Choosing the right course
Deciding that you want to keep up your studies after GCSEs is only part of the choice - now, you've got to sift through the massive variety of courses and qualifications available. The whole process can seem really overwhelming, but with the right approach, you can have it sorted with minimal stress.
What are you looking for?
Firstly, it's important to realise that this is a big decision, and that it's ok to take your time in making up your mind about you want to do. Choosing a course needs to be thought about carefully as you will be studying for at least a couple of years, if not more, so don't rush your decision. Ask yourself some of these questions:
Where will you find it?
What you want to get out of the overall learning experience - a qualification? A set of skills? The experience of being a student in higher education? An excuse to take a gap year?
What are you good at, and what do you enjoy? There is no wrong answer here, so be honest with yourself and write down the first few things that come to mind. Even writing things like computer games, books and films all have career options attached to them.
What type of course structure suits you - do you prefer end-of-year exams, coursework, or a mixture of both? Are you better at hands-on learning, or going at your own pace?
When you've thought about the questions above, the next step is to find a course that fits into as many of those guidelines as possible. If you're not sure about any of the above, or discovered that you have a few different career paths you're interested in taking, talk it over with your family, teachers or careers advisor to help narrow down your options. Then, follow these steps to find a course and a facility that's right for you:
Search for your local course using the 14-19 Prospectus at http://yp.direct.gov.uk/14-19prospectus
Find out what the courses you're interested in require - do you need certain GCSEs or A Levels? Do you have the right grades?
Next, look into how the course is structured, and find out if it fits into what you answered above about the type of course structure that suits you best. Does it involve a lot of exams, more coursework, a good amount of practical experience, or an even mix of all three?
Look at where the course is offered - is it a local college, or a university miles away from where you live? Think about the practicalities in doing the course, such as travel, accommodation and expenses.
Find out if there is an open day at the place where you want to do the course, and take the chance to visit the facility and talk to the instructors involved.
So, by taking a huge, daunting decision and turning it into small questions and simple steps, you can figure out the best path to follow in your studies. The next part is to enjoy preparing for your course!