After leaving school, there are many different options and routes that you can take regarding your education and future career path. For many students, there is a high possibility that college or sixth-form is the ideal choice for you. This is where you will typically study A-Levels or BTECs. These qualifications are important to consider before applying to courses.
Choosing which qualification to take is a very personal decision. There is no obvious answer as to which is better than the other. Whilst a classroom-based A-Level course can be suitable for one student, a BTEC course focused on practicality can be the ideal learning style for another. The BTEC is more career and workplace focussed, providing real-world skills which will help your employability. This course suits practical learners who know what careers they want. A-Levels are more academic based, with theoretical knowledge taking the foreground. A-Levels are more commonly taken in preparation for university, but this is not always the case.
If you are interested to know the differences and benefits of each type of qualification, please read on!
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What Are BTECs?
The abbreviation ‘BTEC’ stands for ‘Business and Technology Education Council’, named after the first governing body that manages the qualifications. A BTEC qualification is based around providing hands-on, practical experience in a particular area of study or career.
Also, regarding examinations and testing, BTECs deliver a continuous stream of work, with there being little to no actual exams. When enrolled in a BTEC course, you will find that it is majorly coursework based. This allows you to apply your skills to projects and tasks throughout your time at college or Sixth Form. There are also different levels of BTEC courses – BTEC Nationals start from Level 3, which is generally the level that a college student is offered.
To enrol in a BTEC course, you will typically need 5 GCSEs from grades 9 to 4 in a range of different subjects. Check out this article to learn more about BTEC qualifications.
What Are the Pros and Cons of BTECs?
When you’re considering a BTEC course, keep in mind that there are going to be positive and negative elements of every area of study, even if you don’t foresee these before starting.
The Advantages of BTECs
There is a whole range of positives to committing to a BTEC course in an area of your interest. This means their popularity has grown massively over the past 20 years.
Many more students seem to be applying to university with BTEC grades. In 2018 there were around 10% of students who applied to universities with BTEC qualifications alone. You can see more about this statistic if you visit this source. This decrease in the stigma around BTEC qualifications has led to increased university acceptance rates on BTEC grades, giving proof that this level of qualification is just as respectable as your typical A-Level.
Not only are further educational associations praising BTEC qualifications, but it is also statistically shown that employers value them too. This is mainly due to the fact that they provide real-world skills and allow students a chance to learn practical and independent ways of working which will help them when they enter the workplace.
By being taught practical skills on a BTEC course (rather than theory-based information taught at A-Level), employers are somewhat guaranteed that the student can deliver the correct skills and knowledge that they gained whilst studying.
Studying a BTEC can give you a vast range of employability skills for the future, which means that it is possible to walk straight into a job after finishing college, especially if you have applied to the industry your BTEC is focussed on.
If you have your heart set upon one particular career path then a BTEC course could be your best option, as it almost entirely focuses upon one subject area, which means you do not have to take something you are not interested in anymore.
The Disadvantages of BTECs
If you tend to lose interest and change your mind on what career you would like, then you may struggle with a BTEC as it is entirely focussed on one subject, with little opportunity for variation. This could lead to you having to start a new course all over again.
Also, if you do a BTEC you will have a constant flow of assignments and deadlines that you have to commit to and may have to work on outside of your class time. This could be stressful for some students, but is the same as with A-Level, although the deadlines there are for homework and not coursework as in the case of BTECs.
Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that, if you’re studying a BTEC focused on one career path, it may limit what course and degree you can apply for if you later decide to go on to university.
Do Universities Accept BTECs?
Whilst A-Levels are the most popular and obvious route into university. There are many students that have taken BTECs and been accepted. The majority of universities in the UK are accept students that have studied a BTEC course in the relevant subject area of the degree they’re trying to gain, especially if studied in conjunction with A-Levels.
This article here gives an in depth look at whether universities accept BTECs.
BTEC courses are also sometimes considered a better option to prepare students for later life, as a more modern qualification. This is because it can give you an idea of what university life is like; due to the self-motivated nature of coursework and assignments you are required to complete.
Along with the coursework, when studying a BTEC you need to be more committed to deadlines and, by the end, will have gained the organisation skills that many A-Level students may not have had to experience yet.
If you do apply to university, most of the time your grades and achievements, whether they’re BTECs or A-Levels or any other qualification, are converted into UCAS Tariff points. These are used by some universities as grade and entry requirements when applying to a course.
By using this Tariff point calculator from UCAS, you can select your course and the grade you’ve achieved, which then gets converted and added together as a final value. This tool will help you when figuring out what courses you can apply to, with the grades you have achieved.
What Are A-Levels?
A-Levels are an abbreviation of the term “advanced level qualifications”. They offer an opportunity to push your knowledge further in a particular subject or area of study, focussing on only one topic at a time within one area. The structure and teaching style of an A-Level course is similar to GCSEs, but slightly more independent and more academically rigorous. Their aim is to academically broaden your knowledge using theory-based learning.
A-Level courses are assessed using a series of examinations at the end of a module, and the end of the course in Year 13. This requires studying and intense learning of content for short periods of time before exams. As opposed to BTECs, there is practically no coursework required for the majority of these qualifications, however, you will be expected to complete homework and study regularly.
The grades required to get onto an A-Level course can vary depending on the subject, but you will normally need at least 5 GCSE grades at 9 to 4, as well as the equivalent to a B grade in the area of study.
What Are the Pros and Cons Of A-Levels?
With an A-Level course, there are many positives and negative aspects that you can find while studying.
The Advantages of A-Levels
One of the best parts of studying and completing an A-Level course is that, if you are uncertain about what you want to do in the future, then studying multiple A-Level courses opens up your opportunities. You can then go on to use these grades in your university applications, which are generally considered some of the best qualifications to push you further into your future career.
Additionally, when studying the course, it allows you to focus on one particular area of study in-depth, as opposed to school where there is a lack of choice in focusing upon one subject. If you enjoyed a topic in school and favoured it over anything else, you can use this to your advantage, continuing your learning into A-Level.
Another way an A-Level course can benefit you is by the way the examinations are set up within most courses. By helping you get into the routine of studying and revising for the end of your exams, A-Levels prepare you for university and make you somewhat used to the structure of exam periods. You may not gain experience like this with a BTEC course as they are much more coursework oriented.
Disadvantages of A-Levels
There are some negatives of taking an A-Level course, for example, the whole of your studying relies solely on the grade of a single set of exams. This means that if these go drastically wrong there is nothing to fall back upon (although there is still the option of foundation courses, and of course the nature of taking 3 A-Levels means there are always multiple qualifications for you to fall back on).
This makes it particularly important for students to pay full attention 100% of the time, as every piece of their learning is vital to remember. As opposed to BTECs, there are other assignments and evidence from their coursework for their final grades. This can again cause students a lot of stress, especially if they tend to be perfectionists.
The structure of the course as purely exam-based means that you will finish the course with less practical skills, having learnt more memorisation-focussed skills to apply to your work.
Can You Study A-Levels and BTECs Alongside Each Other?
When taking college courses, you generally have to choose between 2-4 subjects, with the typical student choosing 3. If you’re struggling to choose between A-Level or BTEC you will be glad to find out that you can take both at the same time.
If you are taking them both together, it is important that you manage and organise your courses properly to ensure that you don’t fall behind on either of them, as you may have more work to do than your classmates.
There are a few ways to organise yourself when taking both A-Levels and BTECs. These include time management, organisation, taking a lot of notes during class, sticking to deadlines with your BTEC courses, and most importantly; asking your teacher for help if you need it. You can read more tips on how to manage your courses in this UniGuide article.
BTECs vs A-Levels: Which is Best for You?
So, by now, you may have made up your mind on what kind of qualification you’re looking for, but despite this, you’re still stuck on what course to choose. When choosing your college course, consider the reason you are looking to study. Is it to get into a particular area of work, achieve grades for university? To open your options for work after completing college. Or simply to gain more knowledge on a subject you’re interested in?
If you’re trying to leave your options open after leaving college, it may be best for you to choose multiple qualifications in a range of subjects that interest you. This shows you are skilled in a range of areas. However, if you want to go down the route of a particular career path, choosing subjects that are closely linked or similar is the best option for you.
If you’re unsure of what you want in the future and just want to study a subject that you are interested in, make sure it is something that you won’t change your mind about or end up disliking. Not only will you be learning more in-depth about something you’re interested in, but you will also come out of the course with a qualification that will help you with work or higher education later on.
Whichever course you choose, you should make sure you definitely have a deep interest in the content that it will teach before making a permanent decision. If you’re struggling, make a list of everything that you do for fun or enjoy learning about and search for courses and future job opportunities that involve or are related to it. Narrowing down your interests will really help you have fun on a suitable course.
What to Do Once You’ve Chosen a Course?
After finding courses that interest you, make sure that the one you choose is practical. Do you have the pre-existing grades to match the entry requirements? Is the college that offers the course close enough to you? Do you have the money and resources to travel and enrol in the course?
There are factors you definitely need to consider before enrolling and if a course is too far away, or you don’t match the entry requirements you can search for similar courses that better suits you. It can be a long process to find a suitable course, but you will get there in the end.
Always keep in mind that you can change courses and make different decisions at any time you choose. You don’t have to stick with a course you aren’t enjoying, and there are always other options to carry on your educational journey.
If you’re looking for inspiration on what course to choose, check out this article about the most respected A-Level subjects. Additionally, if you’re looking to push yourself within college, why not click here to read about the 10 hardest A-Level subjects.
Are There Any Other Qualifications Besides A-Levels and BTECs?
Although BTECs and A-Levels are the most popular choice of qualifications, there are also other choices at this level of education. It is important to consider all options, especially if you are not fully decided, or are struggling to know what you want to do between A-Levels and BTECs.
Alongside A-Levels, if you take the course for one year then do an exam, you can be awarded with an AS-Level. However, if you carry on with this subject until the end of 2 years you will achieve the full A level. Sitting a subject for a year and then dropping it is still okay, as you will achieve your AS-Levels, which counts as 40% of an A-Level grade when applying to university in terms of UCAS points.
To find out more about the differences between AS and A-Level click here.
A T-Level is a level 3 qualification, similar to A-Levels, that includes work placement alongside your usual college days. Typically, when taking a T-Level, you will spend 20% of your time in a work environment and 80% in college. This is ideal if you would like to experience a particular area of work as well as learn about it in theory. More information about T-Levels can be found in this handy Think Student article.
There is also a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ). These are set up with five levels that you work up to and achieve, starting from Foundation Level to a Higher National Diploma. This degree has no specific entry requirements and no age limits on when you can begin working towards it, and it is offered through a range of different subjects. If you are certain about what job you want to do, this qualification could be the one for you.
Alternatively, particular courses may offer a ‘double’ option to extend your qualification. When completing a course as a double, you will achieve 2 grades from it, typically with BTEC and CTEC courses.