Want to stay in full-time education after GCSEs? It definitely gives you an advantage when finding a job later on, as more and more employers require people with higher-level skills and qualifications.
Part of the process of deciding which course you want to do (see Choosing the Right Course) is understanding what the different types are. Searching on the internet for courses in art or engineering will bring up a broad range of choices, but knowing the kind of qualification you want will narrow down where, what and how you'll study.
There are many qualifications on offer for people thinking about GCSEs and further study. This is a quick guide to some of the things you can go for:
The diploma qualification is available to 14-19-year-olds, and is a way to get firsthand experience of a vocational area while studying at the same time. So, if you don't like the idea of sitting in a classroom all day, this could be a good option. You can combine studying for a diploma with GCSEs and A Levels, learning about areas such as business, health, manufacturing and hair and beauty. There are three levels of diplomas available -Foundation, Higher and Advanced -and each takes two years to do. You can go on to uni with an Advanced diploma.
This is the first step in achieving a full A Level (see below). AS stands for Advanced Subsidiary, and takes a year to complete full-time. It is an official qualification on its own so you can leave school after you get your AS Level, or you can study for another year to get an A Level. There are about 80 subjects available to study at AS and A Level.
If you carry on in school for another year after finishing your AS Levels, you'll take the A2 that results in a full A (Advanced) level. The A2 is not a separate qualification, but a chance to get further into what you studied during your AS Levels. You can keep studying the same number of subjects that you got AS Levels in, or narrow it down to a few key areas. If you're planning to move on to a degree or further qualification programme, make sure you have the required number of A or AS Levels before deciding what to cut from your list.
Check out the range of applied A Levels available to see if they fit in with your career plans -applied A Levels give you the chance to get some practical experience in areas such as engineering, tourism or the media.
You can study for a BTEC qualification while you're working on your GCSEs and A Levels, or you just do a BTEC instead. A BTEC is a work-based qualification that you can use to get into uni, or to get a job. The programme combines studies and practical experience at a pace you're comfortable with, so you'll have a good mix of skills when you finish, and the flexibility to learn in a goal-oriented way. There are three levels available -Award, Certificate and Diploma.
City & Guilds
Another work-based qualification you can go for is a City & Guilds, which again offers flexibility to complete while you're already in a job. They're designed to give you the exact skills you need to enter a specific industry or career, so you'll get a good amount of practical training. City & Guilds qualifications go from Entry Level (no skills in the area you're studying) to Level 8 (above a postgraduate degree), giving you a broad choice of where you want your studies to go.
Getting into an OCR National qualification programme is another way to get a work-based qualification in a way that's different from the traditional academic route. If exams aren't your favourite way to learn, OCR Nationals give you the chance to study in a way that you'll get the most out from while getting the skills you need to enter into the workplace. You can also use your OCR Nationals to get into uni afterwards.
A good way to strengthen your CV and have an impressive selection of abilities to offer a potential employer is to get Key Skills qualifications. If you do an apprenticeship (see What Is an Apprenticeship?), this will be part of it -you'll get professional training in areas such as communication, computing, problem-solving and working with others, so you can prove that you've got what it takes to be a good employee.