From apprenticeships to A-levels, check out our guide to the options out there and ideas on how to make the right choice for you.
Where to start
Year 11 may mark the end of your school days, but you still have to stay in education or training until the end of the school year when you turn 18.
So what can you do next? Your main choices are:
- Full-time study, such as for A-levels or different college course
- An apprenticeship or traineeship
- A mix of work with part-time study
It’s worth looking ahead, as decisions you make now may narrow your choices later. Fancy a particular course? Find out where it’s likely to lead in future. Have a career or university course in mind? Work out what do you need to do now to set you on the right path.
It can also help to keep an open mind – find out what’s available and then see how each option could work for you.
There are always opportunities to change direction and different ways to get to where you want to be, but thinking about your future now could make life easier further down the line.
Staying in education – where to study
If you want to stay in education, you can study at:
- Your current school’s sixth form (if it has one)
- A separate sixth form or Further Education College
- A specialist college – these usually focus on subjects such as dance, drama, or agriculture
Each school or college is likely to offer a range of different subjects, courses, and learning styles. Some colleges offer part-time courses, or run evening or weekend classes – often called flexible learning – so it’s worth finding out more to discover what will suit you best.
Look out for open days or evenings where you can visit the college, find out about the courses on offer and speak to staff and students. See what courses involve – the topics you will cover, amount of exams and coursework, and ask what previous students have gone on to do next.
Check out the application process for any colleges that interest you. Applications usually take place in the spring of year 11, but can be as early as the autumn.
What to study
A-levels tend to focus on academic subjects and are one of the main routes to university. Courses usually take two years and you sit your exams at the end of the course. See Choosing A-level subjects for more details.
Students often sit AS-level exams at the end of their first year at sixth form in the subjects they are studying for A-level. AS-levels are now a standalone qualification, so your marks won’t count towards your final A-level grades, but they are good practice for your final year exams.
Vocational qualifications are more practical and provide you with the knowledge and skills needed for certain jobs and types of work. You can study Tech Levels which are linked to careers such as engineering, computing and hospitality or Applied General qualifications which have a broader focus, such as applied science, business or sport.
Explore and compare courses at hundreds of schools and colleges through UCAS Progress.
Getting back on track
Don’t worry if your GCSEs didn’t go well. Colleges often offer the opportunity to sit retakes and study for new GCSEs or other qualifications. And you may find that life at college, rather than in school, is the change you need to bring a focus to your studies.
Details of of help with childcare, support with learning costs such as transport, bursaries for students in financial hardship, and dance and drama awards are available on GOV.UK.
Apprenticeships and traineeships
If you’ve had enough of the classroom full-time, and want to learn a new profession, trade or skill, then this could be the route for you.
Apprenticeships are real jobs with training so you can earn while you learn and pick up qualifications as you go. Schemes take between one and four years to complete and run on three different levels, so you can choose a level that suits you.
See Five reasons to take a closer look at apprenticeships for more details.
Traineeships help prepare you for work and last up to six months. They offer maths and English training together with work experience to boost your skills and put you in a better position to get an apprenticeship or job. You can find an traineeship on GOV.UK.
Not Going to Uni has more information and vacancy details for apprenticeships and work-based training.
Speak to your teachers at school. They may have links with local colleges and training providers or know how past students have got on. Parents, carers, friends and relatives may also be able to provide ideas and guidance.
If you want to speak to a careers advisor for help ask your school or visit the National Careers Service which has a freephone and webchat option.
Find out more
Choosing well: how to pick the right path for you has lots more advice on making your next move.
Can’t decide? Tactics for making decisions has suggestions on how to choose between different options.
icould career videos are a great starting point to discover what careers are out there. Search by subject type for real-life examples of the links between subjects and work, or watch videos by job type or life event.