Moving to college can be stressful for many students, with new routines and places creating confusion and anxiety at an already difficult time. Many students will move into a different place to study during college, such as a different campus or a sixth form building at a school. The changes in teaching hours and lessons can make the move even harder. It is difficult to understand precisely how many hours college courses are, and how this works with your overall timetable. However, in this article, we will help you to understand how the college system works full-time, and what you can expect during your new educational step.
Full time college courses in the UK do not have a set number of hours, due to the wide variety of courses available at this level. However, for tax purposes a full-time education at post-16 level is considered to be over 12 hours per week, which are spent in an educational setting.
While this should have given you a basic answer to your questions about timetables, it can often vary between different institutions, so please read on for the full details of college courses in the UK.
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How many days per week is college?
In college, students typically attend school for 3-5 days per week, depending on their course. Courses at college level are very flexible. This makes it almost impossible to say how many days you will need without speaking to your specific college or sixth form.
In private or attached sixth forms and colleges you are usually expected to be in school every day for a set amount of time, even if you don’t have lessons. However, the same is usually not true in colleges, where they may let you leave early or only come in if you have lessons. Again, this is up to your individual school, so ask if you are unsure.
Being a full-time student in the UK, for tax purposes such as child benefit, is usually defined as spending at least 12 hours in education. However, this is not a strict definition and may use free periods and other time spent in school as part of the total. The government website has more information on this, here.
For specific courses, the amount of time can vary heavily. For example, national qualifications such as lower level BTECs are likely to be around 20 hours a week. Higher National Certificates and Diplomas such as BTEC diplomas are often around 15 hours a week. These courses are usually taken alone, but in combination with others they may involve much more time spent in class.
Find out more about BTEC and A-Level courses on another Think Student article by clicking here.
Most A-Level students have around 4-5 hours of lesson time for each subject per week. This is for a course spread over 2 years, as they are typically taken. AS-Levels are usually about the same, but over only 1 year of education instead of 2.
Visit this Think Student article to find more information on different types of courses in college by clicking here.
How is a college timetable structured?
In college many students are likely to have fewer teaching hours than in high school. This means that college timetables are often freer and more independent than students are used to. This may mean having less time in lessons or lectures than before, however usually not less time working!
As well as lessons, students may also have free periods, meetings with a tutor, form time, PE, religious education or sex and relationship education, and clubs. These can all be part of the day or may take place after school.
These timetables vary based on college, and whether you attend a college attached to a secondary school. Those colleges may have timetables more similar to a high school, with more structured time. If you wish to know about your specific college, ask your tutor or teacher for more details.
A typical college timetable for a full day in an unattached college may look like this:
|9.00am||Form time, or meeting with academic mentor|
|9.30am||Lesson 1 or free period|
|1.30pm||Lesson 2 or free period|
|3.30pm||Day ends, sometimes with a club or another academic meeting|
In an attached college, the day may have more lessons and breaks. It may have even longer lecture style lessons like the ones above, with short frequent breaks in the middle to allow students to regain concentration.
How many hours is a part-time college course?
The number of hours in a part time college course again varies dependant on the course. If you are doing a full-time level course but spread out, perhaps as an evening course, you will have the same number of taught hours, just over a longer period of time, for example only doing 2 hours a week, or one day a week.
If you are doing a part time course that is not part of a typical college qualification, please see your college website for more details. These are often not national qualifications and as such have no requirements on hours per week in order to qualify as education.
What are the college term dates?
The dates of college terms change each year, and also change based on where you live and what school you go to. This means that it is very difficult to give an exact answer as to when terms start and end, however the dates below are estimates based on typical dates in most counties. They are typically about the same as other schools’ dates, especially if the school is attached to a secondary school.
In the UK, the academic year starts in early September and concludes in mid-July, but this does also vary depending on the school, as some may start earlier or later than others. There are 3 terms, with a break for Christmas, Easter, and the longer summer break. There are also regular bank holidays and other breaks which change depending on the year.
The winter term usually starts in the first week of September, and usually lasts for 13 weeks, with a week-long half-term break in the middle for most schools, ending in around the middle of January. Then, the spring term runs from early January to around the start of April, and the summer term from April to mid-July.
Do you have free periods at college?
The nature of most college courses in the UK means that they focus on independent study and research, expecting students to complete coursework, further reading and guided homework as well as general study outside of class. This is often provided for by free periods, which are scattered through the college week to give students time to prepare for lessons and exams in their own time.
Free periods are blocks of time where there are no lessons to attend, however students are usually expected to be completing work, study, or any other relevant task to their education.
Schools often require students to be in school during free periods, especially if they have multiple lessons per day. This is so they can then be sure that they will attend the rest of the lessons, and also have access to teachers for guidance if they need it. However, some students may be allowed to study at home or leave when they have a free period.
Free periods are a great resource during college, as the lower number of lessons means that students need to complete more work outside of lessons to stay on track and understand the difficult content. For helpful tips on getting the most out of your free periods, check out this WhatUni guide.