Once you’ve finished your GCSEs, sixth form college is usually the next step. However, choosing the right sixth form college can be tricky, and there’s lots of things you need to consider.
Luckily for you, in this article I’ll be going over the factors you need to consider when choosing a sixth form college. Read on if you need help on choosing the best college for you and your future.
1. The College’s Previous Results
Probably the most important factor to consider when thinking about sixth form colleges are their results. They’re a good indicator of how good the college is, and how you’ll do as a student if you study there.
If you look specifically at the subject you want to do and the results attained for that, it should show you what you’ll get. Bear in mind that you can’t just rely on the college to carry you through though – you have to put in the hard work.
Without your own efforts, there’s not much college can do for you. Unlike school, you’re not constantly pushed to be the best you can be – you’ve got to make the most of it yourself.
Because of that element of work by students, though, you can’t always trust sixth form college results. Some results that are particularly bad may be a result of the student, and not the college.
For the best chances of your success, you’ll want to go to a college with good results. Look for a sixth form college with at least 70% getting pass grades for the best chances of your success.
Always remember to look at results from the past 5 consecutive years, too. That way, you can identify trends in results to see if the college is getting better – or worse.
If you want to know more about how important A-Level results are to employers, have a look at this article.
I’d sometimes say that even if the college has bad results, it may not be a bad idea to go there. There are lots of other factors to consider, and sixth form college results is only one of many.
2. The College’s Location
Location, location, location. Yet another important thing to take into account is where the sixth form college is.
If the sixth form college is far away from where you live, you could encounter a few problems. Getting up early every day to make that trip to college is not fun for anybody, and can lower your motivation as you dread leaving the house.
Another important problem that may occur is travel expenses. Travelling all that way to college every day can be expensive, and you might need that money for other things – such as university, potentially.
You also may miss out on revision time because of your travel. Revision for college is hugely important, and you might not get enough time to do it if you’re constantly moving about.
No revision for college means no passing exams. Not only that, but you’ll probably have less time to do coursework as well – meaning you’ll find it harder to understand the content in the first place.
I’d suggest applying to a sixth form college close to you, if you want to make it easier on yourself. It will be easier to get to, and easier to work at and motivate yourself.
That’s not to say that far away colleges won’t work, however. You can still make it work, provided you’ve got the dedication and resilience.
Lots of my friends go to college many miles away from where they live, and they seem to make it work. It might be a bit more stressful, but it’s whatever’s right for the student.
3. Subject Availability
Another important thing to consider is subject availability in the sixth form college. If the college doesn’t supply the course you want to do, you may want to start looking elsewhere.
Subject availability is very important when deciding what sixth form college you want to go to. The perfect college will have all the courses you want to do, and the facilities to support you in those subjects.
If you really like a college, but they don’t have the right course for you, you may be forced to take a course that you won’t enjoy/succeed in.
Avoid this at all costs. Taking subjects you don’t enjoy in college is a bad idea, as your motivation to do them goes downhill. No motivation means that you’re more likely to fail the subject, and get bad grades at the end of college.
The easiest way to check if a sixth form college has the course you need is through their website. Most sixth form colleges have their own websites with course listings so that you can check what you need is there.
Of course, this may not apply to everybody. Many students leave school not knowing what they want to do at college, which is totally okay.
If this is you, I’d suggest looking through the courses to gage what it is you want to do. And the more subjects are available to you, the better off you’ll be when choosing a career path.
In general, there seems to be a trend between subject availability and results. The lower the subject availability, the better results – as college resources don’t have to be spread out across courses.
Therefore, your chances of success are higher if you go to a more ‘specialised’ college.
4. Student Support
If you want the best chances of success in your exams at college, you’ll need some good student support. Without it, you could stress yourself out way too much to the point of no return.
Student support is incredibly important for a college to have, because otherwise students become demoralised and get worse results. If you’re a student at a college with little to no student support, you have a higher chance of failing your exams.
And one thing you don’t need on top of all that revision and exam prep at college is the stress of feeling like your on your own. Your sixth form college should be able to support you in college life, so that you can deal with everything that comes your way.
A good example of student support at the college I go to is the workshops. Workshops are basically little support groups for a subject, where you can go to practice skills if you’re struggling.
This is great for students who need support with a particularly difficult subject. I’d make sure to ask a sixth form college whether or not they provide workshops before you make your decision.
Another great example of student support is a ‘student union’ or similar groups. Basically, students get together to talk about how they could improve the college, and then relay that to the staff.
This means that even if the sixth form college doesn’t have much student support, you can change that. The best sixth form colleges will have student unions, so make sure you do your research before applying.
5. The College’s Facilities
When I mention facilities, I’m not talking about toilets (but they are important). I’m talking about the facilities the sixth form college have for your courses.
If a sixth form college doesn’t have the right facilities for your course, chances are that it’ll be harder for you. You need the right tools to do the job, and your sixth form college is supposed to provide those tools.
An example of facilities a college should have is computers. In this modern day and age, computers are a must for every stage of education.
Especially for computer science, computers are essential for your exam success. But also, they can help you in all your other subjects too.
Computers are usually situated in a library – yet another facility of a good sixth form college. Libraries are quiet places you can go to work, and helpful to all students in the college.
Speaking personally, there are lots of gaps in my timetable at college that I go to the library for. Quiet revision, small group work, and brushing up on knowledge are important parts of a college routine.
Libraries and computers are still only a small proportion of the many facilities a college could have, though. Make sure to check the college to see what they have before you make any decisions.
Also make sure to check for your specific subjects. If you’ve chosen what you want to do, I’d have a look for course-specific facilities that they might offer.
That might help you to choose between very similar sixth form colleges, by analysing the quality of the facilities and what they actually offer.
6. The College’s Average Class Size
Class size can be super important when deciding which sixth form college you want to go to. If you get it wrong, you could be stuck in an ineffective workspace for two years.
When choosing a sixth form college, you’ll need to think about what kind of class size you actually want. Do you want a small class size? Or would you prefer a bigger class size?
On one hand, a small class size can be beneficial due to how much 1 to 1 time each student will get. Smaller classes mean more intense support for each student if they need it.
On the other hand, a large class size can be beneficial due to the atmosphere in the room. If you’re in a large class and everybody is working hard, it usually motivates you to do the same.
But that’s just it – everybody has to be working hard for large class sizes to work. Usually, this is not the case, which is why so many people will tell you smaller class sizes are better.
Smaller class sizes means that people are less inclined to mess about, and instead just get on with the work. This is essential for college, as you can’t afford to give anything less than 100%.
I’d recommend choosing a sixth form college with class sizes of around 15-20 people. Any more than this and you’ll find your productivity in class starts to decline.
However, if the class size is less, that’s absolutely fine. In the sixth form college I go to, there’s a chemistry class with just 3 people attending – but they are all achieving top grades.
7. How The Open Days Went
Open days are a great way of seeing how a sixth form college works and assessing whether or not it’s right for you. You’ll want to go to as many as you can to find the best sixth form college for you.
Attending a wide range of open days gives you a good insight into what you should be expecting from a college. You’ll get the best parts from all of them, and that way you can choose which one is the most suited to you.
Open days are good for finding out what a college has to offer, too. When you go to an open day, you should ask about what they have to offer so that you can make an educated decision.
Ask about facilities, results, student support, and pretty much anything else I mention on this list. That way the information’s coming directly from the college, and so is less likely to be wrong.
Open days are probably the best way to gather information on a sixth form college. You get a feeling of what it would be like to actually study there, and see how it all works.
This is better than doing some internet research (unless you’re looking at factors to consider when choosing a sixth form college). The information you gather from open days is reliable and specific to your needs, whereas information gathered online can sometimes be… not so reliable.
8. The College’s Quality Of Teaching
A sixth form college is nothing without teachers. Not only that, but those teachers should be good at teaching you the content.
If they’re not, it could lead to some problems when you start your course. Bad quality of teaching means that you’re not being taught all of the content, or all of it but not as in depth as you should be.
This leads to ineffective revision, and loss of marks in exams. Not knowing the content in the first place means that your revision will be worse, and not as effective for you.
This then means that when the time comes for your exams, you’ll have gaps in your knowledge. Gaps in your knowledge = loss of marks, and potentially even failure.
If you’re looking for a way to find gaps in your knowledge, mind maps are the way to go. Take a look at this article for handy tips on how to use mind maps effectively for your revision.
This is why it’s important to find a sixth form college that has good quality teachers. Make sure that when you look at colleges (maybe on open days) you have a look at the teachers, too.
A good way to see if teachers are any good is to look at the results their students get. I’ve already talked a bit about that, but past results can be a great way to see how you’re going to do in college.
Another good way to see how the teachers are is by asking students at the sixth form college. I’ll talk more about this a bit further on…
9. Your Future After College
In other words, what prospects are there for you after you finish the sixth form college? Where can you go, and what can you do?
Different pathways are opened up depending on what college you go to. In general, the more prestigious the college, the more prestigious the pathway.
But this might not always be the case. It can sometimes depend on what courses you do, too.
For example, an A-Level Business student would have lots of apprenticeships and office jobs available to them after college, whereas a BTEC Home Cooking Skills student would have a very different path.
You also need to take in more than just jobs. Many students decide to go to university after college, and the university you go to can be affected by what college you choose.
Like I’ve said, results play a big part in this. University choice is affected by results, and results are affected by what college you go to – so try to make the right choice.
If you want to know more about how important A-Level results can be to employers, take a look at this article.
I’d suggest asking about what students went on to do after sixth form college on as many open days as you can. That way you can start to understand which college will have the best after-education future for you.
10. Your Instinct/Gut Feeling
Sometimes, it’s all about how you feel. When going to visit a college, it’s important to have a look around and see how it feels to you.
When I was choosing my sixth form college, I went around loads that felt like prisons. I preferred a college with a more relaxed feel, and that’s partly why I’m in the one I am.
However, this may not be your preference as well. Everybody is different, and you need to choose a sixth form college that will suit you.
If you’re not comfortable in your college, you’ll find it harder to pay attention in class. If you don’t pay attention in class, you’re not going to take in the information you need to know.
And if you don’t take in the information you need to know, it’ll be harder for you to pass those exams.
It ties in with that saying, don’t go to a sixth form college just because that’s where your friends are going. (The saying was slightly adapted).
Instinct/gut feeling can only take you so far, and so it’s important to think about other factors too. Make sure you think about every factor in this list, and don’t just rely on your instinct/gut feeling.
11. The College Community
You might be wondering what I mean when I talk about community, but it’s fairly simple. What I mean is the events and happenings of the sixth form college that don’t relate to your courses.
Things like clubs, competitive teams, and student councils are all features of a college with a great community. The more extracurricular activities a sixth form college provides, the more involved you can get.
Extracurricular activities are very important for any sixth form college, and also important for you. Without them, college tends to feel more uncomfortable – and it becomes harder to work efficiently in.
Morale and motivation are always important in college, even more so than in school. Without a great community behind you, it can be hard to keep up that morale and motivation.
A good way to find out what a sixth form college’s community is like is to ask about it on an open day. What do they have to offer? What are the most popular clubs?
And if that fails, try asking some students what they think. They’re the ones that go through college, and they’ll know all about what extracurricular activities there are.
And if that fails, do some research online. There’s bound to be some information about a sixth form college’s community on the internet, most likely on their respective websites.
12. Other Student’s Opinions
Making an appearance last on this list is student opinions. Student opinions can be very useful when deciding what sixth form college to go to, so make sure you listen carefully.
When I say students, I don’t mean other people in the same year as you. I’m talking about students that are going through (or have been through) college, as they’re more likely to know what you’re asking.
The easiest way to get some student opinions is to ask them on open days. The students helping out are there specifically for that reason – to talk to about the college.
Bear in mind that there are lots of questions you should be asking, with most of them on this list. Make sure to mention community, student support, teaching quality, and class size when trying to decide on a sixth form college.
If you don’t manage to get to any open days, you could always try looking online. If you’re lucky, you’ll find some student quotes on a sixth form college’s website.