Choices at 18: what now?

Choices at 18Whether you’re finishing your A-levels or other courses, or want to return to training and education, the decisions you make now can have a major impact on your future direction. With a range of different routes and options to choose from, check out our guide for some ideas on what to do next.

Thinking of going to university?

Studying is obviously a key part of the university experience, yet the wider benefits of a university education can be just as important. Making life-long friends, widening your outlook, or developing new hobbies and interests can all result from going to university.

Aside from the enjoyment of spending three years (or more) studying your chosen subject, the upsides can also be long-lasting – graduates benefit from enhanced career prospects and earning potential. Going to university represents a significant investment in time and money so it’s worth making a considered decision if this is both the right path and the right time for you.

What to study

Remember, if you’re studying a subject for a minimum of three-years, it helps if you find it interesting. People choose subjects for a range of reasons – subsequent financial rewards, a pathway to a chosen career, or aptitude and enjoyment. Whatever your motivation, take some time to think through the consequences of studying a particular subject – where might it lead?

Useful links

Bright Knowledge has lots of information and advice on choosing a university.

UCAS enables you to research your university choices and courses. You also apply for higher education courses through their website. helps you compare courses and universities.

Best Course 4 Me offers advice from past students who have taken specific courses, and links subjects studied with information on job prospects and potential earnings.

The Guardian University Guide has profiles of every university and course in the UK, league tables as well as student news, advice and webchats.

Push is an independent guide to UK universities, student life, gap years, open days and student finance.

Pure Potential is an independent organisation which raises the aspirations of thousands of sixth-formers every year, encouraging them to apply to and helping them to achieve offers from excellent universities.

Whilst there’s value in considering your career options now, many people go to university without having any future plans. If you choose a non-vocational degree, the skills you develop from academic study such as forming an argument, writing persuasively, and independent research and analysis, are all useful in the world of work. Lots of employers are looking for a general university education, combined with relevant work experience and skills.

University is also a time to try out new things – writing for the student paper for example, may lead you to consider a career in journalism – so take the opportunity to gain as much experience as you can over the duration of your course.

Student finance

Going to university can be costly but there’s lots of information around on finance and funding. Everything you need to know about student finance provides a good introduction, from understanding and applying for loans to budgeting and bank accounts.  

Flexible options

Don’t forget that most universities offer part-time courses, allowing you to combine study with part-time work, childcare or other commitments.

The Open University has a distance learning programme, which enables students to study in a time and place of their choosing.

What about college?

An additional year in further education could be an option if you want to boost your grades, gain additional skills or improve existing ones. Many college courses offer the opportunity to combine classroom teaching with work-based learning.

A college course is also the next step for certain careers. A year-long Art Foundation course, for example, is the standard route to studying art at higher education.

You can explore and compare courses at hundreds of colleges and work-based learning providers through UCAS Progress.

Apprenticeships and work-based learning

If you want to learn a new profession, trade or skill, then this could be the route for you. An apprenticeship is a real job with training so you can earn while you learn and pick up recognised qualifications as you go. Apprenticeships take between one and four years to complete and there are different entry levels depending on the qualifications you already hold. See our Focus on Apprenticeships section for more details.

You could also look out for trainee positions or trainee schemes where you learn through work and develop practical on-the-job skills.

Starting work

If you feel ready for the world of work, then why not take a look at the types of jobs on offer?

Eight ways to look for work has ideas on where to find vacancies and our Quick guide to successful job hunting is packed with tips to help you get a job.

Setting up your own business

Becoming an entrepreneur is something you can try at any age, although there are specific schemes and support available to encourage young people to set up their own business. Our entrepreneurship directory Starting your own business lists organisations providing  information, support and advice to help get your idea off the ground.

Taking a gap year

A gap year is a popular option for people who want to take some time out from their studies and try something different or new, before either resuming education or entering into full time employment.  Your gap year could include travelling, volunteering, gaining paid work experience or a combination of all three. See our Focus on Gap Years section for more information.

Getting advice

If you’re still at school or college then speak to your teachers or career advisors. Parents, carers, friends and relatives may also be able to provide ideas and guidance. The National Careers Service offers advice online or by phone.

Where next?

The icould website is a great starting point to discover what careers are out there, and has over a thousand films of people talking about their jobs. You can watch videos of people’s career stories searching either by subject, job type or life decision.

See Getting to grips with decisions for advice when it comes to the crunch.