Choices at 18: what now?

Whether 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?

Whilst studying is obviously a key part of the university experience, many students and graduates feel that the wider benefits of a university education are just as important.  Making life-long friends, meeting different people, or developing new hobbies and interests can all result from going to university. Aside from the enjoyment of in-depth study, graduates also 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?

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.  For a good introduction, check out our No nonsense guide to student finance.

GOV.UK provides details about funding for higher education. If you are from England, this is also where you can apply for funding from Student Finance England. Directgov also lists further information about funding for students from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

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.

More information

See our useful links section at the bottom of the page for further details about choosing universities and courses.

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.

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

Many college courses offer the opportunity to combine classroom teaching with work-based learning.

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. There are nearly 200 different apprenticeship roles on offer, in sectors ranging from animal care to engineering.  Apprenticeships take between one and four years to complete and there are different entry levels depending on the qualifications you already hold.  More information is available from The National Apprenticeships Service.

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

Starting work

If you feel ready for the world of work, then why not take a look at the types of jobs on offer? offers a range of advice as well as information on apprenticeships and training courses.  They also list job vacancies, including trainee positions and have a range of partners including national employers who actively recruit school leavers.

National recruitment sites such as Monster or Reed provide a good starting point, as well as advice on how to get a job.

Jobcentre Plus provides details of vacancies and a wide range of information and services, including help with benefits, loans, grants and finding a job.

You could also try contacting employers directly, or looking on their websites for vacancies.  Keep an eye out for job adverts in local papers or shop windows, and ask your family, friends and relatives to let you know if they hear of any opportunities as many jobs are not advertised.


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.

The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme supports unemployed young people aged 18-30 to work out if their business ideas are viable and whether self-employment is right for them.

The government-backed StartUp Loans scheme offers loans to help boost youth enterprise.

Business link is the government’s online resource for businesses and contains some useful information on getting started.

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.  You can call an advisor for free on: 0800 100 900.


Check out the links below for more details and resources.


Further information

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.

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

UCAS enables you to research your university choices and courses. They also provide information about funding your studies and being prepared for any challenges that may arise. You also apply for higher education courses through their website.

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 the leading 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.

And finally, there’s lots more information about going to university in our Career and uni FAQs.

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