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Higher education at 18+

Decide which course to do

Many 18 or 19 year olds choose to go on to higher education study at a 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.

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, money, money! 

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 £25,725 per year (rising to £26,575 in April 2020).

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 £25,000 a year you will not pay back anything (until you are earning £25,725).
  • If you are earning £27,000 you will pay back £10 a month 
  • If you are earning £35,000 you will pay back £70 a month, which might sound like a lot but £35,000 is a very good salary.

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

You might also want to think about the place you are studying and the costs you will have to pay for accommodation, etc. This guide from the NatWest Bank has information on the most affordable cities for students.

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.

Your grades and UCAS tariff points

It is important that you know your predicted grades and the UCAS tariff points they will give you as most higher education courses will have specific entry requirements and they can vary a lot between different providers. 

When you have this information, 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.

If you are thinking about an apprenticeship:

There are now plenty of sectors offering Higher and Degree Apprenticeship (Level 4+) opportunities - Find out what's involved. 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. 

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 at the same time.

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, vet, etc.

A good place to start is to check out the Job Sectors in Careerpilot

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?
  • The Start by Subject tool may help give you some ideas of university courses you might be interested in which relate to a subject you love.

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 Discover Uni

The 'Find and compare' section has more information about this.

Websites to help you choose a course

The Careerpilot Degree Course Search Tool is a good starting point to help you choose a course as it contains lots of information about each course:

  • Entry requirements including tariff points needed
  • Student Satisfaction
  • Average salary of graduates 6 months after graduation


'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.

The Complete University Guide has information about courses, subjects, student satisfaction, etc. The site also shows the top courses for each subject. 

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

Everyone should have the chance to go onto higher education. Uni4me gives you access to online events, activities and resources from UK higher education organisations that can support your learning and enable you to find out more about your future opportunities.

Some of these activities will help you with your current studies whilst some will let you find out more about higher education. Some activities will introduce you to subjects you have never studied before and others will support you in your next steps.

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.
  • Look at the Qualification Planner to see what level your current qualifications are, what qualifications you could do next and to find out more about what's involved in different qualifications.
  • Find out what jobs are available for graduates.
  • Set some action points on Careerpilot to help you move forward with your career planning.

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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