Choosing which step to take after GCSEs can be a difficult decision, especially if you are not certain about what you want to do. Many people see A-Levels as the natural path to follow to begin further education. However, there are various alternatives. It is likely you have thought about subjects you excel in or enjoy. You may have even thought about what career you want the qualifications to lead to.
Taking A-Levels may suit you if you enjoy traditional academic subjects. But if you enjoy the idea of less traditional courses or are not sure which subject you want to pursue, one of the options in the following list might work well for you.
Continue reading to discover a pathway into further education that best suits you. If you’re not sure what to do after GCSEs, this article will be particularly useful to you.
1. National Vocational Qualifications
An NVQ is a work-based qualification that focuses on the skills and knowledge a person has in order to do the chosen job. If you were to take this path, you would need to demonstrate the necessary knowledge, ability and understanding to show that you are able to do the tasks associated with the relevant job.
A National Vocational Qualification can be done in many subjects, including Business, Language, Social Care and Design. So, there will likely be a course available to suit you. Check out this Think Student article to learn more about Vocational courses.
Requirements for NVQ courses vary from subject to subject. Generally, five GCSE grades of 1 to 4 are needed for NVQ Level 1 and five grades of 4 to 9 for NVQ Level 2.
Taking an NVQ is an efficient route to becoming qualified for the workplace. Especially as it has no traditional examinations. Therefore, it is a great option to consider. If taking an NVQ looks interesting, you can find more information here on university compare.
Taking a BTEC may be the best option for you if you are looking for a career in a very practical field or have interest in a subject that involves a lot of hands-on work.
‘BTEC’ stands for ‘Business and Technology Education Council’, which is the name of the first council that managed these qualifications. A BTEC works differently to A-Levels as it involves a constant stream of assignments and coursework rather than a final exam at the end of the course.
Some BTECs may include an exam or two. But, unlike other qualifications, these exam results will only form part of the overall grade awarded.
When looking at taking a BTEC, there are many course options, ranging from Engineering to Animal Care. Each of the available subjects will provide the opportunity to gain vital practical skills that an employer looks for when hiring. This means that is possible to get your ideal job straight from college.
BTEC Nationals start from Level 3 and are what college students are generally offered. To be accepted onto a BTEC course, you generally need five GCSE grades of 4 to 9 in a range of related subjects.
To find out more about BTECs, check out this article.
A traineeship is a programme that helps people to develop skills necessary for the workplace, such as English, Maths and digital skills. This programme will help you to learn general skills such as CV writing, as well as skills specific to your chosen work area. Possible work areas include Retail, Engineering, Brickwork and other similar options.
The grade requirements change depending on the subject but a minimum of four GCSEs at grades 1 to 4 is generally necessary. If you do not meet these criteria, traineeships have an ‘introductory phase’ where you will partake in assessments to determine whether you can start the course.
Courses can take from 6 weeks to 1 year to complete and take place in a work environment relevant to the subject. At the end of the traineeship, your employer may offer you the opportunity to start an apprenticeship, or even a job.
This is a great opportunity if your GCSE results are not sufficient for the job or qualification you want. If you are interested in doing a traineeship, you can find out more here on GOV.UK.
Whether you have just finished a traineeship or completed your GCSEs, apprenticeships are a great option if you want to combine studying with working in a specific field.
There are a few different levels of apprenticeships that lead to qualifications such as a certain number of GCSEs or even a degree. An Advanced/Level 3 apprenticeship is equivalent to A-Levels and so would likely be the type you would apply for after GCSEs.
You can find apprenticeships in almost every subject, and so finding one that suits you will not be difficult.
The grades that are required for the course depend on the chosen subject area, but, for a Level 3, you will likely need at least five GCSE grades of 4 to 9. These always need to include English and Maths but may have to include other subjects, such as Biology, if the course requires it.
Apprenticeships provide the equivalent of an A-Level qualification as well as practical skills necessary for the chosen workplace, and so are a great option if you want to study while gaining valuable experience in a particular field. To find out more about apprenticeships, you should read this article.
T-Levels are qualifications that are like apprenticeships in the sense that they focus on developing skills for a specific career. What makes them different to an apprenticeship, however, is that, when taking T-Levels, you spend much more time in the classroom.
Each T-Level is composed of 80% theory in a classroom with the rest of the course spent learning practical skills on a work placement. If you choose a specific subject available, such as Animal Care or Accounting, you will learn skills specific to this field. But the skills learnt in T-Levels will be useful no matter the career you end up in. Therefore, T-Levels may be a good option if you are unsure about the job you would like to have.
To take a T-Level course, you will need to have at least five GCSE grades of 4 to 9.
Subjects taken for T-Levels will be graded as Pass, Merit, Distinction or Distinction* and would be determined by a combination of examinations and practical skills tests. Once the course is completed, you would be awarded with a certificate and a breakdown of how you achieved the grades.
T-Levels can be a great way to gain knowledge as well as practical experience. To find out more, check out this article.
6. School Leaver Schemes
School Leaver Schemes allow students to earn money while gaining skills in the workplace, straight from GCSEs.
These schemes are often found in Accountancy, IT, Engineering and other sectors. They allow you to train and gain real experience in the workplace.
Unlike apprenticeships, these programmes last between 4-6 years, and generally require five GCSEs of grades 4 to 9, although this varies between courses.
If you know the career you want to pursue, but don’t want to spend any more time in education, School Leaver Schemes are a good option. Find out more at inside careers.
7. International Baccalaureate
The International Baccalaureate (IB) organisation is a non-profit foundation that offers four education programmes of varying levels. The most studied programme is the Diploma Programme, which is the same level as A-Levels.
The Diploma Programme is completed over two years and is made up of six subject areas. Students tend to study three subjects to an advanced level and three to a standard level. Subject areas include Language and Literature, Arts, Sciences and Maths. As well as these subject groups, students must take a course on Theory of Knowledge and produce a 4000-word research essay.
In order to take part in this programme, six GCSEs at grades 4 to 9 are needed.
Each subject taken is scored individually and converted into a points system. Students are assessed on coursework as well as through final examinations. 24 points are necessary to gain an IB qualification, 45 points being the maximum. 30 IB points equates to 3 and ½ A’s at A-Levels, which is the standard for many universities, while 38 points reflects 5 A’s at A-Levels.
The wider approach an IB qualification offers allows students to gain breadth of knowledge as well as depth, and so an IB is often preferred by more prestigious universities.
If doing an International Baccalaureate interests you, visit The Good Schools Guide for more information.
8. Advanced Diploma Qualification
Due to its higher level, an Advanced Diploma Qualification is a good option if you are certain you want to go to university and are confident about the area you wish to study.
Advanced Diplomas can be taken in subjects such as Hair and Beauty Studies, Music Production, Travel and Tourism and many more. This qualification focusses on gaining advanced and specific skills and knowledge to ensure students can easily transition to university.
The course is assessed through both applied knowledge and practical skill examinations. The course will take approximately two years.
Due to how specific and detailed this qualification is, you must know what you want to do as a career for this to be the best option. But, if you do, an Advanced Diploma Qualification is ideal. You can find out more about the courses available at Academic Courses.
9. Supported Internships
Supported Internships are work-based programmes for those with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) who have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan.
Instead of GCSE grades, this qualification focuses on four ‘Key Principles’. These include requirements such as having time management skills. As well as, ensuring that the student is following a study curriculum of at least English and Maths alongside the internship.
Supported Internships can last from 6 months up to a year, and about 70% of the course takes place in a real work environment. This programme aims to provides the students with necessary skills and qualities to ensure they can access sustained and paid employment in the future.
To find out more, visit GOV.UK.
10. Cambridge Pre-U Diploma
The Cambridge Pre-U Diploma provides students with the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed at university.
There are 26 principal subjects available and up to four can be taken. The Cambridge Pre-U Diploma is a two-year course and results in either a certificate or a diploma. Alongside these subjects, a GPR (Global Perspectives and Research) task will be required. This involves writing an extended research report and allows students to develop important writing and research skills.
This diploma is based on subject specialism and is ideal if you are looking to study an academic subject at university. Find out more at UCAS.com.
11. Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers
Scottish students will study four or five Highers in academic subjects during their fifth year of secondary school. These consist of set coursework and external examinations. This Think Student article provides an in-depth look at Scottish Highers.
Four or five Highers are generally needed for university, but more competitive fields, like Medicine, may require Advanced Highers in later years. Advanced Highers can be studied once Highers are achieved and would give you a much higher chance of an unconditional offer when applying for university. Find out more at the complete university guide here.
12. Extended Project Qualification
This qualification gives students the opportunity to demonstrate project management and extended writing skills that are necessary for higher education and employment.
This course is often taken alongside another Level 3 qualification to improve employability and your university application. It consists of 50 hours teaching time and 70 hours independent work. At the end, there is an internally assessed project such as a presentation or report.
This qualification will be useful in any career choice, but especially in the Business sector. This is due to the project management skills that you gain along the course.
To find out more information, visit UCAS.com.