Explore your options for next steps at 16 and 18 after finishing school or college.

Next Steps at 16+ and 18+

At 16 and 18, you’ll face important decisions about your future career. Choosing what to study, where to study it or where it could lead, as well as balancing extra-curricular activities, part-time employment, volunteering or other aspirations. Learn about how to make decisions about your next steps at 16 and 18…

Having choices is a good thing, but it can feel overwhelming if you’re not sure where to start or worried about getting it wrong. The reassuring news is, that if you do make the wrong choice, you can quickly get back on track and there’s usually more than one route to achieving the same end career goal.

Watch our Daily Reel to recap on all the available options after secondary school or college to make sure you know the full range of what’s on offer. It then outlines what you’ll need to progress at each stage – from submitting applications to attending open days, writing personal statements to having interviews. It’s a really practical guide to help you prepare to take action. In this 15 min summary, you’ll learn:

  • An overview of choices after secondary school – from A-Levels to BTECs
  • An overview of choices after college – from degrees and HNCs to higher apprenticeships and adult courses
  • How to get the most out of open days and job fairs
  • Deadlines for applications and what you’ll need to complete them online

Let’s take a quick look at some of the choices available at 16+ and 18+, then consider the practical things you’ll need to plan for – from managing a budget to writing a personal statement, sending off college or uni applications to applying for your first job or apprenticeship.

Choices at 16+

Following a change in the law in 2013, you’re now required to stay in some form of education or training until you turn 18. Click on any of the options below to learn more about what you could choose to study.

Academic Qualifications

  • A-Levels are a Level 3 qualification that take 2 years to complete and usually involve sitting an exam at the end. They’re the ideal choice if you know what subjects you enjoy, need A-Levels to get into University and prefer a structured, exam-based way of learning and being assessed.
  • T-Levels are a Level 3 qualification too. You choose to study one T-Level (like Engineering or Accountancy) over 2 years and it’s equivalent to studying 3 A-Level subjects. They’re linked to business areas so are popular with employers and, as well as studying in a classroom and taking an exam at the end, you’ll also need to complete 45 days of a work placement and some coursework or practical assessments depending on the course you choose.

Learn more about studying A-Levels and T-Levels at college or sixth form and the differences between them. Hear from current students about the benefits of these routes.

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Vocational Qualifications

  • An Apprenticeship is a work-based programme where you complete 80% of your time in a job / with an employer completing a paid placement, and the remaining 20% of your time studying (either in the workplace, remotely or at college).
  • BTECs are a hands-on qualification which you can study along with GCSEs and A-Levels or equivalents, or as a standalone course. They are assessed by regular coursework and work experience, making them a flexible option for those who don’t perform well in exam scenarios. They’re becoming more popular than A-Levels in many subject areas and are popular with employers due to the hands-on skills you develop.
  • NVQs are a great choice for those who want to combine working and learning. They are based on national occupational standards for each career sector (that is, list of skills and knowledge that employers say you need to work in a particular sector).

If you’re a more practical based learner or you have a set career goal in mind, vocational qualifications are probably your best choice after GCSEs. Learn more about choosing Vocational Qualifications and hear from students who chose these pathways.

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Choices at 18+

Whether you’re coming to the end of college, sixth form, an apprenticeship or other training course, there’s plenty of options for you to consider at 18+. Your main choices include:

  • Continuing your studies at Level 4 or above:
    • University Degree
    • HNC or HND
    • Higher or Degree Apprenticeship
    • Other Level 4 Qualifications
  • Starting a new course or subject area at Level 3 (such as an Intermediate Apprenticeship or a new A-Level or T-Level)
  • Entering employment (part-time or full-time)
  • Gaining work experience or an internship (paid or unpaid)
  • Volunteering or taking a gap year
  • Starting your own business

Learn more about the options available to you at 18+ here.

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Practical Next Steps at 16 and 18

We’ve produced a range of tools to help you prepare for some of the actions you’ll need to take when leaving secondary school or college.

Navigating College and Sixth Form Open Days

College and sixth form open days offer a unique opportunity to explore your options, gather information, and gain insights that can shape your future. Learn about the importance of open days, how to prepare for them, what to look for, key questions to ask, practical considerations, and how to make the right decision after attending open days.

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Completing a College Application Form

Ready to apply for college or sixth form but need some help completing your college application form? Don’t panic. We’ll help you understand exactly what to include and give you a practice form to complete. You can use it once you know which college(s) and course(s) you are applying too. 

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Writing an Apprenticeship Application

Need help completing an apprenticeship application form? Not all apprenticeship applications are the same, but this should give you an idea of the sort of information you might need. This application is based on one you might find when applying through the government’s Find an Apprenticeship website or via apprenticeships.gov.uk

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Creating a Budget for College, University or Starting Work

Financial worries can be a big stress when you’re taking your next steps and becoming more independent. Knowing how to manage your money and stretch your student loan, benefits, apprentice wage or allowance that little bit further is an important skill to master. But if you’re starting out with no clue on creating a budget (or how to stick to it!), we’ve got you covered.

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Writing a Personal Statement for University Applications

One crucial aspect of your application process is your university personal statement. This definitive guide will walk you through crafting an impactful personal statement showcasing your uniqueness, passion, and potential to thrive in the academic world.

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Tools for Schools

As part of Post-16 Careers Week, we’ve also produced a range of tools for teachers to use in secondary schools and colleges, but also for students, parents and carers to access at home – sparking ideas and starting conversations about future careers.

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