If you’re one of the thousands of students who are being encouraged to consider your education options for life after A-levels, you may be wondering which of the seemingly endless professional routes you should take. With so much choice, it can be hard to find a pathway that fits your professional plans. Today we look at some of the most popular options open to those graduating from A-level (or equivalent) qualifications.  


Apprenticeships are an excellent option for those who have a good idea of the professional role they want after finishing their sixth form college. Apprenticeship schemes combine on-job training alongside the study of a formal qualification; often an apprentice will spend one day a week studying off site for a qualification that will benefit their ability to carry out their role. The rest of the week, the apprentice spends working in the role; usually, apprentices will begin by shadowing someone in a similar position before gaining enough confidence to work independently. Furthermore, there are three levels of apprenticeship; which you take depends on your highest qualification – being an A-level (or equivalent) graduate, you’ll likely start a higher apprenticeship (Level 4 or 5). You can find apprenticeship vacancies at the government’s find an apprenticeship website. 

Good for: those who know what role they want 

Bachelor’s Degrees 

A bachelor’s degree is an ideal choice for those who want to gain a broadly applicable education with an academic focus. It’s arguably the most recognised qualification open to A-level graduates and is, therefore, the qualification that many employers look for when filling entry-level roles. Typically, bachelor’s degrees take three years of study to complete (full-time). Tuition fees for three-year bachelor’s degrees are around £9,000 per year, making them one the most expensive qualification on the list. Often, students can combine their bachelor’s degree with a ‘sandwich year’ placement in a relevant role; this experience can help prepare graduates for working life.    

There are alternate ways to achieve a bachelor’s degree, namely through a DipHE or HND plus an extra year (top-up degree course). This option can often work out cheaper than a traditional three-year degree; students also have the opportunity to gain two distinct qualifications in three years. Alternatively, students who have not achieved the necessary grades to enter a degree course can apply for a foundation year. After completion of the foundation year, students move onto the full three-year degree course.  

Good for: those who want a broad, academic understanding of a subject as well as a qualification that is widely accepted by employers.  

Certification of Higher Education (CertHE) and Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) 

CertHE and DipHE qualifications are roughly equivalent to the first and second year of an undergraduate degree. Both qualifications are studied full-time at either a higher education college or a university. CertHEs and DipHEs often share course content with bachelor’s degrees; these courses would be an ideal choice for those who don’t want to dedicate three years of full-time study.  

Good for: those who are considering a degree but don’t want the three-year commitment.  

HNC and HND 

Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas, much like CertHE and DipHE, equate to the first two years of an undergraduate degree respectively. However, the course content is unique. Higher Nationals are created with input from employers, senior academic and industry experts; this gives students the option to move directly into work after graduation or top-up their HND certificate to a full bachelor’s degree with a one-year programme. Higher nationals are taught at both higher education colleges and universities. The qualification is often more specific in its application to specific professions than a degree, but less fixed to a role than an apprenticeship. Usually, Higher National courses cost less than bachelor’s degrees.  

HNCs and HNDs are good options for students who enjoy an in-depth education that places importance on learning practical skills.  

Good for: those who want a balance of practical and academic skills.  

Foundation Degree 

Unlike a foundation year, a foundation degree combines work placement with academic study. Moreover, a foundation degree is similar to apprenticeship but with a stronger focus on the academic side of the subject. The qualification, like a DipHE or HND, is equivalent to the first two years of a bachelor’s degree, and the course usually takes around two years to complete. Each foundation degree is created with input from universities, higher education colleges and employers; strong emphasis is placed on performance and development in the workplace. For this reason, many considering apprenticeships may want to take a look at foundation degrees to see which fits their professional goals. Those looking to broaden their skill set can complete a top-up degree after completing the foundation degree.  

Course fees can vary between foundation degree providers; unlike apprenticeships, where attendees are paid, students will have to pay or take out a student loan to cover the cost of the qualification.       

Good for: those who value on-job placement and academic knowledge. 


Internships, like apprenticeships and foundation degrees, offer an excellent entry point for a particular position or industry. Unlike the other routes mentioned above, you won’t gain any formal qualifications while completing an internship, but you will get paid for the work you do, and you’ll gain valuable experience which may improve your chances of securing permanent employment in the future. The Graduate Talent Pool is the government-affiliated register for internships; there you’ll find paid, fixed-term placements. If there’s a role you know you want, it’s advisable to approach companies directly as many internships now require a degree-level qualification.  

Good for: those who want to break into traditionally difficult industries like media, fashion or journalism.  

Gap Year 

Taking a year out after education is also an option. There are numerous benefits to taking a break from education, and during this time you may find your perspective changes towards your original professional goals. Travelling could open your eyes to living, working or studying in another culture; volunteering could provide the necessary groundwork for future careers; taking a break from the 14 continuous years of education may give you the perspective you need to decide that further study is not for you.    

Good for: those who want to consider their next step.  

Looking for guidance regarding your next step after leaving sixth form college? Talk to one of UKCBC’s course advisors today for free, impartial advice.  

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