Explore the different higher education pathways available at 18+

A Complete Guide to Higher Education Pathways

If you’re starting to think about what comes next after your GCSEs, we’ve got you covered with our complete guide to Career Aspirations and Higher Education Pathways.

When planning your next steps – like what comes next after secondary school – it can be useful to consider the next step after that too. If you want to pursue a certain career for example, you’ll need to make sure you gain the necessary qualifications first. If you need to go on to University you might need to pick certain subjects at A-Level, but remember that lots of qualifications convert to UCAS points and that there alternatives to University that still offer a degree-level qualification.

As part of FE Choices Week, we’re here to help you explore all the options in an impartial and comprehensive way. We’ve created a series of videos, factsheets, presentations and student planning tools to help you learn about what your options are when you leave school and where those options might lead. We can’t give you the answers, but we can give you all the information you’ll need to make an informed decision about what could be right for you (and a back-up plan if you make the wrong choice first time round).

Get talking about Higher Education Pathways at School or at Home

Parents, carers or guardians serve as a major influence in their children’s career development and career decision-making. Friends, teachers, careers advisors and even neighbours can all have an influence too. Whoever inspires you – or challenges you – to think about your decisions, that’s a good thing. Get talking, chatting, debating – it’ll help you find out what’s right, what’s not and explore options you might not have considered before.

It’s equally important to own up if you’re undecided, unsure or just uninspired about what’s on the table right now. It’s also okay to change your mind or follow one path, then realise you made the wrong choice. Talking it through with someone you know (or in confidence via an online chat or helpline) can help break the problem down, reduce your anxieties and help you to explore possible solutions.

Bear in mind that on average most people will have between five and seven career changes in their working life. Sometimes you can only find what’s right for you by making the best decision you can at a set moment in time and giving it a try. Learning through experience is a good thing, just try to think about what you’ve learnt along the way. Recognising your skills will help you consider how they could be transferred to another job, training or career route and help you map out what to try next. 

Studying for Higher Education Pathways

 Applying for university is a multi-stage process and, if applying whilst studying, you will receive lots of support and guidance.

As you can apply to university at almost any age there are lots of websites dedicated to taking you through the process, and universities will have application guidance and criteria along with other facts about Higher Education (HE) on their individual sites.

Application involves selecting the universities you want to apply for. This can take time as there are a lot of considerations to make, such as will you move away from home, is it a “good” university, does it offer the courses you want to take, what are the fees…etc. Universities, like colleges will have open days throughout the year where you can see what campus life is like and help you decide.

There are also different application deadlines depending on your college (they will review your application to help you have the best chance of succeeding), the university you are applying to, and the type of course you are applying to study. Whilst this might seem confusing now, if you are applying straight from college you will have time and support to complete the process. It’s important to apply on time because unlike further education, where the government guarantees sufficient places, degree courses may fill up and you may miss out on your choice of course.

Applications are made through UCAS – the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (find out more about the UCAS points system here). You can do this on your own by registering online, or more likely, through your college. The online application system costs approximately £20 for a single choice of university, and £25 for two or more. The entry requirements and guides for the forms are all online and you can choose up to five different courses at different universities to apply for – but only once per cycle. (Don’t worry if this doesn’t make that much sense to you now, if you choose to apply you will have lots of help!)

However, you probably won’t be surprised to learn, that full time study at a university is not the only way to get a degree.  You can study in stages and achieve a foundation degree either on an apprenticeship, at a college or a training provider – a full-time HND/foundation degree/level 5 course will take approximately two years to complete, and is equivalent to two years of a Bachelor’s degree.

You can study a degree through an apprenticeship – this may mean you attend a university one day a week, but your degree may be fully funded whilst you earn, meaning you might earn your degree without incurring any debt. You can also work towards a degree in your own time, long distance or online through respected institutions like the Open University, here you can break your degree down in to modules and smaller chunks.


Use our Free Resources to help you make the right choice

Not sure whether HE, employment or self-employment are the right choice for you? Deciding what comes next starts with knowing yourself – what you’re good at, what you enjoy doing, how you like to learn, whether you prefer structure or flexibility, whether you are organised or need support, whether you have an end career goal in mind or you’re completely undecided. 

Our Next Step Planning tools start with the basics. Our Skills Builder helps you understand your strengths, our Career Roadmap helps you understand different routes to achieving your goals, and our Pathway Evaluation tools help you compare one study option against another.

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