Post-16 career choices

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
March, 2022

Once you've finished your GCSEs, completing A-levels before going on to university is the most popular student pathway - however, alternatives are available including gaining qualifications at an FE (further education) college

After leaving secondary education, your next move is up to you. Yes, you can speak to family, friends and careers professionals about what you could do now you've got your GCSEs (or National 5s in Scotland), but it's the end of life as a school pupil and from now on, you control your future.

Routes to take

  • Get a job - If you have a career in mind and are willing to start in a junior position, some companies/industries will take on new starters. You'll be trained on the job and be able to work your way up once you gain experience. If you haven't had a job before, consider how to get a job with no experience. You can also discover more about working in different job sectors and explore the job profiles of the careers you're interested in.
  • Choose an apprenticeship - A way to work, earn money and achieve a qualification at the same time, apprenticeships are available to school leavers at intermediate and advanced levels. For the latter, you may need to have already gained some work experience. They are typically completed within two years through study at an FE college.
  • Study for A-levels at sixth form - While you may decide to stay on at the same school, as a sixth form student you'll be treated like an adult and will be able to choose from a range of A-level subjects.
  • Go to college - At an FE institution, you can still choose to study for your A-levels/do an apprenticeship, but there are various other qualifications on offer.

A guide to college qualifications

At an FE college, you could choose to study a range of qualifications, including:

  • T-Levels - Equivalent to three A-levels, these recently introduced (September 2020) two-year qualifications combine classroom learning with an extended industry placement on a course created in collaboration with employers. Examples of courses include health, onsite construction, and digital production, design and development.
  • BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) diplomas - These specialist work-related qualifications combine subject and theory content with practical learning. More than 2,000 courses are available across many sectors, for instance, business, childcare, media and sport. They're ideal if you're interested in a particular industry but aren't sure what job you'd like to do.
  • Foundation degrees (FDs) - Focused on building essential skills for a particular profession, such as social work or nursing and equivalent to two-thirds of a full undergraduate degree, these courses usually last for two years. You can gain credit by having commercial/industrial experience rather than formal qualifications.
  • Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) - A vocational two-year qualification equivalent to the second year of a Bachelors degree that can prepare you for entering certain industries - for example, computer science, design or hospitality. You may need one or two A-levels for entry onto a course.

Applying for college courses

To explore the various college courses available, search the individual websites of FE colleges in your area.

Distance learning options are also available through online study.

You can also get advice on how to apply for college.

Going on to university

Some of these qualifications can be topped up to a full degree, so if you're thinking of going to university but still aren't sure, the course may offer credit should you choose to carry on with study after the college course.

Find out more

How would you rate this page?

On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like

success feedback

Thank you for rating the page