Higher education at 18+

Decide which course to do

Many 18 or 19 year olds do choose to go on to higher education study at an university, college or through a Higher Apprenticeship.

For 18/19 year olds the route to higher education requires a Level 3 qualification, such as A levels, BTEC or Cambridge Nationals or Advanced Apprenticeships.

But how do you choose what to do when there is so much choice?

Here are some points to help you:

What are the choices of Higher Education at 18/19?

When people think of Higher Education they usually think of studying for a degree, but there are many more options available to you including 4 year degree courses with a foundation year, Foundation Degrees, Higher and Degree Apprenticeships and HNDs. Some courses require you to have top grades in your Level 3 qualifications and there are other courses where the entry grades are more flexible and not so high. Find out more about the different types of higher level courses here.

You can also study at a higher education level through The Open University, where you can study towards a degree on a part-time basis, through distance learning.

Money and all that!

Students need to apply for a government loan to pay for tuition fees which can be up to £9,250+ a year for some courses. Although this is a lot of money your loan does not have to be paid back until you have finished your course and are earning more than £21,000. The rate of payback depends on your earnings but as an example, if you are earning £22,000 you will pay back around £7.50 per month. Read more about loans and financial support for higher education.

If you are worried about taking out a loan for your uni. course, then there are other ways to get a degree, without getting into debt through an employer sponsored degree, a Higher or Degree Apprenticeship or with reduced fees through The Open University, where you can study part-time alongside work.

If you are thinking about an apprenticeship:

There are now plenty of sectors offering Higher Apprenticeship (Level 4+) opportunities. You can find out which sectors and what's involved here. But, remember, an apprenticeship will train you to do a job so you need to be happy that is the job you want to do. Also, you have to apply for them, like a job, so you have to find a vacancy. Find out what's available here.

For students studying Level 3 qualifications who are not sure whether they want to go to university or do an apprenticeship then the advice is: apply to university through UCAS (you can decline any offers later) and then look for an apprenticeship, as vacancies for the summer after you leave school or college aren't likely to be available before January.

Deciding what HE Level course to do at a university/college:

I know what course or career I want to do in the future.

You may already have decided on your future career, which can make choosing a higher education level course easier.

Make sure you do check the qualifications needed for your chosen job as some want a specific degree at entry, such as architecture, dentistry, nursing, etc.

A good place to start is to check out the Job Sectors in Careerpilot, in 'Types of jobs' you will find 100s of job profiles which include routes into the career and the qualifications needed.

I don't have a clear idea yet of the course or career I want to do.

Lot’s of young people think they have to have made a decision about their future career before making their higher education choices, but that doesn’t have to be the case! 

Many employers are often looking for people who have a degree level qualification and are less concerned about the specific subject. That means that any sort of degree can lead to a professional and/or managerial opportunity.

However, just check that your subject choice will not close down routes into job sectors you might be interested in looking at 'Job Profiles' in 'Types of Jobs'.

Ideas to help you choose a course

Ask yourself these questions

  • What do you enjoy studying at school or college?
  • Would you like to study a familiar subject or a completely new subject?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time? Is there a course that can match your interests?
  • Is there a career or job sector that you are interested in, find out more about it and the qualifications you need?

Use online tools to help you choose:

Be aware of your predicted grades and the points they will give you:

Ask yourself, are your choices realistic, both in terms of what you like and your target grades? If you don’t know what your target grades are, talk to your tutor or subject teachers at school or college. This is important as universities and colleges offer you a place when they have looked at predicted grades and your personal statement. Sometimes you need certain grades and at other times a certain number of UCAS points. The higher your grades are, the greater the number of UCAS points you will have. For entry in 2017, the points system, known as the tariff, has changed but UCAS have produced a really helpful calculator to work out your points.

You can also watch a video about the new UCAS tariff.

Remember, different universities offer different things, you can compare them

What you choose, and the way you study, will depend on what you want and need from a qualification. You will also need to think about where you want to study, at home or away and what type of university you want to go to e.g. city, campus, etc. They are all quite different, so take a look at their websites or use a comparision website. like Unistats. The 'Find and compare' section has more information about this.

Websites to help you choose a course

Whatuni helps students find universities and courses and has a University Comparison Tool.

The site features:

  • Up to date course data directly from UCAS
  • CompUniGuide League Table rankings
  • University information
  • Complete comprehensive list of UK universities.

The site also has a tool where you can say what A Levels you are doing and what grades you expect and see what other people with the same have gone on to do.


The Unistats site compares courses from different universities. You can see what students thought of the course (through the National Students Survey); the average salaries after finishing; how many students go into managerial or professional level work; how much teaching time you can expect on the course... and much more. Unistats is a government website so you get the facts, without the spin!

The Which? university guide has lots of information and filters to help you find a course to suit your needs. It also has information on how competitive a course is by telling you the percentage of students applying who receive an offer.

You may also like to try their A level explorer tool which suggests degree courses based on your A level subjects.




If you have an idea of the grades you will get you could look at the Unifinder to work out your points, you can then use Unifinder to find out which universities will accept your points (you will need to register).

The UCAS site has information on all full time degree, Foundation Degree and HNC/HND courses so if you do have an idea of a subject you can find out which universities or colleges offer it.


The Prospects site will show you what jobs you could do with different degree subjects.




Use the bestCourse4me app and check the most popular A-levels and the grades achieved by previous students for specific courses at specific universities, see the most popular degrees that specific A-level subjects lead to, search the universities that offer the degree you are interested in and find the courses that lead to the career you are interested in.




The SACU Spartan test is an interest guide based on pictures which generates possible degree subjects for you. It also has a test to help you search for career ideas.  

More things you could do:

Choosing to do a degree when you are older

If you are thinking of higher education when you are older, although a lot of mature students will have traditional qualifications, some universities and colleges will consider a range of other qualifications and learning credits as well as work experience and informal learning - you might not even need a Level 3 qualification.

If you choose to do a HE level course later there are many routes in through working and learning. You can read more about using your experience here - this is usually for post 21 year olds. The Lifepilot website has lots of information for adults thinking about higher education.