Starting sixth form is an exciting time for many students, as the variety in qualifications such as A-Levels and BTECs allows you to study lots of new subjects. However, it can also often be very stressful for students trying to understand all of the different types of qualification and how they work. The main priority for many students is having enough points to get into their university of choice. It is important to understand the different types of qualification in sixth form, including BTECs and A-Levels, so that you can find a combination of subjects and courses that suits you best.
In sixth form, it is possible to study a BTEC alongside 1 or 2 A-Levels if you wish to. Combining these courses gives you a great skill set that is both practical and academic, which in some cases, will lead to a more well-rounded future. BTECs and A-Levels are also widely accepted as a combination by universities. Most higher education providers ask that BTECs are in a combination with at least one A-Level in order to meet their UCAS point tariff.
BTECs and A-Levels can be complex. Their structure is sometimes difficult to understand with as many combination options as there available, so read on to find out the full details.
Table of Contents
Can you study BTECs alongside A-Levels?
As said before, you can study a combination of BTECs and A-Levels at most sixth forms around the UK. Often, students choose to take one BTEC along with two A-Levels, to make up to three qualifications which are required by most universities. However, it is equally as possible to take two BTECs and a single A-Level.
The combination of BTECs and A-Levels is often considered to be better than only taking one type of qualification. This is because it gives students a very well-rounded skill set for later in life. BTECs are more practical courses that give real-world experience while A-Levels are academically vigorous and more theoretical, making a good mix.
A good way to combine these courses is to choose complementary, but not overly similar subjects. For example, a BTEC in Applied Science and a Maths A-Level has similar content but is not a carbon copy of the same subject. It is not advisable to do the same subject in two separate qualifications. Taking a Business BTEC and A-Level Business, for example, may not give you enough variation to keep your interest.
7.2% of students accepted into UK universities hold a combination BTEC and A-Level qualification, according to this data booklet released by UCAS in 2018. While this may not sound like a huge number, most students either take one qualification or the other, so 7.2% of all university students is actually quite a lot.
BTECs in combination with A-Levels are a common choice for students who know what they want to study, especially if it is a more vocational pathway, but also want to attend university. Taking both allows students to broaden their knowledge area and keep their options open.
How many UCAS points do you need to get into university?
The number of UCAS points needed for university entry varies between different courses and universities, however, the average requirement is 112 points.
Think Student has a dedicated article that discusses how many UCAS points you need for university – check out it out here.
BTEC students often need to take an A-Level alongside their other subjects in order to meet the minimum UCAS points required for university entry. The number of points needed is the same for all students, regardless of what qualification or combination of qualifications they take.
If you think you will not be able to meet the right number of points you for your desired course, speak to your school careers advisor or another teacher. They will be able to guide you as they have experience in helping students improve their points tariff. You can also read this article for some ideas of how to get more points. You could also investigate foundation year courses, which can help you to prepare for university and require less points to get onto.
The table below explains the points awarded for BTEC grades, and how they compare to A-Level grade points. Depending on the size of your course you may gain one, two, or three grades, which shows you roughly how many A-Levels your course if equivalent to.
|BTEC grade||A-Level grade||UCAS points|
For more information on UCAS points, please visit the UCAS website.
What combinations of BTECs and A-Levels can you have for university entry?
By taking Level 3 BTECs and A-Levels, you will be required to study for all three years of a degree programme in order to earn your diploma. It is possible to take BTECs as Level 4 Higher National Certificates, or Level 5 Higher National Diplomas. Both of these courses allow you to enter a degree programme in the second or final year of the course in some circumstances, meaning you are not required to take first year.
The combination of courses you need depends on which type of Level 3 BTEC you choose to take. BTEC National courses are equivalent to one A-Level, National Diplomas are equivalent to two A-Levels and National Extended Diplomas are equivalent to three A-Levels.
Most universities require the equivalent of three A-Levels to get onto a course, with some exceptions for foundation year courses which may only require two. More information on this can be found in this Think Student article.
If you are applying to a course that requires three A-Levels, a National Extended Diploma will fulfil all your requirements on its own in terms of UCAS points. However, this is not necessarily always true, and sometimes you may be required to have an additional subject alongside your course. It is a good idea to check with your chosen university about entry requirements if you are concerned.
If you are taking a National Diploma, then you will gain the equivalent of two A-Levels. This usually means you’ll need to combine your BTEC course with at least one full A-Level in order to meet the university entry requirements. With BTEC Nationals, you’ll usually need two full A-Levels alongside your course as they are only worth one.
Do universities accept BTECs?
Almost all UK universities accept BTECs for entry to their courses. They all have specific entry requirements in terms of UCAS points, as discussed above, and some might make certain first-year modules compulsory to BTEC students. To find out more about your course requirements check the university website.
Many universities also require that an A-Level is taken alongside the BTEC, which is great news for you if you are already thinking of doing a combination. This includes the majority of Russel Group universities, which are the top research universities in the UK.
The only exception to this is Cambridge University, which does not accept BTEC students. They believe that BTECs do not adequately prepare students for the academic focus required at Cambridge. However, they do state that you can enter the foundation year with these courses in some cases. If you are interested in going to Cambridge and study BTECs, the university advises that you speak to a college admissions tutor about your options.
Universities also recognise the benefits of taking BTECs instead of A-Levels. They say that often, BTEC students have practical experience of work placements and are good real-world applications. This is not something provided by most A-Level courses, so it means BTEC students may be at an advantage when they actually begin study, especially if they are taking a practical course.
BTEC students are also often better prepared for university life, with the continuous coursework and research mirroring university assessments better than A-Levels do. They also often have more independent study skills, as well as time management and organisation, due to portfolio-style learning done during BTEC courses.
What are BTECs and A-Level Qualifications?
BTECs are a post-16 qualification usually studied by sixth form and college students. Students at this level typically take on a Level 3 BTEC, which is of the same standard as A-Levels. They are steadily increasing in popularity, which makes them more known to universities and employers alike, especially in practical and vocational trades.
BTECs are designed to teach industry specific skills through coursework and project-based learning, with no or a few exams throughout the course. They often involve working in groups and applying theory to workplace situations, unlike A-Levels, therefore giving students practical skills. This makes them ideal for students who want to go into an apprenticeship or straight into the workplace, but also good for those who want to move onto university.
To learn more about BTECs check out this Think Student article.
A-Levels are qualifications of the same level as BTECs. They have been around for longer and tend to be more popular as they are academically focussed. However, BTECs are becoming more common, especially in combination with A-Levels.
A-Levels are classroom-based and taught in a similar way to GCSE courses, which means students usually find the transition easy. Most A-Levels are focussed on preparing students for a few exams at the end of the course, although some include coursework as well. The qualification’s focus is usually theoretical rather than practical which is why they are good preparation for academic university courses, especially in combination with BTECs.
If you want to delve deeper into A-Levels read this Think Student article.