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How important are GCSEs?

When you’re 16, GCSEs can seem like the be all and end all. By the time you’ve been working for a few years, you’ve probably forgotten all about them and are wondering whether to even include them on your CV.

It’s a commonly asked question – do people really care about GCSE results?

And the answer is, it depends. If you’ve had a successful 20-year career in your industry and you’re applying to be the CEO of a major company, they’re not going to give a hoot about whether you flunked GCSE art.

But if you’re applying for your first job, then your CV will be pretty sparse and less likely to hide your GCSE sins. So it’s safe to say that your grades become less important the older you get. Think of them as a gatekeeper – holding the key to the next stage in your education or career. 

Put simply, good GCSE grades give you more options to choose from.

If you’re currently (supposed to be) studying, here are some things to consider before you close your books and reach for your games console: 

GCSEs can determine what you study at A-level

Photo of a school blackboard

For many subjects, you need to pass them at GCSE in order to study them at A-level and, consequently, higher levels (like a degree) too.

There are exceptions – for example economics or law, but it’s definitely worth checking with your teacher.  

GCSEs can determine what sixth form you go to

Schools and colleges only really have your GCSE grades to judge you academically so they can be really important here.

According to Which, sixth forms see your GCSE performance as an indicator of how well you’ll do in your A-levels or other, advanced studies, and use a scoring system based on your grades to predict how well you are likely to do.

All schools and colleges have entry requirements, which can vary from four to five Bs or Cs to straight As. So if you’ve got your heart set on going to a certain sixth form you should know what grades you’ll need to get in.

You don’t want to be the one whose mum has to drive you to a random college an hour away where you don’t know anyone, while all your friends are hanging out and having lunch together at the nearby one.

Universities look at your GCSE grades

Universities look at your GCSE grades

As a general rule, most universities expect at least some Cs at GCSE, especially in maths, English and, sometimes, science.

Many ask for, and expect, higher grades. However, don’t despair – some universities aren’t as hung up on GCSEs as others and, as long as you make up for it in your A-levels, you could well be absolutely fine.   

For example, according to this article in the Guardian, Cambridge has no GCSE requirements except for medicine and veterinary medicine, where you have to have a grade C or above in GCSE double award science and maths.

Are GCSE grades important for apprenticeships?

Some apprenticeships require you to have certain grades at GCSE. For example, most advanced apprenticeships ask for around five GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English and maths. 

But for some intermediate apprenticeships or traineeships, you don’t need to have certain grades at all – instead, you may just need to show that you have the skills through things like work experience and volunteering.

You can find out more and search for apprenticeships on the government’s apprenticeship website

How important are GCSEs in getting a job?

Most employers expect people to have good maths and English GCSEs and without this, it can be hard to get your foot in the door. In fact, this is so important that students who don’t get a grade C or above in these subjects now have to carry on studying them until they are 18.

Most graduate schemes and school leaver programmes will have minimum GCSE grade requirements too.

However, there are other routes into getting jobs – for example, there are so many apprenticeships out there these days and, like we said above, some of these don’t have any GCSE requirements.  

What if I don’t get the GCSE grades I was expecting?

Don't panic if you don't get the GCSE grades you were expecting

We’ve spent most of the blog telling you why GCSEs ARE important. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the world if you don’t get the grades you were hoping for.

If you haven’t made the grade, or you’re worried that you won’t, please don’t panic – you do have options.

They include contacting your school or college to see if they’ll still accept you, resitting your exams, applying for a different course or doing an apprenticeship.

For more information on this, read our article about what options you have after taking your GCSES.

Are you trying to decide what subjects to take at GCSE? Read our advice on choosing your GCSE options for some inspiration.

By Natasha Boydell