Routes to higher education

There are several routes that you can take to get onto a Higher Education (HE) course, some are more straightforward than others.

The most traditional routes will generally involve taking GCSES and level 2 qualifications in school, and then depending on your results and interests, either progressing onto A-levels, vocational qualifications or apprenticeships. These are all taught in sixth forms, further education colleges, and in for the majority of apprenticeships, the workplace. These various routes can be complicated at times, and we encourage you to talk through your options with careers advisors, teachers, and carers or parents.


    A-levels are generally the most traditional route into HE. Normally, you’ll choose three academic subjects to study in detail. These are two year courses resulting in final A-level exams at the end of your overall studies. In your final year of A-levels, you’ll be able to apply to go into higher education, either via the UCAS system or through workplaces offering degree apprenticeships. Your tutors, teachers and careers advisors will give you plenty of help through the application process.

  • BTECs and vocational courses

    BTECS are qualifications that relate to more specific careers or employment sectors, such as healthcare or engineering for example. They offer more practical courses that equip you with the skills and knowledge about your chosen sector. Of course, you still earn UCAS points with BTECs that you can use to apply to a HE courses. BTECs are taught in sixth forms and further education colleges.

  • Apprenticeships

    Apprenticeships are qualifications you gain in the workplace, whilst earning a wage. These qualifications become available to you after finishing year 11, and can be taken at both intermediate (equivalent to five GCSE passes) and advanced (equivalent to two A-level passes) levels.

    Higher education providers tend to like the commitment and experience attached to apprentices, and so you may be able to progress onto a foundation or higher-level degree. In some sectors, you may be able to do a higher or degree apprenticeship which will allow you to gain degree level qualifications whilst again, working and earning.

  • Non-traditional routes into Higher Education

    With those three routes in mind, it’s important to note that there are more, lesser-known routes into higher education, including part time study and entry routes for mature applicants.

    Perhaps you didn’t get the A-level results you needed? Or don’t have the right qualifications needed for a certain course? It is always worth seeing more specialist advice, and we’d encourage you to talk through all of your options with careers advisors, teachers and further education colleges, as all can help. You’ll get there!