Our top tips!
- Do your research
The most important aspect of planning ahead is to do your research! Research career options, University statistics, entry requirements and necessary A-levels you might need to take. Research which skills employers find useful in your field of interest and try to find any relevant work experience.
- Reach out if you need it
Most people don’t really know what they want to do in the future, so getting advice from a career’s advisor or teachers can be useful in deciding which courses and modules to take. Even running your ideas past a friend or family member, or current students and employers in your area of interest can ease the stress surrounding the important decisions.
Why is thinking ahead important?
Thinking towards the future can be daunting because most people don’t really know where they want their career to take them. Some may have a rough idea, and some may have their heart set on a specific career path, but things do change. If you have an idea of what you might want to do, it’s important that you carry out research into what forms of education might be needed.
As long as you’ve achieved a grade C/5 or above in English, Maths and at least 3 other GSCEs, you should be able to openly decide which A Levels, BTECs or apprenticeship you wish to take.
A Level choices can impact your career choices moving forward, especially if you’re interested in STEM subjects. For example, if you want to study Biology at University, you’re going to need a good grade in A Level Biology. Equally, certain careers may require specific degree types and experience.
Thinking about your next steps can feel overwhelming and confusing, so we’re going to break it down step-by-step. Remember, it’s never too late to continue your education or gain new skills. If you find yourself realising you want to change your future plans, this is absolutely okay and there are plenty of options moving forward.
How do I choose further education?
If you’re nearing the end of your GSCEs, it will be time for you to decide what’s next. If you’re someone who finds exams difficult and prefers hand-on activities, you may explore BTECs or Apprenticeships. If you enjoy academic study and don’t mind exams, you may choose to pursue A Level courses instead.
It is important to work out which of these options is best for you. You can do this by considering which of them is best suited to your strengths and goals. For instance, if you’d like to learn skills on the job while being paid, you might want to do an apprenticeship. Conversely, if you’d like to go to university to study something that you’re passionate about or that will lead you towards a certain career path, A Levels – which are mainly theory-based – may be the best preparation.
Deciding on 3 or 4 A Levels or BTECS to study can be difficult. It’s useful to consider any ideas you have about whether you’d like to attend a university in the future and, if so, any courses you might want study. If you’re interested in STEM subjects and medicine then it’s especially important to check common entry requirements, as most will require a science subject (such as Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Psychology). Speaking to a careers advisor at your secondary school will be helpful as they’re trained and have experience in supporting students to make these decisions. Equally, talking to lecturers and other staff during open days at colleges or sixth forms you’re thinking about attending is also a brilliant way to get opinions on which subjects would be best for you and your goals.
I think I might need some help... what do I do?
Thinking ahead about life or finding work experience opportunities can be difficult, and sometimes it is really helpful to simply talk it through with someone. Make sure that you reach out to someone if you need some extra guidance. Most people will be feeling exactly the same, so there is nothing to be ashamed of if you need some extra support.
Speak to us
You don’t need to work this out alone. Thinking about what you want to do in life can be daunting, especially when it feels like such a big commitment. There are plenty of people that you can talk to to help you out, including our friendly mentors who are always on hand to listen to you and help you out.
Speak to an older family member
If you are struggling, speak to someone in your family who is older. This could be an older sibling, your parents or someone else. They will have been through all of this before and can help you out. They will also know you well, so can help you work out which options might suit you best or be most enjoyable.
Speak to a teacher or a careers advisor
There are plenty of people around you at school, college or university who will be able to help. Teachers and careers advisors have lots of experience in supporting students through working out the next stages of their lives. They can be a very valuable resource for you.
What about work experience?
Getting work experience alongside schoolwork can be difficult for some people. If you’re shy or nervous, have other commitments or have some kind of disability, the prospect of finding work experience can be even more daunting. Many college students work in stores or restaurants – this can be a good way to gain some paid work experience on a part-time basis. However, this definitely isn’t for everyone.
Volunteering work experience can be a great way to gain some work experience with more flexible hours and, often, less pressure. Additionally, many volunteering opportunities can be done from the comfort of your own home, which may help to ease your anxiety.
Helping others in need can be rewarding: this could involve tutoring, mentoring, counselling on a helpline or undertaking research on behalf of an organisation. Although the work experience may not be completely relevant to your field of interest, the skills gained will be transferable, and both employers and educational institutions value them highly.
Where can I find work experience opportunities?
Many people will share opportunities that they are offering, or have seen, on social media. Sometimes this can be a great way to identify any jobs or work experience opportunities that are available. If you are interested in working with any particular company or charity, make sure you follow their pages so that you will be able to receive updates about when they start recruiting and apply for roles.
LinkedIn is a brilliant social media platform that supports people in sharing their experiences and seeking out opportunities. If you are looking for opportunities, it may be a good idea to set up a LinkedIn profile. This will help you when writing your CV too. You will often find that people also reach out to those on LinkedIn that possess the skills or experience that they are looking for.
Job boards are a really good way to look out for paid opportunities that are available in your local area. Almost all companies who are recruiting will advertise their roles on job boards. Some good examples of job boards include Indeed, GradTouch, Glassdoor and Jobsite. If you are interested in a particular company or charity, check out the job board on their website too.
Just like job boards, there are plenty of online resources that signpost volunteering opportunities. These are not paid opportunities, but a chance for you to give your time to a great cause and gain experience for your CV. Most volunteering opportunities are flexible to fit around your circumstances, but make sure you always read the advert carefully to check what is expected of you before committing to it.
Should I go to university?
Deciding whether or not to do a degree can feel intimidating. The thought of being in debt if you don’t gain anything out of it can feel like enough to deter you. However, attending university isn’t just about getting a degree. Your time at university provides an excellent opportunity to start building connections. Lecturers in the courses that interest you are a great source of information – they may even be able to offer advice on succeeding in your chosen field. Furthermore, universities usually offer many opportunities to gain valuable work experience, such as assisting a member of staff in their research or running on-campus events. University offers an opportunity to build skills such as teamwork, communication, time-management, responsibility, independence, problem-solving and analysis, all of which are regarded very highly by employers.
If you decide university life isn’t for you, then a Higher Apprenticeship may be a better fit. Just like how apprenticeships can be equivalent to A Levels, Higher Apprenticeships involve learning on the job, which may be more suitable for hands-on career paths such as engineering. You will need to do more research to investigate the options and may find it useful to discuss the decision with a career advisor at your college.
Earning a diploma shows employers that you are committed to your studies and have developed a wide range of skills. Additionally, many jobs require candidates to have achieved at least a 2:1 (upper second class) undergraduate diploma. Likewise, if your chosen career path requires further education (Master’s Degree or PhD) then you will need at least a 2:1 undergraduate diploma in your chosen field. Therefore, although you may not have a specific idea of your career path in mind, it’s important to consider that certain fields will usually require a particular degree to be able to pursue them.
If you do decide to go to university, it’s important to attend open days if you can – this will enable you to meet the lecturers for the course, see the accommodation and get a feel for the campus. Spending three years of your life at a university you don’t like isn’t going to be enjoyable.
Check league tables and reviews of your University choices and research what opportunities would be available to you at each of them. Make a note of entry requirements for the courses you’re interested in too. You can visit our web page on starting university for further guidance.