Options & Alternatives to University or College

If you are finishing school and find yourself unsure what to do next, you are not alone. From apprenticeships to college courses, gap years to overseas study, there are so many paths you can take following school – this guide will help you find your next step.

Article Contents

A Levels
NVQs and Advanced Apprenticeships
Alternatives to University
Higher and Degree Apprenticeships
Foundation Degree or HND
Work Experience
Gap Years
Useful Links


Frequently asked questions around Degree-Level programmes

What is the school leaving age in the UK

At what age can you leave school?

In England, you can leave school once you turn 16 years old or on the last Friday in June if you’ll be 16 by the end of the summer holidays. From the National School Leaving age, you must then remain in either full-time or part-time education until the age of 18. These Further Education options could include; sixth form education, college education, apprenticeships, traineeships or part-time education or training.


What is the difference between Further Education and Higher Education?

The difference between Further Education and Higher Education is the level of education; Further Education is education in addition to that received up to year 11 in secondary school. Higher Education typically refers to degree-level courses.


What should I do after leaving school? What can I do instead of A levels?

For many students, it is still considered ‘the norm’ to stay on at school or go to college to sit A levels after GCSEs. The number of Further Education options besides A Levels available can be quite overwhelming, so if you are still undecided on what to instead of college, here are explained Further Education options available to students. We’ve also listed some advantages and disadvantages of each of these sixth form alternatives.


A Levels

Should I study A Levels?

Qualifications required: Typically 5 A-C/9-4 GCSEs
Best option for: Those looking to continue full-time study and to prepare for University.

Most school leavers choose to study A Levels at sixth form or a college. If you really aren’t sure what to do once you have finished school, taking A Levels will leave your options open. You could go from A Levels into a wide range of degrees, apprenticeships or training schemes.


NVQs and Advanced Apprenticeships

level 2 vocational apprenticeship great alternative to sixth-form

Qualifications required: Typically 5 A-C/9-4 GCSEs
Best option for: Continuing study while gaining practical experience and earning.

A National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) is a competence-based qualification awarded by colleges. Student performance is often assessed in a practical, real-world environment. NVQs range from Level 1 up to Level 5, where a Level 3 NVQ is the equivalent to an A Level. From there onwards you might apply for Higher Education options and Apprenticeships.

You might do an NVQ as part of an Advanced Apprenticeship – where you will split time studying between attending college and working in industry. NVQs are widely recognised by both employers and Universities; studying for an NVQ will open up many career opportunities for students, including Higher and Degree Apprenticeships, Traineeships, Entry-Level roles, HNCs and HNDs, Foundation or Bachelor degrees.

Kingston Maurward’s land-based college offers a wide range of NVQs and Apprenticeships to students.



What are BTECs and what can I study them in?

Qualifications required: Typically 5 A-C/9-4 GCSEs
Best option for: Gaining practical experience and knowledge, with or without a degree.

Similar to NVQs, BTECs are competence-based qualifications with relevance to the workplace, ranging from Level 1 to Level 5. Again, Level 3 is the equivalent to an A Level. BTEC qualifications open doors into rewarding careers in STEM (Health, Sport, Business, IT, Creatives) and much more. Most BTECs are assessed through coursework rather than from exams and tend to focus on work-related skills.

A BTEC is a good route to an Apprenticeship or Foundation degree. This sixth form alternative also offers good progression to work or further study.


How do you get into university?

Entry requirements for university courses can vary greatly. As there are so many options besides A Levels for students, any post-16 course options will give the student UCAS points. You can search and apply to university courses as well as other degrees and apprenticeships through UCAS.


Alternatives to University

Is University Right For Me?

Studying at University is an amazing opportunity, but University is a big commitment and is not always the right path for everyone. It is worth spending some time thinking about whether University is right for you. Think about where you see yourself in five years’ time and explore the alternatives to University listed below – which do you think will help you reach your personal and career goals?

Can I afford to go to University?

The prospect of studying at University and graduating with a large amount of debt can be daunting. University graduates do not start paying their loans back until they are earning more than £21,000 per year, and then only a small percentage of the salary is paid back each month. Student debts are cleared after the graduate turns 40. If you are interested in University, more information about student loans can be found in our Useful Links section below. If you are unsure, take a look below at these alternatives to university.


Higher and Degree Apprenticeships

Benefits of Higher Apprenticeships and Degree Level Study

Qualifications required: Typically 5 A-C/9-4 GCSEs and a Level 3 qualification
Costs: Opportunities to be paid whilst continuing to learn.
Best option for: Gaining practical experience and knowledge, with or without a degree.

Higher Apprenticeships combine gaining industry experience with a Level 4 or 5 qualification (this is the equivalent of a Foundation degree). These Apprenticeships can last between one and six years and you will typically be working three or four days a week. You will also be paid a full salary whilst training.

Degree Apprenticeships include university-level study, Apprentices will graduate with a full University Bachelor degree. Not only will you graduate with the same qualification as a University student but you will also have an abundance of industry experience (and no debt!). Degree Apprenticeships often refer to Sponsored Degrees, where students have their tuition fees covered by a particular organisation.

Apprenticeships are an ideal way to gain valuable industrial experience that you cannot pick up from studying that reinforce and apply the theory you are studying. If you are looking to secure a role in a particular organisation you should definitely consider a Degree Apprenticeship.


Foundation Degree or Higher National Diplomas

Foundation Degrees and Higher National Diplomas at Kingston Maurward

Qualifications required: Entry requirements will vary
Cost:  Lower tuition costs than Bachelor degrees but student finance is available
Best option for: Those looking to study but continue working in industry.

Similar to an Apprenticeship, a Foundation Degree is designed to prepare students for working in a specific industry. You will combine working and studying. Foundation Degrees cost around £2,600 per year, but these tuition fees can vary. Foundation Degrees are typically organised by Universities in partnership with local colleges – you can apply for Foundation Degrees through UCAS.

You can opt to complete a Top-Up Degree, which is a final year of study that can turn your Foundation Degree into a full Honours Degree.

While a Higher National Diploma (HND) is a vocational qualification that you can study full-time or part-time to prepare you for a career in specific industries. HNDs often cover Engineering, Sciences, Business, Computing or Health and Social Care.



Traineeships are an often over looked option over sixth-form

Qualifications required: Varies but often no set entry requirements.
Costs: Minimal – travel and food expenses often reimbursed.
Best option for: Those lacking the qualifications or experience for an apprenticeship.

GOV.UK states that you can apply for Traineeships if you are:

  • Eligible to work in England
  • Unemployed and have little or no work experience
  • Aged 16-24 and qualified below Level 3

If you are looking for alternatives to Apprenticeships you may be interested in a Traineeship. Like Apprenticeships, Traineeships are short courses that are completed alongside work experience in the industry. However unlike Apprenticeships, Traineeships are unpaid – but you will likely have expenses reimbursed and, most importantly, will gain vital workplace skills required to progress to an Apprenticeship.

A Traineeship offers progression on to the career ladder in the industry that you are interested in, and perhaps with the organisation you are interested in. This alternative to college might be the step you need to take in order to secure an Apprenticeship or an entry-level opportunity with a company you would like to work for.


Work Experience

Work Experience is an alternative to university and offers a foot in the door.

Qualifications required: Dependent on the role you are applying for
Costs: Minimal – some opportunities offer paid employment but is dependent on the type and industry
Best option for: Those looking to take their first step on the career ladder

If you are looking to go straight into the world of work or wanting to try out a role before committing to a permanent job there are several work experience options available.

Work experience is a hands-on alternative to Further Education. Work experience tends to last between one week and two months and is often unpaid. Internships are more formal schemes, usually with set requirements and responsibilities that can also give you a taste of the industry.

An Entry-Level role is a job that is designed for a school leaver, Apprentice or graduate that is looking to enter their chosen industry. Some Entry-Level roles may require certain grades or work experience.

Securing work experience, internships and entry-level roles can be difficult and the rejection rate high, especially where there is a high demand for roles but limited places available. If you are looking for an entry-level role continue to search through job boards, hand out copies of your CV to show initiative.


Gap Years

Gap years is an option that can widen your horizons as a option over university

Qualifications required: No requirements but must be 18 years-old
Costs: Varies
Best option for: Those who aren’t sure what they want to do in the future or who want a year out from studying.

A gap year is a 12-month blank slate for you to do whatever you wish, while many use the year out of education and training to explore the world, you could spend the year working and saving up money, completing work experience, volunteering or other training.

Students and applicants often worry about the impression that a gap year gives on CVs and applications, but as long as you get some transferable skills or experience out of your gap year, it will likely have the opposite effect.


Still wondering what to do instead of College?

This article has introduced you to all the main options between sixth form and college, and alternatives to university. We’ve briefly outlined the pros and cons of these, but if you still find yourself stuck, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Is there a particular job I would like? 
  • How can I get an interview for the job I would like?
  • Have I looked at all the options other than college?
  • Do I want to continue studying full-time?
  • Do I want to work and earn money alongside my studies?
  • At this point in time, is university right for me? 

Don’t just take it from us, for more information about all the other options beside college, take a look at these useful links below:


Kingston Maurward College is always willing to help students make the right decision for their future and to answer questions so please get in touch if you wish to discuss the range of options to support your chosen career.


About Kingston Maurward College

Information about Kingston Maurward College

Grow your career with Kingston Maurward, a vibrant and growing land-based college in Dorchester. Whether you are looking for sixth form or university alternatives, we offer a wide range of Further Education and Higher Education opportunities. Based on a 750 acre estate in the heart of rural Dorset, Kingston Maurward specialises in animal sciences and agricultural courses.

We offer a huge range of land-based vocational courses for you to study including wildlife & ecology conservation, agriculture, horticulture, equine studies, floristry, military preparation, sport and much more! Practical work is core to what we do; learning is real, immediate and engaging whether in the field or the classroom.

Find your path at Kingston Maurward College with our Course Finder.

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