, STEM higher education qualifications lead to a wider range of well-paid jobs.
  • Students are more likely to choose to continue with a subject at university if they have enjoyed it and felt successful at A level. The number of students choosing to continue with STEM subjects at university could indicate the quality of STEM teaching at A level, and the extent to which their teachers have inspired them to continue with a subject.
  • It is vitally important that students at your school receive high quality independent careers advice so they can make informed decisions about university courses or other post-A level options. See the careers section of this resource to see how you can support this.


The data shows the average percentage of acceptances for subjects related to science and maths to UK universities in 2015. As shown, biology, chemistry, physics and maths each make up 0.9-1.5% of the total number of accepted university places. With percentages in so low, it is unrealistic to expect schools to be able to monitor numbers of applicants for individual STEM subjects in any given year, so it would be best to look at numbers over several years or to look at the STEM subject group.

Table 11: Percentage of accepted UK university places in science and maths related subjects (2016)
SubjectPercentage of total acceptances
Medicine and dentistry1.7
Subjects related to medicine (includes ophthalmics, pharmacology and nursing)10.4
Biological sciences10.1 (including Biology 1.4, Genetics 0.1, Microbiology 0.1, Molecular Biology, Biophysics & Biochem 0.8, Psychology 4, Others in biological sciences 0.4)
Vet science and related 1.3
Physical sciences3.8 (including Chemistry 1.0, Physics 0.9)
Mathematical sciences1.7 (including Mathematics 1.6)
Computer sciences5
Total STEM subjects40.2
Law (for comparison)4.7

Ideas for improvement

  • If school governors or leaders have concerns about numbers going on to take STEM subjects at university, you may want to look at your school’s career guidance policies and UCAS applications processes, as well as the way A levels are taught.
  • UCAS provides national level data and analysis each year on entries to universities in the UK, broken down by demographic characteristics and courses.
  • It is equally important (though not always easy) to track the progress of students who are following vocational and technical routes rather than the university route. See Q2.

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