Making choices post-16

For most Year 11 students, the beginning of 2022 will bring a period of serious contemplation and even some uncertainty making choices post-16 and about what road they should take if they are to stay in full-time education.

After a lifetime of guidance from schools and parents, this time can be an anxious one as students assess their post-16 futures. It feels like, and in truth probably is, the first time that young adults are asked to make a considered, serious choice about their future.

The decisions made at this level of education have a direct link to the opportunities that arise afterwards, whether they are in universities, apprenticeships or the working world.

Though the path that is chosen doesn’t necessarily need to be the only path, for many students it can certainly feel like this. This is why we are here to set out an up-to-date, clear and hopefully comforting guide for those on the precipice of the rest of their lives.

So, you want to stay in full-time education. What are your options and why are they important?

The decisions you make now could play a significant role in where you will be in a couple of years from now, whether that is in full-time employment, on an apprentice scheme or at university.

All roads are open and ready for you to explore. The catch, however, is that there will be a toll required at some point in the form of hard work and grades. To make sure you make the right decisions now, and therefore meet the requirements for wherever you want to be in two years, careful consideration is needed.

Following GCSEs, students have the option of three pathways:

• T-levels

• A-levels

• Apprenticeships


T-levels are designed by employers and are based on the same standards as apprenticeships. They offer around 1,800 hours of study over two years of education as well as a 45-day work placement.

T-levels are great for students who know what occupation and industry they want to be in and provide a very clear path ahead. As stated above, however, even the most open roads require tolls. T-levels require some compulsory elements. They include:

• A technical qualification which includes core skills, theory, and concepts for the industry area

• Specialist occupational skills and knowledge of the career

• An industry placement with an employer

• A minimum standard in maths and English, if students haven’t already achieved this

The available T-Level subjects are digital production, design and development, design, surveying and planning, education, building services engineering, digital business services, digital support and services, health, healthcare science, onsite construction and science.


Apprenticeships train you for a specific job and are therefore a great opportunity to learn about it in a real-world environment. Unlike in other post-16 pathways, apprenticeships allow you to earn while you learn including paid holiday and bank holidays.

Learning is based on either dayrelease or blocks of days at a college or training provider. This allows you to acquire key knowledge about the job as well as the practical day-to-day skills needed.

Apprenticeships are the best way to find out for sure whether an occupation is for you and are suited to those who know what job they want.

There are plenty of apprenticeships available with more than 170 industries covered across the UK and 150,000 employers offering them. If this sounds like too much choice then fear not as there are great tools out there to help including the UCAS website.


A-levels are the key qualifications for those who want to study at university. If this is the road you are thinking about taking, then you will need to consider a few things first.

Do you know what you what you want to do at university?

Though it’s certainly not a course for concern if you don’t, it’s a great start if you do. Some university degrees require you to take certain subjects at A-level.

If you know what you want to do at university, then choose the correct subjects. This sounds obvious but it is vitally important. Put plain and simple: some universities will not consider applicants who have not taken relevant subjects at A-level.

Examples of this would be for medical degrees that require A-levels in chemistry and even an additional science such as biology or maths. It is crucial then that you look ahead and find out if the degree you wish to take requires a certain subject to be taken at A-level.

Are you unsure as to what degree you want to do after A-levels?

First of all, don’t panic. Plenty of other students are in the exact same position as you are.

Being broad with subjects call be helpful, especially if you are unsure about what you want to do in two years’ time. The trick is to pick a mix of subjects that keep your options open whilst still being in the ballpark of what interests you.

There are subjects that are acceptable by practically all universities. These are known as ‘facilitating’ subjects and include maths, English, physics, biology, chemistry, history, geography or a foreign language. Websites such as Informed Choices ( are a great help for further reading on this. Plenty of universities will consider you no matter what you choose.

Many don’t require specific subjects to be taken at A-level.

Another way in which you could hone in on the subjects you choose is to get in touch with universities themselves. Course or admissions tutors will be contactable and more than happy to provide assistance and information about what is required.

A-levels are a significant step-up from GCSEs

Not just in terms of examinations but in regards to what they require of you. Teachers will be there to guide but not necessarily hold your hand at this stage of education. This is preparation for life and requires a lot more independent study and an in-depth knowledge of subjects.

With this in mind, it is important you choose subjects that you are ready for and have already shown a degree of aptitude in, whether that be in the same subject at GCSE or similar. This leads us to the next consideration.

Are you ready for the subject?

As stated above, post-16 full-time education requires a higher level of commitment and study than at GCSE level. It would be wise therefore to honestly consider whether you will be able to keep up with the demands over the next two years and perhaps even beyond.

Should you take a brand new subject?

Amidst what feels like an avalanche of unknowns, this question feels like the cherry on the cake. If you are struggling to choose from a pool of subjects you are already familiar with, how on earth then can you decide on ones that you aren’t? Well, as long as you do your research there is no reason to not explore this path.

There are plenty of subjects at A-level that can complete a neat combination and compliment your application to university even further. An example of this would be business studies for those interested in a career in economics or even showing an ability to speak in front of a crown and taking drama for students looking to study law at degree level.

First of all, speak to your teachers who will be able to provide information on the subject and what is required of you in it. Second, as ever, think about the implications two years down the line.

Will you enjoy it?

During this time it is easy to get wrapped up in what you need to do rather than what you want to do. And though it’s important to find a balance with these, it’s also crucial you don’t sway too far in the direction of the former. After all, this is the next two years of your life and likely beyond. Picking a path that you believe you will enjoy is not only beneficial to you and your mental health it is more likely to aid your studies and lead to success.

Should you copy friends?

The social side of post-16 study is important, there is no doubt about it. With the increased level of work comes an increase in spare time which can be spent with friends, working on essays or having downtime where required. Having friends to help you along the way during what can be a stressful time is of course important.

However, this doesn’t mean you should blindly follow a friend into choosing subjects. As stated above, there will be plenty of time to socialise and see friends between lessons. Do you really want the career path ahead of you to be forged by fear of missing out?

Of course not. Plus, this is truly a time of personal growth from an educational standpoint and personally. Though it may be daunting at first to separate from friends you have been side-by-side with for five years, you could find yourself flourishing out of your comfort zone.

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