Options after sixth form or college
In this section, we are mainly referring to options you can do after a level 3 course, such as A-levels or a level 3 BTEC. If you are considering what to do after a level 2 course or lower, then you may find the options after year 11 page more relevant.
So, what are the options?
There are more options after 6th form or college than you might think. This video gives a taster.
Below, we’ve listed the most common options:
There are also other options that could be considered ‘alternative’, including: studying overseas and studying part-time or by distance learning.
To most people, ‘higher education’ means going to university to study a degree. However, it’s worth noting that many other institutions offer degree courses. These include colleges, conservatoires, drama schools, art colleges and more.
There are many reasons people might choose higher education after 6th form or college. It may be that the career you’re interested in requires a degree. You may want to increase your knowledge, expand your career options, increase your potential income, be more independent (especially if you live away from home) and meet a wide range of people. Higher education often involves lots of fun and socialising too.
Qualifications and subjects
The first degree studied after 6th form or college is called an ‘undergraduate degree’ – sometimes known as a ‘bachelor’s degree’.
You will see abbreviations that broadly show what broad subject area a degree is in, eg BA (bachelor of arts), BBSc (bachelor of science), BEng (bachelor of engineering), LLB (bachelor of law) and MBBS (bachelor of medicine). There are others too.
You can study one subject (most common) or it’s possible to study a joint or combined degree, with two or more subjects. Some degrees come as sandwich courses, which means you spend a year in the middle doing a work placement (this could be abroad).
Most degrees last for three years, but some are longer.
There are other shorter qualifications available, including diploma of higher education (DipHE), higher national diploma (HND) and foundation degree (FdA, FdEng or FdSc). These options are shorter than a degree and at a slightly lower level. They tend to have lower entry requirements and can usually be topped up to a degree with further study.
You also sometimes get degree courses with a ‘foundation year’ or ‘year zero’. This is an extra year at the start which helps students reach the standard required for the full degree. These are aimed at those who don’t meet the standard entry requirements.
There are a huge range of higher education subjects available. These include subjects that train you for a particular career (eg education, law, medicine, physiotherapy, psychology). Or you can do broader subjects (eg English, history) – you may choose these based on what you’re best at or enjoy most.
Choosing what and where to study
There are many factors to consider when choosing a higher education course (this is why you should start researching and thinking about it early). These include:
- preferred subjects (and what careers they might lead to)
- course structure, content and assessment
- predicted grades and entry requirements (very important)
- whether to stay at home or move away (if away, consider city vs. country, accommodation type and cost, social activities/interests etc.)
- league tables, student ratings and other similar stats
- course costs and any extra financial support offered by institutions.
There are lots of free resources that can help you make higher education choices. These include:
It’s important to also look into different jobs you’re interested in and what qualifications they require. If you’re not sure what jobs you’re interested in, some careers websites include a careers quiz/assessment to help you get some ideas.
If you’re still really unsure about future job options, it’s worth noting that over half of graduate jobs don’t have a subject requirement, ie the employer just wants university graduates with the right skills and doesn’t mind what subject you studied!
Likewise, it’s worth noting that for some careers where you need specific qualifications, you can take a relevant postgraduate course after your first degree (eg postgraduate teacher training courses and law conversion courses).
As well as checking out all the information online, it’s important to go to open days and see for yourself. See university websites or the Open Days website.
It’s really important to research carefully and make choices you are happy with. It’s not easy to change your choices once you have applied, so this will save you a lot of hassle later on.
When and how to apply
All applications to higher education in the UK are handled by UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service)
You start the application process at the start of year 13 (although it’s a good idea to start researching before this). The deadline to apply for most courses is January 15th. However, some courses, such as medicine or dentistry, have earlier deadlines.
You can find detailed information about how and when to apply on the UCAS website.
Higher education – student finance
Student finance can be a complex topic. However, there is lots of help online:
UK students probably don’t take full advantage of the opportunities to study abroad. Although there are inevitable costs involved, some countries have cheaper tuition fees than the UK and there are scholarships available for some countries, such as the USA. There are also a growing number of courses taught in English (especially in The Netherlands). For more information, check out the following sites:
Apprenticeships involve working and learning at the same time (you gain vocational qualifications).
They are available across the following job sectors:
- agriculture, horticulture and animal care
- arts, media and publishing
- business, administration and law
- construction, planning and the built environment
- education and training
- engineering and manufacturing technologies
- health, public services and care
- history, philosophy and theology
- information and communication technology
- languages, literature and culture
- leisure, travel and tourism
- preparation for life and work
- retail and commercial enterprise
- science and mathematics
- social sciences
Please note: apprenticeship vacancies are more common in some job sectors than others, so it’s important to investigate what's out there before deciding on an apprenticeship route. The best way to do this is by searching on the national Find an Apprenticeship site.
Apprenticeships are also available at different levels. See the table below:
GCSEs at grades 4 and above
Two A levels
4, 5, 6 and 7
Foundation degree and above
6 and 7
Bachelor’s or master’s degree
Entry requirements for apprenticeships vary, so do check vacancies to see what qualifications, skills and experience may be required. Most require good GCSEs in English and maths. Apprenticeships can be very competitive – they are not an easy option.
Apprentices earn a wage. Check out the legal minimum wage for your age. Many employers pay more than this.
Apprenticeships are for anyone who is above school leaving age (you reach you official school leaving age on the last Friday in June in year 11).
For more information on apprenticeships and to view and apply for vacancies, see the national apprenticeship site.
Apprenticeships after level 3 college or 6th form courses
A year 13 student finishing level 3 studies may think they should just be looking at higher and degree apprenticeships. However, it is not uncommon for young people with level 3 qualifications to take a ‘side step’ and apply for advanced apprenticeships (in fact, some advanced apprenticeships do require A-levels or equivalent).
Higher and degree apprenticeships are still relatively new and although vacancies are increasing, there are currently more advanced apprenticeship vacancies.
Degree apprenticeships are the newest type. They involve work and attending university. Entry requirements are similar to degree programmes. Like all apprenticeships, you earn a salary – and there are no higher education tuition fees either.
Degree apprenticeships are available in a range of job areas, with more to come, eg solicitor, quantity surveying, aerospace engineering, nuclear science, dental technician, bespoke tailoring, operations manager, nursing, broadcasting technology and cyber security.
Don’t be fooled by the name. School leaver programmes are aimed at those finishing level 3 qualifications at college or 6th form. Like apprenticeships, they combine working with learning.
Entry requirements and salaries are similar to higher/degree apprenticeships. School leaver programmes involve following the employer’s own training programme. They can include professional qualifications and/or working towards membership of a relevant professional body, such as the Association of Chartered Accountants
Like apprenticeships, vacancies are advertised at different times of year, depending on the employer. The selection process can be tougher than university.
To find school leaver programme vacancies, try the following websites:
Once you’re 18, you don’t have to stay in learning if you don’t think that’s the right option for you. Some 6th form and college leavers find work at 18.
It’s also possible to work and study part-time (at college, university or by distance learning).
Self-employment is another option. Eighteen-year-olds do sometimes set up their own businesses or work freelance.
‘Portfolio careers’ are becoming increasingly common too. This is where someone does more than one job at the same time, or mixes part-time work with other activities.
There is more information about employment for young people on our world of work page.
Many young people decide to take a gap year between 6th form / college and higher education. This is very common and a good way to gain skills, experience and independence.
There are many positive things you can do with a gap year, including:
- paid gap year schemes, such as Year In Industry, Accenture Horizons, Deloitte Scholar, IBM Futures
- paid employment
- study schemes
- a combination of these.
For more information, see: