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  • Writer's pictureThe Parents' Guide to

Options after school or college: helping your child decide

What your child chooses to do after sixth form (or college) is exciting but can be nerve-racking. There are lots of options available and understanding the pros and cons between different choices can be confusing.

It’s not just about deciding whether to go to work or continue further education – although that’s a good starting point. Important considerations include how long they want to continue studying, how they will finance living expenses and course fees, whether they want to study in a more academic environment or in a more practical environment (such as studying whilst working) and whether they have a particular career pathway in mind.

Higher education

UK higher education offers a range of courses and qualifications, including BA or BSC degrees, foundation degrees or Higher National Diplomas. Most courses are taught in universities, but some courses are also offered by colleges or specialist course providers such as conservatoires.

For more information on University and the UCAS application process you may be interested in The Parents’ Guide to University

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Apprenticeships used to be associated with trade industries (such as electricians, mechanics or plumbers). Nowadays, apprenticeships can be taken in a wide range of industry sectors and provide entry to all types of careers, including accountancy, banking, IT, law, management and television.

Relatively new to the apprenticeship suite are “degree apprenticeships”, offering an earn while you learn route to BSc or BA status. In other words, the end qualification is the same as if your child had attended university full time, the difference is that they will not have incurred any debt in tuition fees and will finish their degree with robust and transferable workplace skills.

Taking an apprenticeship is not an easy option and competition can be fierce. It takes organisation and dedication to balance work, where your child will be expected to contribute to the same standards as everyone else, and study. Holidays are far fewer than at college or university. However, if they have a more practical, work-related bias towards learning this will suit them well and they will obtain valuable experience which will strengthen opportunities in finding rewarding work when the apprenticeship is over.

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Traineeships are a type of vocational training and can last six weeks to six months. They are a great way to prepare for apprenticeships (if your child doesn’t have the minimum entry requirements) or to get first-hand experience of what a job is like.

School leaver programmes

School leaver programmes offer opportunities to join the workplace straight after sixth form studies and

commence skills development and career progression through experience as well as studying to obtain a nationally recognised qualification. Entry requirements vary from employer to employer.

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Getting a job

The world of work can be an exciting option and doesn’t necessarily need to rule out further study at a later date. If your child does plan to get a job after school or college, encourage them to think carefully about the kind of work they want to do and the reasons for doing it. Do they plan to start in an entry level position and gradually work their way up to a higher position as they begin to gain more experience? Or do they want to start earning, and use this time to reflect on what they might like to do next?

Taking a Gap Year

Taking a year out after school can be beneficial, certainly in terms of the skills and experiences that can be developed, but your child will need to determine whether it’s the right choice for them. A gap year can be taken while entry to university is being deferred, once a place has been accepted (allowing a year between leaving school and starting university), or if university is not the next step at all.

What does a gap year involve?

Traditionally, this is a year spent travelling overseas, but it needn’t focus exclusively on that. Volunteering and work experience can also be incorporated and inform your child’s likes and dislikes, as well as giving them valuable first-hand experience in a variety of areas they may not have had chance to try out. Gap years don’t have to be expensive, and if finances are tight, your child can self fund their travels by getting a job first.

Is a gap year right for my child?

If your child is considering taking a year out after school, it’s important to spend some time together and identify what it is your child wants to achieve. Gap years can be an excellent choice for students wanting to gain news skills and experience, earn money, spend time deciding what career path they want to take or have a break from work and study.

However, for some a gap year can be distracting and, if not well-planned, could prove somewhat directionless, which is unlikely to be beneficial. Before committing to a gap year, make sure your child has clear goals to make their time out from work or study a productive and fulfilling one.

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Starting a business

Increasing numbers of students are choosing to set up their own business after leaving school or college either full-time or alongside work or study. There are plenty of resources and organisations out there that will help your child start including how to access or apply for funding. The Prince's Trust, Local Enterprise Partnership and New Enterprise Allowance offer grants and mentoring.

Find out more

Understand more about all the options available to your teen after sixth form/college in The Parents' Guide to Post 18 Options.


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