Your Post-16 Choices

In England, students must stay in education or training until the age of 18. This can include going to sixth form, college, or into work – but training must be part of what you are doing. Whatever you decide, it is important to think about what is right for you. The only way to do this is to understand all of the options available, and consider what the best thing is for you.

What options do you have?

Well let’s ask and answer two key questions…

1) Where do I want to study?

You can study Post 16  / Level 3 qualifications in lots of different places when you finish your GCSEs:

  • School Sixth Form – If you’re at a school with a sixth form you could stay on to study there. You already know the institution, the teachers, and your friends. However, it is worth looking at different schools as sixth forms vary in size, course offering, subjects and extra-curricular activities. You should only go if they offer the subjects and courses that you want to study.
  • Sixth Form College – Sixth form colleges tend to be more informal than sixth forms. They’re bigger with more study options. This will give you the opportunity to meet new people from who went to different secondary schools.
  • FE College – This is a more adult environment where you’ll need to take more responsibility for yourself and your learning; which will help to prepare you for work and life after education. There are usually a range of sport and leisure opportunities to get involved in alongside your studies – we recommend going a college open days to see what is available.
  • Training Providers – Training providers will offer a wide range of work-related training and qualifications (such as apprenticeships). They will work closely with employers who offer work-based training as part of their employment. These are usually based in colleges, but will differ for different professions.

2) What qualification/s do I want to take?

You might remember from the pathways charts we looked at in Year 10 that there are lots of different types of Post 16  / Level 3 qualifications. Here’s another quick reminder:

  • Academic – study in a specific subject area
    • A-Levels: usually study three subjects or more and the subject areas are very similar to what you studied at secondary school (although a few more may be available; e.g. business, finance, psychology, sociology)
    • Extended Project Qualification (EPQ):  taken alongside A-Levels and involves doing independent study in an area of your choice
  • Applied learning and technical qualifications – study towards a specific industry 
    • BTEC’s: give you a broader knowledge of a particular industry. They are available in a range of sizes that are equivalent to one, two or three A-Levels. They can be taken in combination with other qualifications
    • Cambridge Technicals: involve studying a range of eight subject areas, each with flexible choices of units. They range in sizes that are equivalent to one, two or three A-Level
    • T Levels: include a range of qualifications which give you specialist technical knowledge and skills and are recognised as leading to specific job roles.
    • NVQs and SVQs: provide you with skills to do a specific job and can be taken if you have a full-time job or are on a course with a work placement.
  • Functional Qualifications – Focus on developing and using skills; including communication, team work, presentation skills, problem solving, alongside sector knowledge and skills
    • Apprenticeships: ‘Learn whilst you earn’

Choosing what and where?

UCAS has a tool that allows you to start to think about the types of qualifications that are best suited to you. Try it out here to start to get an idea of where you can begin your research.

UCAS top tips for choosing a place of study:

  1. Search for schools, colleges and training providers in your local area that offer the course, qualification, or subject that you want to study
  2. Go to open days – all FE providers will put on an open day/evening, which is a great opportunity for you to explore schools or colleges and find out about the courses in more detail, but also about the extra-curricular opportunities  on offer. For advice and support on how to make the most out of an open day/evening, visit the UCAS website Post 16 pages here
  3. Find out as much as you can – college life and work-based training are all very different from the secondary school and education you’ve known so far. Do your research and ensure it is somewhere that you can thrive and be able to do your best.


UCAS – What to consider when choosing your subjects:

  1. What subjects do already know you like?
    1. Do you enjoy, or are good at certain subjects? Would you want to take these further?
    2. Do you have any hobbies or strong interests that you could study?
    3. Do you need particular grades to get onto courses that you’re interested in?
  2. Explore new subjects 
    1. Have you considered new subjects that you might be interested in studying?
    2. Find out what’s involved in new subjects – speak to teachers and staff at open days.
    3. Think about how you learn best – in the classroom or with practical experience?
  3. Consider your any existing job or career plans you have
    1. What do you want to do in the future? Do research into higher education courses, or into a career that interests you and see whether you need a specific Post 16 / Level 3 qualification to progress. 
    2. If you don’t know what you want to do in the future, think about choosing subjects that will keep your options open.
  4. Compare courses you think you might be interested in
    1. Look at the course syllabus and specifications for different courses at different places.
    2. Find out the workload for the course – is it a lot of essay writing? A lot of independent reading? Exams?
  5. Ask for help and attend school and college events
    1. Attend careers and skills fairs at school – meet colleges, training providers, apprenticeship providers, etc.
    2. Get advice – speak to careers staff or teachers at your school. you can also use the national careers service –
    3. Discuss your ideas with your parents or carers, family and friends and get their view on the choices

Hopefully the information here has given you a better idea of the options available once you leave school. It’s a time of big changes, but as long as you carefully consider your choices (institutional, academic, and vocational) and what’s best for you then you’ll be away. Let’s revisit life in higher education by clicking ‘read more’ the box below.

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Remind yourself of the great things higher education has to offer

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