Higher education at 18+

Decide which course to do

Many 18 or 19 year olds choose to go on to higher education study at an university, college or through a Higher/Degree 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 £25,000 a year.

Stories in the press and worries about leaving uni with huge debts have made some young people think twice about uni but really the loan repayments are manageable.

For example.

  • If you are earning £26,000 you will pay back £90 a year which is £7.50 a month - less than a cinema ticket!
  • If you are earning £29,000 you will pay back £30 a month - that's about the same as a mobile phone contract!

Your loan repayments will be automatically deducted from your earnings in the same way as income tax.

You can read more about money for higher education here.

If you are worried about taking out a loan for your university course, 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 and Degree 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 apprenticeships and levels are available.

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 look for an apprenticeship.

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 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.

Lots of young people think they need 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 potentially that any degree subject can lead to a professional and/or managerial opportunity.

However, it's a good idea to check that your subject choice will not close down routes into job sectors you might be interested in. Do this by looking at the 'Job profiles' within each job sector. 

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 you are interested in? Can you find out more about it and the qualifications you need?

This UCAS video explains how to choose a course

Make sure you know your predicted grades and the UCAS tariff 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. UCAS has produced a really helpful calculator to work out your points.

Remember, different universities offer different courses and experiences, but 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 comparison site like Unistats. The 'Find and compare' section has more information about this.


Websites to help you choose a course

'Which uni' has a tool where you can add your A level choices and see what degrees other people went on to do with that combination.

'Which uni' also has a tool that allows you to search for a university course, provided you know what subject you are looking for.




Unistats 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!




If you have an idea of the grades you will get you could look at UniFinder to work out your points and see which universities will accept them (you will need to register).


Prospects shows you what jobs you can do with different degree subjects.




The SACU Spartan test is an interest guide based on pictures which generates possible degree subjects, apprenticeship ideas and careers for you. You will need to register to use it.

More things you could do:

  • Register on Careerpilot and use the Career Tools which will help you think about job sectors of interest to you.
  • Use the Careerpilot Post 16 Skills Map Tool to start thinking about the activities you have done and the skills you have developed which can be useful for personal statements.

Choosing to do a degree when you are older

If you are thinking of higher education when you are older, bear in mind that 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.

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