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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Options after 16: getting into university and higher education

If you want to get into higher education, there are lots of options available. It’s not necessarily about getting A levels – you can study full time for work-related qualifications or go for an Apprenticeship. You may also be able to take an Advanced Diploma qualification.

What could higher education do for you?

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Higher education can open up new career options, and research shows that people with higher education qualifications typically earn more money than those without. They may also have more job security.

More than just degrees

Higher education isn’t necessarily about getting a traditional degree. You could choose to do a Foundation Degree, combining academic study with workplace learning. Another option is a work-related qualification, like a Higher National Certificate or Higher National Diploma.

Whatever your interests, the chances are you’ll find a course you’ll enjoy – the choice of subjects is much wider than at school.

Routes into higher education: what are your options?

Universities and colleges set their own entry requirements, so they vary from course to course. When you’re choosing what to do at 16, it’s important to find out what qualifications and grades you’re likely to need for the type of higher education course you want to do.

For full-time courses, you can look up entry requirements on the UCAS website. For part-time courses, get the university or college prospectus – most are now available online.

Depending on the course you want to do, there are two main routes that could potentially get you into higher education:

  • staying in full-time education
  • learning while you work

Staying in full-time education

If you decide to stay in full-time education after Year 11, there are a range of academic, work-related and skills-based qualifications you can potentially use to get into higher education.

Generally, you’ll need qualifications at level 3 on the National Qualifications Framework. For UK students, this usually means:

  • A Levels
  • Scottish Highers
  • an Advanced Diploma
  • NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications)
  • SVQs (Scottish Vocational Qualifications)
  • BTEC National Diplomas and Certificates
  • GCEs in applied subjects

You can also count Key Skills qualifications towards your application (Key Skills are the essential skills that employers need their workers to have).

Students from outside the UK can apply for courses with qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate, European Baccalaureate and Irish Leaving Certificate.

Learning while you work

If you want to start work after Year 11, an Apprenticeship can be a route into higher education.

You’ll usually need to take an Advanced Apprenticeship. This leads to an NVQ at level 3 on the National Qualifications Framework.

As an Apprentice, you will also study for Key Skills, a technical certificate or other qualification relevant to your job. These can also count towards entry into higher education.

Work experience

For some courses - for example, many Foundation Degrees - the institution you apply to will look at your work experience as well as your qualifications.

Help with study costs

If you decide to go for higher education, there’s financial help available. For full-time courses, you can apply for Student Loans to cover your fees and living costs. You won’t have to start paying these back until you have left your course and are earning over £15,000 per year.

You may also qualify for a non-repayable Maintenance Grant. There may be extra, non-repayable help available if you have a disability, or if you have children or adult dependants. You may be able to get additional help through a bursary from your university or college. See ‘Student finance’ to find out more.

Find out more

You can make a start by looking at the directories, prospectuses and careers software in your school's careers library or resource centre. Your local authority may also be able to provide advice and guidance.

If you're aged 13 to 19, you can also get free and confidential help or advice from a careers adviser. You can contact a careers adviser by phone, email, webchat or text message.

  • Telephone: 0800 100 900

Get the Aimhigher guide to higher education

There’s lots more information in 'Your future, your choice' - the Aimhigher guide for young people aged 16 plus.

You can download a copy below, or order one by:

  • tel: 0845 015 0010
  • textphone: 0845 015 0030

Quote reference 'URN 09/1157'. An audio version is also available (quote 'URN 09/1334').

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