Routes to higher education

There are many routes you can take to get onto a higher education (HE) course


Most young people will begin by taking GCSE’s and level 2 qualifications in year 11 at school. Depending on your results and interests you can then choose to progress onto A-levels, vocational qualifications or apprenticeships. These are taught in sixth forms, further education colleges and in the workplace for apprenticeships. The various routes can be complicated and we would encourage you to talk through the options in detail with careers advisers, teachers or carers and parents.



    This is the most traditional route into higher education. You normally choose three academic A level subjects to study in detail. These are two year courses cumulating in final A level exams at the end of the second year of study. In the final year of the course you can apply to go into higher education, normally by applying through the UCAS system or through applying directly to workplaces offering degree apprenticeships. A levels are taught in sixth forms and further education colleges.


    These are qualifications that relate to specific job roles or employment sectors such as healthcare or engineering. They are designed to help you learn in a more practical way and equip you with skills and knowledge about a particular sector. Many BTECs allow you to gain UCAS points which you can use to apply to Higher Education or you may apply directly to workplaces offering degree apprenticeships. BTECs and vocational qualifications are taught in sixth forms and further education colleges.


    Apprenticeships allow you to gain qualifications while working and earning a wage. After completing year 11 at school, apprenticeships can be taken at Intermediate level (equivalent to five good GCSE passes) and Advanced level (equivalent to two A level passes). Many universities and higher education providers like the experience and commitment required for apprenticeships and you may be able to progress onto Foundation Degrees or Higher Level qualifications. In some sectors you might be able to do a Higher or Degree Apprenticeship which allow you to gain degree level qualifications whilst working and earning.


    The three routes listed above are the more common routes into Higher Education taken by young people. However, there are other less known routes including part time study and entry routes for mature applicants. 

    If your circumstances require more specialist advice we would encourage you to talk through your options with a careers advisor, teacher or local further education college.


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