04 July 2022

Options Open - Moving straight into work after A Levels

Options Open - Moving straight into work after A Levels

Sometimes it can feel like young people are on a conveyor belt, with an inevitable progression from secondary school to university and then to a graduate career. It can seem like there are no other realistic alternatives, and it can therefore be tempting for teachers, parents and students alike to buy into the view that this linear approach is the only way to achieve success. However, young people and those with an interest in their success perhaps have a responsibility to think in a more creative manner. With the average student debt being £45,060, it may not be wise for a young person to proceed blindly along the university path without careful consideration as to whether it is really the route for them. At Ealing Independent College, we view our role in offering career guidance, and offering all options within it, as a fundamental part of our jobs.

In schools and colleges, we see a wide range of students with different aptitudes and attitudes. Some have a thirst for learning, and they are excited by the possibility of delving into their academic passion over a university course. Others may be less keen, but have a vocation for a job which requires a university degree. However, what about the rest? Some students simply don’t enjoy studying and don’t have an aptitude for lectures, academic reading and exams. These students are often seen as being intellectually inferior to those who embrace academic life, but this is not necessarily the case. For example, some students in college have a real entrepreneurial spark and can’t wait to get into a business and start to make their mark in the “real world” with, of course, the incentive of earning rather than racking up student loans.

The emphasis is firmly on university at many schools and colleges, and statistics show that 44% of all 18-year-olds in England applied to University this year, the highest on record. Ten years previously, in 2013, just 33% did so

However, this still means that significant numbers of students are not proceeding on the time-worn path to higher education. So what are these young people doing instead?


One popular option is to pursue an apprenticeship, and to “learn while you earn”. Apprenticeships are available in a diverse range of fields, including project management, laboratory science, IT and finance, as well as more traditional fields such as the trades. Apprenticeships are available at different levels:

Intermediate apprenticeships (Level 2) are generally considered to be the same level as five GCSE passes.

For those aged 16, they offer an alternative to staying at school and learning in the traditional classroom environment.

Entry requirements for intermediate apprenticeships vary, with some employers asking for two or more GCSEs, although you may not need any formal qualifications. If you don’t have GCSEs in English and maths, you are usually required to take qualifications in these subjects as part of the apprenticeship.

Advanced apprenticeships (Level 3) are generally considered to be the same level as two A level passes, so these are suitable for young people leaving school with GCSE’s.

Higher apprenticeships (Level 4 and above) provide an opportunity to gain Level 4 qualifications or above, with most apprentices gaining an NVQ Level 4, HND, or foundation degree. Some offer the opportunity to progress to Level 7 (which is postgraduate degree level). Entry requirements can include at least five GCSEs grades 9 – 4, including English and maths, as well as A levels.

Degree apprenticeships  (Levels 6 — 7). You’ll get an undergraduate or postgraduate degree qualification as you would with a full-time degree. This gives “the best of both worlds”, but these apprenticeships are very competitive, and they also require a lot of hard work on the part of the young person, but they really do provide an excellent springboard for a future career. While your student friends are building up debt and working in a supermarket in the holidays, you would be earning and building up your experience in your future career.

If you would like to see which apprenticeships are available, you can search in the following places: , Another option is to see what is available with companies you are interested in. For example, Price Waterhouse Coopers offers a highly competitive “Flying Start” programme, with more details on their website:

Former student Jay decided that this route was best for him. He visited universities and conducted his research fully, and decided that the well trodden path of UCAS, Freshers Week and Halls of Residence wasn’t for him. This may have been connected to the fact that he took both his GCSEs and A Levels early as part of an accelerated programme. Jay lived College life to the full, matured and developed at the College amongst the myriad of different cultures around him. He took advantage of trips to China and Boston, and reached an advanced point of self-realisation - along with it a conviction that the correct destination for him was an apprenticeship with Thames Water. He has found it to have lived up to his expectations, and more.

Self employment

This is not always seen as a viable alternative for young people but, if the young person is self-motivated and has a good business idea, it certainly shouldn’t be discounted. Some people flourish when they have to take responsibility for themselves, and knowing that you will directly benefit from your own hard work is a great motivator. Self employment does have a lot of pitfalls though, for example finding your way around consumer and employment law and your tax obligations, so it is vital to get good advice. Luckily for today’s young people, this advice is readily available. Check out this link for some ideas and resources:

Other employment

Another option is simply to search on a site such as Indeed, or answer an advertisement in a local newspaper and go straight into work. This choice can be the right one for some, but do consider your long term goals. Unlike with an apprenticeship, when you are appointed to a full-time job, you are very much expected to do the job for the benefit of the employer. Some businesses do of course offer training and progression but, unlike with an apprenticeship, this is not guaranteed. So, for example, if you would like to work your way up in retail management, and you see a job in a local shop which looks attractive, check to see whether you will be offered the chance to do tasks which benefit your progression, for example being involved in the financial side of the shop or having the potential to manage staff. If the job doesn’t offer this, then it could be a useful stop-gap, but do consider when it might be time to move on. Larger businesses often do offer progression for those who prove their worth. For example, many people scoff at the idea of working for McDonalds, but 95% of their store managers started out as crew members (,limited%20only%20by%20your%20ability.). There are opportunities to progress in every industry, as long as you choose an employer who offers you the chance and work hard enough to take it.

Another former student, Rasna, made the very best of this route. After taking a two year A Level course, studying Sociology, Psychology and Economics, Rasna secured some tremendous results, but did not have a clearly defined career path in her mind. After taking on a role in the legal profession, she then moved to the financial sector with Allied Irish Bank. A promotion later and she has a role investigating financial crime, which she is thoroughly enjoying.

For someone with intelligence (not necessarily of an academic sort) and drive, there will always be a way to progress, even without a degree. Of course, a degree is the right route for some, but students should always consider whether university is the route which they genuinely want to follow, or whether you are progressing down the route due to convention.

Something which should always be kept in mind is that students will always have options. The key to all of these pathways is possessing good A Levels, enabling progression. In the aftermath of the A Levels this year, several students will be asking themselves a series of questions based around whether they have what they need to make the choices they are going to be comfortable with for the near future. If those in a similar position are unsure in any way about their futures, they can arrange a consultation with one of our friendly staff team. There are several ways to reach fulfilment. The more informed students are about their options, the more chance they will have to find the success they seek.

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