I'm an international student, doing A levels. For A levels you only need to take 3 subjects to get the degree (some people take more anyway).
I'm taking taking Maths, Physics, Chemistry, and might take on an extra Maths module (Further Maths), so I'd have 4 subjects total.
Is that good enough or should I also take 1-2 humanities subjects like history, economics?
I have very little interest in those subjects, and will be applying for Engineering further on. Will only sticking to the 4 I mentioned have any negative effect on my application for MIT or other unis?
You do have to take 8 semesters of Humanities at MIT, so keep that in mind. Universities in the US do like to see a diverse array of subjects, but since your International, they should know the A level curriculum model and not penalize you for it.
The recommended classes for internationals include 4 years of English and 2 years of history or social science. It kind of assumes that you know a language besides English as the US students have 2 years of a foreign language as recommended classes. As always, more is always better but the emphasis is the STEM subject areas.
Yes, all students at MIT are required to take a semester of biology, or to pass an advanced standing exam to receive credit for the course. You're not required to take biology in high school, although it's useful to take as many science courses in high school as possible.
The MIT General Institute Requirements (required for all students) are two semesters of calculus (single-variable and multivariable), two semesters of physics (mechanics and E&M), a semester of chemistry, a semester of biology, eight semesters of humanities/arts/social sciences, a lab course, and two restricted electives in science/engineering (from a list of foundational courses).
Embrace the hunmanities requirement. It provides a decent break from your STEM related classes and you can have some fun with it. You also learn those important "life skills" and round out your knowledge.
I had a concentration in economics for my humanities requirement. In addition to the micro/macro classes, I took a class that studied the labor movement and the formation of unions. Quite interesting. I also took a politics and television class that had several of the local politicians (including Barney Frank) come as guest lecturers. There were students that weren't in the class come just to hear the speakers. Photography was fun and taught me a lot about composing photos, light, etc. I used to pour thru the course catalog each year to find the most interesting humanities classes. Along with world class STEM classes, MIT also offers world class humanities classes (IMHO).
Look, MIT understands international admissions, and is certainly familiar with A-levels. But the important thing to remember is that MIT has found that whether an applicant is taking the most challenging academic program available to them in high school correlates rather well with their aptitude for MIT.
So when it comes to the question of how many A-levels do you need, then the answer has to lie within the context of the school. There are plenty of schools in the UK, in Nigeria, in Hong Kong (and in the many other A-level countries) where nobody takes more than three A-levels. If you come out of one of these schools with three A-levels then that is just fine. There are also a bunch of schools, where it is normal to take 4 A-levels (and an extremely rare few which encourage 5). If you come out of one of these schools with 3 A-levels, then that raises the question of what is wrong with your academic choices.
This is part and parcel of MIT being familiar with international secondary school education. Also part of that, is that MIT recognises that students are expected to specialise at A-level. For example, if you are applying to read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, then you really ought to have A-levels in Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry. An A-level in (say) Classical Greek or Film Studies, will look decidedly out of place unless it occurs in addition to the other four. And MIT has a bunch of student each year applying to both MIT and Cambridge. MIT absolutely will not hold the lack of a humanities A-level against a student applying from a system where that is not the norm (it is all about the context again). Of course, MIT does require that all of it's students, regardless of major, take a minimum of 8 papers/subjects in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. So if you get into MIT, keep that in mind.
So to paraphrase and respond to the OP's original questions:
"My school offers the possibility of taking 4 A-levels, and I am currently only taking 3. Should I take a fourth A-level if MIT is my goal?" YES, ABSOLUTELY. There is really no question about this one.
"And if I do, does it need to be in an Humanities subject?" No it does not. It certainly can be, and it cannot hurt you, but MIT recognises that this is unusual in most A-level systems, and as such your lack of one will not be held against you.
Last edited by Mikalye; 09-30-2012 at 08:22 PM.
Reason: Fixing punctuation