Decisions for the future; where to go next?

If you are struggling with what to do next, then here’s our guide of where to go to get the best advice about your chosen career path.

If you live in Scotland, Skills Development Scotland is the national careers advice service for people of any age. For those of you who didn’t get the results you’d had been hoping for they run an Exams Helpline where you can get advice about the latest information on UCAS course vacancies at colleges and universities across the UK, clearing, advice about employment, training opportunities, exam re-sits and the Scottish Government’s Step Forward Scotland £6.5m support package for summer leavers. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on their website, you can also contact them via the phone and speak to an adviser directly.

If you live in Wales, Careers Wales offers information on work and learning options including tips for choosing a career, qualifications and where to get them, job hunting and where to get help if you need it. You can also arrange a face-to-face meeting with an adviser.

If you live in Northern Ireland, Careers Service NI site will help you to start thinking about the careers your interested in and show you the best way to get on to your chosen career path.


Getting into university

UCAS enables you to research your university choices. They provide information around subjects and qualifications as well as about funding your studies and being prepared for any challenges that may arise. Once decided, you also need to apply for higher education courses through them. If you’ve already got your results and you haven’t been successful in securing your first choice university, UCAS can also helps with Clearing and the best next steps.

Each year some applicants pass their exams with better results than expected. This may mean that some will have not only met the conditions of their firm choice, but will also have exceeded them. Adjustment – sometimes called trading up – has been introduced for these applicants. It provides an opportunity for them to reconsider where and what to study. UCAS also run yougo, a website available to students thinking of applying, already applied to or currently in higher education. It provides a comprehensive information resource and social networking opportunities just for students.

Pure Potential was founded in 2005 to plug the aspiration, knowledge and confidence gap between independent and state school students when it comes to progressing to the most competitive universities and careers.

Going to university

Starting out and lifestyle

The National Union of Students (NUS) is a useful starting point for finding out more about going to university. has lots of articles on all aspects of student living, from dealing with homesickness to, er, campus chat
up lines.

For information on what’s in store for you, try your university’s students’ union website. They often have information on all the sports clubs, student societies, volunteering, jobs, bars, clubs and entertainments on offer. You can go to your university’s homepage and find a link, or you can go to the NUS site for a full listing.


Many universities offer on-campus or university-owned halls of residence to first year students. This will be offered to you once you have been offered a place at the university. However, not every university offers this and, if you have gone through Clearing, you might need to find your own accommodation.

Accomodation for students is the UK’s leading site for student accommodation, student houses, student flats and larger private accommodation across the UK. You can also find potential housemates through the site.

Some universities work with the University Partnerships Programme (UPP) which provides on-campus, managed university accommodation. To get a place in these halls you will need to apply through the university.

UNITE is a commercial organisation that runs private halls of residence and other housing for students at many towns and cities across the country. You apply directly for accommodation through their site; if you and friends would like to live together you can select “˜group bookings’.


For some, one of the more daunting aspects of university can be feeding yourself. Beyond Baked Beans offers masses of money-saving tips and cheap, easy recipes for any occasion. Originally set up to help students eat more healthily the site also helps those who are struggling to eat well on a budget.

Student Travel

An NUS card on its own isn’t always enough to guarantee you discounted student travel!

When you get to university, you’ll find that the local bus companies offer discounted bus passes for students.

It’s quite useful to get your bearings in the first few days and work out which buses you take most frequently before you opt for one bus pass or another. First Group, which operates in a number of towns and cities, offers a student bus pass.

Student travel abroad

  • ISIC card gives you travel discounts when travelling abroad
  • STA travel is a discount student travel agency providing information and links to help plan all your travel needs including finding flights, details of rail and bus passes available for Europe and beyond, travel insurance, hotel rooms and hostel nights.
  • student travel Loads of useful info about student travel from how to get a passport and the best free things to do in major European cities, to sorting your travel documents and how to pay for your travel.


If you are confused by the latest changes to tuition fees and want to know how much Uni is going to cost from 2012 then have a look at our no-nonsense guide. You can even see how much you will pay back when you enter the world of work!

Directgov provides a good intro for those seeking information on funding for higher education. If you are from England, this is also where you can apply for funding from Student Finance England. If you are from Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, information about applying is available.

Cost of living

Directgov also provides a good starting point for understanding the cost of living, with up-to-date figures for fees and a student finance calculator.

NUS and HSBC conducted research to find out the true cost of living – and found that students underestimated how much they were going to spendby around £20 per week, but the reality is something much higher! Find out more about this at the NUS website.

The charity UNIAID offers tools to help you manage your money. Each year, it also offers accommodation bursaries; check their site for updates on the next round of applications.

The cost of living really varies depending on where you are studying; universities often provide information on their own sites about the predicted cost of living in the local area.

Getting a part-time job

Many universities and colleges have employment offices or job shops‘, which help students find work during term and vacation time. The National Association for Student Employment Services has a full listing of all of its members.

Getting a job

Not everyone wants to go to university – in fact, going into work or further training is a choice made by over 50% of school and college-leavers. is a site built by a school-leaver who got into university but chose not to go and set up his own business instead. The site has expanded and they have several partners, in particular a group of national employers who actively recruit school-leavers. Find out more about the employers.

Making decisions

Given the current economic problems, getting a job might be easier said than done. The need to earn is likely to be the most pressing concern for many, so researching or choosing a career might seem a bit of a luxury.

If you do have a bit of time, or even if you’ve already got a job, Jobs4U gives you some useful information on the kinds of skills you can gain from all types of job across different employment sectors. So even if you get a job that isn’t your first choice of work, you can still use the time to build up skills which would be useful in your preferred career.

Recruitment sites

National recruitment sites offer opportunities to young people who are just starting out – not just for older or experienced workers. If you use “˜school-leaver’ as one of your search terms jobs that specifically welcome applications from you should turn up in your results.

  • Monster offers advice on how to get a job and vacancies
  • Guardian Jobs – helps you find the latest jobs available to apply for in a wide range of sectors including public sector, media, marketing, graduate and government jobs, working full time or part time.
  • is another one-stop shop for job search
  • The Job Centre or Jobcentre Plus is the natural first step for many as it’s now called – because it offers services other than jobs, including social security payments and training opportunities. Jobcentre Plus is a government-funded employment agency and social security office that can be found in most towns and cities, whose aim it is to help people of working age find employment in the UK. Some Jobcentre Plus offices also have in-house careers advisers, but all should be able to direct you to a careers adviser. In-house advisers come from Connexions (for those 19 or under in England), Nextstep (the name of the careers service for adults in England), Careers Scotland or Careers Wales.
  • If you are in Northern Ireland, find a listing of Job Centres
  • Job search portal run by the NI Job Centre
  • An independent guide to using job centres and their services. This is NOT the official site for Jobcentre Plus or the NI Job Centre; it is independent and not linked with the Department for Work and Pensions.

Work experience and internships

Work experience is an incredibly useful way to find out if you want to work in a particular job or sector, to gain workplace skills or to get your foot in the door. You might be paid for a work experience placement or internship – usually employers make this clear when advertising placements. Sometimes they are unpaid, particularly if they are in a popular sector.

If you are a graduate, the government has recently created Graduate Talent Pool, a one-stop shop for graduates seeking an internship or work experience. Currently, there are over 500 opportunities advertised on the site, many of which have multiple vacancies.

National Council for Work Experience (NCWE) supports university students in the main but has some useful links for 15-18 year olds seeking work experience. NCWE also organises Work Placement Exhibitions, where you can go along and meet employers who have placements on offer.

As well as graduate jobs, also allows you to search for internships and placements on the Prospects site. Prospects also has a series of articles on work experience, which are useful for anyone seeking a placement.

When you undertake a placement, it’s useful to think about what you’re learning and how you might apply that knowledge in another job or in another organisation. This article from Prospects gives you more information on how to develop and then sell those skills.

Gap Years

You can take a gap year for lots of reasons – it can be a break before university, offer you experience of work either at home or abroad, provide time to decide whether or not you want to go to university or simply to save some money and pay some bills. Gap years can also offer you great opportunities to develop valuable skills – either through work experience or paid work, or even just through meeting new people.

More information about taking a gap year is available from these sites:

  • is pretty much a one-stop shop for all things gap! Information, jobs, volunteering opportunities and networking are all available here.
  • brings together a series of expert organisations

A vocational route

Not going to university doesn’t have to mean you stop learning. Many school-leavers choose the college or work-based route to gaining more qualifications.

On-the-job training

Some employers will offer ‘on-the-job’ training – which is usually paid for by the company. This depends on the company and the job you have. When applying for jobs or in interviews, it’s useful to research and ask about the training opportunities the company offers.


Apprenticeships are on offer to everyone, with different entry levels depending on the qualifications you already hold. Apprenticeships offer a work-based route to becoming qualified, allowing you to earn while studying. This site also provides information on the availability of apprenticeships.

Vocational Qualifications

There are a host of vocational qualifications on offer, but it can be hard to navigate your way around these. Firstly, they are available at a number of levels, including those that are the equivalent of university qualifications.

Secondly, some qualifications allow you to build credit, letting you do them as and when you can and raise your qualification level at the same time.

You will probably have heard of NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications), BTECs and foundation degrees. In general, NVQs provide you with skills to do a specific job, whilst BTECs and foundation degrees are more broad-based, while still giving you deeper knowledge of a particular working area or sector.

Your local further education college will offer a prospectus, and many of these will be available online. If you need help deciding on a course, you can speak to the college’s learning support adviser (all colleges have one).

Find out more about qualifications

More information on foundation degrees

Other useful hints and links

  • Employment agencies – there are hundreds of them in the phone book, and they can get you temporary orpermanent work. You usually have to fill in an application form, and sometimes take a test for skills like typing. After that, phone daily for vacancies.
  • Networking opportunities – many people get jobs through personal contacts, so let friends and family know that you are looking for work. They might know somebody useful and pull a few strings, or have seen an ad that you missed.
  • Speculation – check out firms you’d like to work for e.g. through news stories, the business sections of daily papers, or use Google to find out more. Then call their human resources people and ask about possible vacancies. Even if they aren’t currently recruiting, send them your CV to keep on file.

!and for university students

  • The Milk Round‘: This one’s for university students. Once or twice yearly, the big firms go around UK universities giving talks and trying to sign up students for trainee jobs. Go along, and do some background reading about the companies. You can find out all of the details from your university careers service.
  • Graduate Prospects
  • The Graduate is part of the newspaper publishing group Trinity Mirror.


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