Advice Hub

June 13, 2011

Learning at college or sixth form

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Written by: Kyle Raffo
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If you want to stay on in full-time education after 16, there are lots of courses to choose from. First you’ll need to decide which subjects you want to focus on: you can then find a place to study. There are lots of resources online to help you.

What do you want to study?

To get the most out of studying after the age of 16 (sometimes known as ‘further education’), it’s important to take time to choose the right courses and qualifications. Ask yourself:

  • what you are good at, and what you enjoy – most people do better when they study a subject they like
  • whether you want to learn something new – for many courses, you may not need any previous experience
  • what course structure will suit you – do you prefer end-of-year exams, continual assessment, or a mixture of both?
  • what learning style will suit you – do you prefer lectures, classroom discussions, or practical workshops?
  • where the course will lead – does it fit in with your long-term plans?

If you prefer a practical approach to learning, have you considered a work-based training option like an Apprenticeship?

Qualifications: what’s on offer?

You could study for academic qualifications such as AS or A levels, or go for work-related qualifications such as the vocational qualifications on the Qualifications and Credit Framework. Selected colleges also offer the Diploma qualification for 14 to 19 year-olds.

In addition, you can take qualifications in Key Skills – these are the essential skills that employers look for.

Many of these qualifications can help you get into university or higher education.

Planning a career

You also need to think about how your choices of what to study will fit in with your career plans.

Choosing where to study

Once you’ve thought about what you’re going to study, it’s worth also considering which type of learning environment would suit you best. You could choose from:

  • a school sixth form
  • a sixth form college
  • a further education college
  • a specialist college

Each type of institution has its own structure and atmosphere, and will offer a different range of subjects and courses.

Sixth forms

You may be able to study at your own school’s sixth form, the sixth form of another school, or at a sixth form college. They offer a wider range of options than you’ve probably had to date, and the environment is usually more relaxed than in Year 11.

Sixth forms vary a lot in size, and in the courses and facilities they offer. Sixth form colleges tend to be larger and more informal than school sixth forms.

Further education colleges

Further education colleges can offer similar courses to sixth form colleges. They also vary a lot in size, and in the subjects and facilities they offer.

Your fellow students may include adults of all ages as well as young people.

Specialist colleges

Some further education colleges specialise in particular areas:

  • subject areas such as art and design, agriculture and horticulture, or dance and drama
  • courses and support for students with a particular disability or learning difficulty

Going to a specialist college may involve a lot of travelling. If it’s a long way from home, you may need to live there during term time. If so, you might qualify for financial help.

However, some courses are only available to people over the age of 18.

Applying to colleges and sixth forms

You can apply to more than one sixth form or college. Many colleges let you apply online through their website, or you can contact them for an application form.

You should start applying for popular or specialist courses in the Autumn term of Year 11. For other courses, you normally apply in the Spring.

You do not normally need to apply if you want to stay on at your school’s own sixth form.

Next steps

Find your local 14-19 prospectus

Find out what courses and qualifications are available at schools and colleges in your area with your local 14-19 prospectus.

Go to open days

One of the best ways to find out what a school or college is really like is to go to an open day/evening. You will get to see the facilities, and meet the staff and some of the students.

Many further education colleges also have stands at careers fairs.

Where to get advice

You can get advice from your current teachers, other school or college staff, parents or carers, friends and relatives.

You can also speak to a Connexions Direct adviser for free, confidential advice.

  • Connexions Direct helpline: 080 800 13 2 19


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  • Happy studying


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