Schooling is a predictor of student choice of subject, as well as of university, a new study has found.
Destined for Success? Educational biographies of academically able pupils looked at the experience over 15 years of 347 students who were at secondary schools in the 1980s.
The Economic and Social Research Council-sponsored report found that students from private or selective schools were more likely to take traditional subjects such as history, maths and languages than those from comprehensives.
Fewer than two in five of those from comprehensives took those subjects, against three in five for the other groups. The comprehensively-educated were more likely to take "traditional vocational" subjects such as law, medicine or engineering and twice as likely to opt for "new vocational" courses such as marketing or sports science.
One of the researchers, Geoff Whitty of the Institute of Education, London, said: "Attendance at an elite university was frequently translated into higher occupational status, but modern and new vocational degrees from other universities more often led to lower level managerial occupations".
"Elite" universities were defined as Oxford and Cambridge plus others such as the London School of Economics, Warwick and Bristol with high entry scores and research assessment results. The research offered no support for theories that elite universities discriminate against the privately-educated.
Anecdotal evidence pointed the other way - all five students who made it to elite universities with an A level score of 19 points or less went to public school while six of the eight who went to new universities with 20 points or more were from comprehensives.