Making choices

Making choices

Making choices

Making subject choices is often a scary and daunting thing... picking GCSEs or A Levels, Sixth Form or College, University or Apprenticeship? These are all tough decision individuals face at some point through their educational journey.

You need to make informed choices, so think about where you can get information. Information that is reliable, accurate, up to date and impartial. This site aims to help you access that information to support you making your choices about study, work and career. Often it is helpful to think about the bigger picture and work back from there - look at a job advert you think you might be interested in, what are the entry requirements, check UCAS and the university course you think you might want to do - each course and each university is different! Often it is good to talk through your ideas with family and friends, your teachers and don't forget there are people in school to help you too.

Choices at 14

What GCSEs do I need to find a job?

When it comes to finding a job, most employers will look at your GCSE qualifications to see if the subjects that you studied are relevant to the type of work that they do. Although every job is different, most companies will expect you to have at least 5 GCSEs including English, Maths and Science from levels A to C. In some cases, students leave secondary school with 10 GCSEs or more.

The vast majority of people also don't go straight into employment at 16. Most students continue their education either at Sixth Form or College. All students at 16 will be expected to gain a minimum of a C garde in GCSE English or Maths, if that is not achieved it will not affect your progression but it means you will continue to study GCSE English and/or Maths (or another Level 2 equivalent course) with your post-16 education provider or employer (in the case of apprenticeships).

How should I choose my GCSE subjects?

There's no ‘right' way to choose your GCSE options, but it does help if you think about your future when making your decisions. For example, it could be worth checking the entry requirements for post-16 study.

What career do I want to have?

You should also consider whether your chosen career will require you to get more qualifications in the future. For example, in order to become a doctor, you'll also need to have A-Levels and then go on to study medicine at university. Although it may seem like a long way away, you might want to consider what qualifications you'll need to get into university (if that's your plan) because the subjects you take at GCSE level could have an impact.

Should I keep my GCSE options open?

On the other hand, if you don't have a clue what career you want in the future (like most students in Year 9, 10 and 11), then you should probably aim to keep your options open. Studying a range of subjects will provide you with a good overview of different topics and different ways of studying, which can help you identify what subjects you're best at.

Should I take the same GCSE subjects as my friends?

A lot of students make the mistake of choosing the same subjects as their friends. Although being in the same classes as your friends has its advantages, you should bear in mind that everybody is different and everyone has subjects that they're better at than others. Just because your friends are taking a certain subject, that doesn't mean that you should take it too.

Should I choose my GCSEs based on my teachers?

Although it can be tempting to choose your subjects based on what teacher you might get, we suggest that you resist. Everyone has their favourite teachers but there's no guarantee of who you'll get for your GCSEs. You should base your decisions on the subject itself rather than the teacher who will be teaching you.

How will my GCSEs affect my Future?

As a general rule, the more qualifications you gain throughout your life, the less important your GCSE options become. For example, if you end up studying at university and gaining a degree, potential employers are more likely to be interested in what you studied there, rather than what you studied when you were 16. However, for some careers specific grades at GCSE are very important. For example, in order to become a teacher you need a minimum C grade in English, Maths and a Science subject, regardless of any other qualifications.

However, everyone's career path is different and you might decide that continuing in academic education just isn't for you. If this is the case, you'll want to have the best GCSE qualifications you can get in subjects that are most relevant to what you want to do.

It's also worth bearing in mind that if you do leave school after your GCSEs, there nothing stopping you from going back into education in the future to study for A-Levels.

Choices at 16

 

Choices at 18

Option 1: University

It's the traditional route and still a very good one. Degrees are not to be sniffed at and can be the ticket to some great career options. If you're set on going to university, you'll need to do plenty of research into the degree courses and universities on offer, finding one that tallies with your interests and career plans. You can browse our university profiles and courses section to find out more. Tuition fees might seem like a lot, but there is plenty of financial support out there in the form of loans, bursaries and grants that you can take advantage of.

The long university holidays can be used to build up work experience, or you can opt for a sandwich degree course that involves a year spent working in industry. Degrees are great if you want to keep your career options open, access certain careers that are only open to graduates, or if you simply want to study a subject that you are passionate about. On average, graduates tend to get higher starting salaries and earn more over their lifetime.

However, university isn't for everyone. Some people want to get stuck straight into work or are put off by the cost of university. There are other options where you can work for a company, whilst gaining a degree.

Option 2: Sponsored Degree Programme

If you want to go to university but are daunted by the cost, sponsored degree programmes might be just the ticket. Sponsored degree programmes come in all shapes and sizes. For example, there are ones where you'll attend university part-time whilst working for the company that foots your tuition fees.

Other sponsored degree programmes allow school leavers to study a course full-time at university, which has been devised by a consortium of employers or a single company in conjunction with the host institution. You can read up on the different types of sponsored degree programmes here and you can browse selected sponsored degree programmes here.

On the plus side, sponsored degree programmes can offer you some much needed financial assistance to help fund your way through university. Particularly for those with work experience as part of the programme, they can help you build up a relationship with an employer and enhance your employment prospects after university.

Seems like a no brainer then? Well, sponsored degree programmes aren't all sunshine and rainbows. They suffer from a lack of choice, only being available at a limited number of universities and covering a limited range of degree courses and career paths.

Option 3: Gap Year

You don't have to dive straight into university or permanent employment. If you're a bit bewildered about your options, or just fancy some breathing space, a gap year might be right for you.

www.notgoingtouni.co.uk/ has a wealth of information on pathways after A Levels that are not university based.

It's not just a year to kick back and do nothing, though; you won't really impress many people doing that. Most people work for a bit and then go travelling. Many of the large companies, such as KPMG, Bank of England and IBM have gap year programmes for those wishing to get in a solid year of work experience. Alternatively, you might want to volunteer in the UK or abroad, or use your time off to get plenty of work experience. This may even help you figure out which careers might interest you.

The key thing, if you do decide to do a gap year, is to make sure you do something worthwhile. Some universities and employers won't look favourably on gap years where you've just spent your entire time in the clubs of South America. Try and make sure you've included some more valuable experiences in your gap year, as well as partying.

Option 4: School Leaver Programme

If you want to leap straight into the world of work but still want to gain some serious qualifications, then a school leaver programme might be the thing for you. These schemes usually involve studying for a degree or professional qualification, whilst working for a company. As an employee, you'll get a wage and they'll cover your training costs. That means you can earn while you learn and avoid student debt.

School leaver programmes are designed to offer a genuine alternative to university. Entry onto a scheme can be very competitive. The big finance and accountancy firms dominate the school leaver programme market at the moment, but other opportunities can be found in industries like engineering, IT, retail, digital media and hospitality. Bear in mind, school leaver programmes are still relatively new and therefore aren't common in most industries.

You can find out more about school leaver programmes here and you can peruse school leaver programmes here.

Option 5: Higher Apprenticeship

There is something else you can do with those A-levels, and that's a Higher Apprenticeship. These are the crème de la crème of apprenticeships. Higher Apprenticeships bear many similarities to school leaver programmes (in fact, many school leaver programmes include a Higher Apprenticeship as part of their training programme) but tend to be shorter.

You can also get qualifications like foundation degrees, HNDs and undergraduate degrees as part of a Higher Apprenticeship. Apprentices can usually top up their qualifications after the apprenticeship too. You can find out more about Higher Apprenticeships here and you can have a look at Higher Apprenticeship opportunities here.

Of course, some people bypass all of these options and plunge straight into employment. It's up to you to have a good think, do some research and work out the best option for you. Don't just think about the short term. Try and imagine where you want to be in five or ten years, and figure out the best way to get there.

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