It is now official: in England, you can no longer forgo education until you are 18.
In Scotland, North Ireland and Wales, you may leave school when you are 16 but there are date specifications attached to which 16-year-olds may leave school.
For students living in England, your options are listed on the UK Government website.
You may work part-time while still partaking of education or training, start an apprenticeship or continue with full-time education, say, in a college or a sixth form school.
Considering those choices, it is no wonder so many students go on to study for A-Levels, the defining criterion of university entrance requirements.
Trouble is, not everyone has university aspirations. If you’re such a one, please know that there is nothing wrong with that. The question remains, however, as to what purpose, exactly, your A-Levels will serve.
Your Superprof now outlines all the ways A-Levels can benefit you as you decide which path to take in life.
Your Best Bet: Higher Apprenticeships
Some students, after sitting GCSEs, are fed up with formal education. Rather than enroling in sixth form, they scope out apprenticeships in fields that interest them – or that may pay well.
What the difference between such an apprenticeship and a Higher one?
For one, those programs tend to be shorter in duration: rather than spending two years at the lower end of the pecking order, you arrive with a bit of status that will see you taking on more advanced roles than students who’ve not sat A-Levels.
You may also have more responsibility and receive a bit more money for your work.
You may also earn Higher National Degrees and/or foundation degrees; it even possible to earn an undergraduate degree through a Higher Apprenticeship.
What kind of work is open to you through a Higher Apprenticeship?
You might select anything from Banking and Accounting to telecommunications and IT. If you’re not sure what type of work interests you, you might conduct your search for currently-open positions rather than by professional fields.
In considering your options, it would be a good idea to talk with people already working in the industries you’re thinking about, to get an insider’s perspective.
Talking with a jobs counsellor, your teachers and caregivers wouldn’t hurt, either. They might even be able to help you decide which A-Levels to choose…
The Not-So-New School Leaver Programme
School leaver programmes are meant to be a career development plan that would present the same options and benefits as a university degree does.
The fact that people with a university degree earn more, both in starting wages and throughout their life, is well publicised.
For those who have no inclination toward higher education, this competitive programme could help level the playing field.
The finance sector, including accountancy firms, dominate the school leaver programme just now; that doesn’t mean there aren’t other opportunities to be had for those who aren’t enraptured by numbers.
If you are interested in retail, IT or engineering, this programme may prove to be just what you need!
Here’s how it works: you would be hired as a regular employee while studying for a professional qualification or a degree. The cost of your training is covered by the company even as they pay you regular wages.
You might wonder why we designated this programme ‘not so new’.
For centuries, around the world, higher education ‘happened’ in just this manner. Fathers trained sons to take over their family business by having them work the business from an early age. If the family had no business of its own, they were apprenticed out.
Leonardo da Vinci was apprenticed to a master painter in Florence, for instance.
So, while the practice is not new, it is relatively new to British education/job market, at least in this incarnation. And, because this type of further education provides such advantages, entry into the programme is highly competitive.
Join the discussion: are your chances for a spot bolstered by how many A-Levels you can take?
The Sponsored Degree Programme
Let’s face it: higher and further education is an expensive proposition.
Tuition costs for top universities run in the tens of thousands of pounds; average fees for any given university or college is not that far behind.
Although UCAS doesn’t generally reveal how much any university course costs, they provide external links to individual schools and those pages show what you will pay in course fees.
Far more than possibly missing out on the qualifications – not scoring well enough on exams, this high cost puts more students off of signing up for degree courses than ever before.
That is why the sponsored degree programme is such a great stopgap.
Some sponsored degree programmes require you to attend university full-time, following a program of study designed by the company that sponsors you.
Others only require that you attend university part-time while also holding down a job in the company. Naturally, your employer picks up the tab for your education.
If you want to enrol in university and, through your exam results, meet the entry requirements but hold out little hope of earning your undergraduate degree because of cost, going this route might work well for you.
One small caveat: your choices are fairly limited; the bulk of opportunity lies in the technology sector and business studies.
Furthermore, these programmes are only available through a handful of universities.
Take a Gap Year
After 12 years in school, sitting GCSE examinations and earning the grades necessary to qualify you for GCE Advanced Level studies, and then capping off your secondary education with the most rigorous exams…
It’s easy to see how you might become academically burned out.
Although a relatively new phenomenon in the US, here, the idea of getting real-world experience, of backing off of studies to contemplate all that has thus far been learned is a tradition that goes back centuries.
What can you do during your gap year? You might:
- Find work abroad, maybe teaching the English language
- Working in the UK isn’t a bad idea, either
- Seek an internship, either at home or abroad
- Adventure travel – it might be more affordable than you think!
- Engage in experiential learning – learning through experience rather than in a classroom
The key to a successful gap year is to stay busy doing something worthwhile.
Eventually, you will have to return to ‘real’ life, perhaps answering questions about how you spent that year off from what are still considered traditional responsibilities: pursuing education and/or working.
It would behove you to have a good answer when you're asked what you did during your year away.
Enrol at University
We could hardly conclude the topic of what you can do with your A-Levels without mentioning their fundamental purpose: to prepare you for university study.
Granted, if you are limited by the A-Levels your school offers and enrolment in a school or college far from home is out of the question, your choices may be limited.
However, if you take GCE A-Levels in what’s called facilitating subjects, you will have a far greater choice come time to select your degree course at university.
Naturally, you will need to check admissions requirements for whichever programme of study you’re interested in and find out if the university courses you’re interested in will accept your A-Level results.
Whether you opt to study academic subjects, a science subject or something as ranging as design and technology, joining your peers in the struggle for university acceptance paves the way for numerous benefits.
Besides the aforementioned higher salary expectations, through your university, you may have access to career counselling, job placement and perhaps even tutors to help you with your studies.
Besides those obvious pluses, you will enjoy a broader, more diverse learning experience, especially if the university you attend welcomes International Baccalaureate students from all over the world.
You will get to take part in various enriching activities, have the option of a four-year programme to better prepare you for the ‘real’ world and, should you become a member of the student union, have a shot at becoming socially and politically involved on campus.
University is a microcosm of society at large; one that provides students – fledgeling adults a safe environment for self-discovery and further education, both academic and personal.
Few opportunities in life provide an equivalent experience while supplying safeguards against the downsides of adult life.
Speaking of downsides…
A chief complaint of university graduates is that their university education has given them limited practical experience – both in their chosen field and in the real world. Should this be a concern of yours, you might offset it by working part-time and/or during school holidays.
A growing issue for university graduates is being considered over-qualified; more employers are turning away from degree-holders because they fear their new employees finding better offers elsewhere.
There’s not really a way around that phenomenon but you could try to counter it by striking a deal with a firm: you will work there during summer holidays in exchange for a full-time position upon graduation.
Earning A-Level qualifications is no mean feat; if you’ve managed it, you can be rightly proud of your accomplishment.
And, now that you know how you can make all of that hard work pay off, getting the best A-Level marks possible is paramount!
There's just one question left: which A-Levels should you take?