Not all secondary schools have the provision for further study post-GCSEs, while some students feel they'd like to experience college life while completing their A-levels
What are A-levels?
Advanced level (referred to as A-level) qualifications are often the natural next step for students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to take after finishing compulsory education and their GCSEs.
You'll usually study at least three subjects in one go, and these can range from maths and English literature to film studies, politics and sports science. They are typically studied full time within two years, although you can also choose to study them part time at college. Assessment usually takes the form of a series of exams.
Who are A-levels for?
These traditional subject-based qualifications are perfect for those aged 16 to 19 looking to go down the academic route on their way to university. However, they can also allow you to keep your options open if you're not sure what to do next and they're valued by employers should you then wish to enter the world of work or undertake further training.
Finally, while A-levels are often academically-focused and not generally considered as practical as NVQs and BTEC diplomas, they can still provide a stepping stone to vocational or work-based qualifications such as apprenticeships.
What grades are needed for A-level study?
While each school or college sets out its own entry requirements, you'll usually need:
- a minimum of five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (or equivalent)
- at least grade 6 in your chosen subject(s).
What are sixth form colleges?
The Association of Colleges (AoC) states that there are over 60 sixth form colleges in England (and around 90 across the UK) offering an extensive range of academic, technical and professional courses. These include qualifications such as T-levels, BTECs and apprenticeships, in addition to A-level study.
Why should I consider going to sixth form college?
As many secondary schools offer A-levels, students feeling settled there can choose to continue their education at the same school without any upheaval. On the other hand, the negatives of going to the same high school include being too familiar with the teachers, who may not initially treat you much differently from when you were in year 11.
You'll also find that they can be more formal than their counterparts as you'll have to share the site with younger pupils in years 7-11. At college, you can make new friends your own age from different schools.
Whether you're looking for a fresh start or you find that there are better facilities at a sixth form college, going down the further education (FE) pathway means you'll be able to choose from a wider range of qualifications than at a school sixth form, which usually just focus on A-levels and BTECs.
Another major thing to consider is the fact that as you'll be learning in an adult environment, this means you're responsible for your own learning and will need to show self-discipline to keep on top of your workload. This is heightened by the fact your timetable may be less cluttered at college, with plenty of free periods.
It's also worth noting that you may get to undertake more online classes, as FE colleges typically offer distance learning classes to adults of all ages.
While students under the age of 19 won't need to pay for sixth form college, there may still be costs involved for study materials, especially on practical courses - and the expense of getting to and from campus.
How do I make the right choice?
As long as there's a sixth form college in your local area, you'll get to decide between school or college and what you go for will depend on your personal preference and the subject(s) you're planning on studying.
Make a list of the pros and cons of each and take into account factors such as the range of facilities, extra-curricular activities on offer, class sizes, quality of teaching, plus the availability of careers services in terms of exploring what you want to do afterwards.
FE colleges often run open days so you can speak to tutors and view the campus for yourself before committing. You'll then get a better feel for if it's the right environment for you.
Find out more
- Discover how to apply for college in the UK.
- Consider should I go to university or do an apprenticeship?
- Read about applying for university.