Post 18 Options

If you're looking at your post 18 options, it usually means:

Choices to consider at 18

If this sounds like you, then the great news is that there are many things to choose from, including:

1. Apply to university

Don’t worry if you’ve only just decided this is for you, and you haven’t applied for a university place.

Clearing is a great last minute opportunity. At university you study degree level programmes in the subject of your choice, gaining a higher education qualification after 3 years which is very highly regarded by employers.

Statistics show that as a university graduate you earn up to £12,000 more a year than your non graduate peers which equates to more than £500,000 over a life time. Our definitive University Guide is essential reading if you are considering this option, as is our blog, which is packed with lots of useful tips and advice.

Now, over one third of 18 or 19 year-olds choose to go to university after finishing school or college, and although there was a drop in applications following the fee increases in 2012, the number of applicants is starting to rise again.

Even if you decide not to go to university, there are lots of options to enter higher education later on by working alongside your studies.

There are lots of different types of higher education courses available, and they all include any sort of nationally recognised qualification which is at Level 4 or above (A Levels, BTEC Level 3 and Advanced Apprenticeships are all Level 3 qualifications). A degree starts at Level 4 and progresses to Level 6 in the third year.

Although in the past these courses were only delivered at universities, they are now offered at colleges and also some training providers too. So, if you have Level 3 qualifications you could explore higher level qualifications and see if there's anything suited to you.

Getting a degree can be good for your future employment prospects. In 2017, official statistics showed English-domiciled graduates and postgraduates had higher employment rates than non-graduates and the average, working age graduate earned £10,000 per year more than the average non-graduate. This means a university course is generally still an excellent investment.

2. Take an Advanced, Higher or Degree Apprenticeship

If you are doing A Levels or other Level 3 qualifications, such as BTECs or NVQs, you might be considering an apprenticeship or higher education (university) when you have completed them.

An apprenticeship is a great choice if you want to train for a specific job sector and earn money at the same time. There are many different, exciting apprenticeships developing all the time, so you will have plenty to choose from!

However, there are a few things you need to consider:

  • Apprenticeship vacancies for the summer after you finish your A Levels/other Level 3 qualifications are advertised throughout the year and the closing dates can vary. Therefore, if you are undecided about whether to choose an apprenticeship or a higher education route, it is probably best to apply for higher education courses as well as looking for apprenticeship vacancies. If you get an apprenticeship you can always turn down any university offers.
  •  There are many job areas now offering Higher Apprenticeships, which are higher-education-level qualifications (Level 4+). Employers are looking for A Levels and other Level 3 qualifications as entry requirements. You can register for alerts about vacancies on, look at companies' websites or send off speculative applications to places that you like the look of and are offering the right type of work.
  • If you do not have the relevant job-specific experience you might have to take an Advanced Apprenticeship, even though these are the same level qualifications (Level 3) as A Levels. However, you may be able to advance more quickly than a 16 year old, so it's always worth investigating.
  • Not all industries offer Higher Apprenticeship qualifications so make sure you check if they are available in your chosen sector.
  • Remember that for some jobs, there is no apprenticeship pathway, and formal education through a university degree is the only access to these occupations, e.g. vet, doctor, lawyer, etc.

3. Go on a college course

Although many people go to a further-education college at 16, after their GCSEs, you can also attend at 17 or 18.

Colleges offer a wide range of courses, including: 

  • Vocational subjects - these are related to a broad subject area such as business, health and social care, etc. - so they can lead to a large variety of employment areas or university courses.
  • Practical vocational courses (often now called technical or professional programmes) that lead to specific jobs such as hairdressing, plumbing, or engineering.
  • Apprenticeships based with a paying employer, where you will be assessed either in the workplace by a visiting assessor, or by attending college for a day or week at a time.
  • Courses that prepare people for Higher Education, such as Access Courses or the Art Foundation course
  • Vocational HE courses, such as Foundation Degrees, Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and Certificates (HNCs)
  • Foundation Courses to develop Maths, English, study skills and employability skills. These courses can give students the chance to try out several different vocational areas.

4. Take up a job with training or study

When you have finished school, sixth form or college you might want to start work, rather than stay in full-time education. Although the job market can be competitive, the range of opportunities out there is improving.

During your job search, try and find out what training the company offers and their opportunities for career progression later on.

Try to apply for vacancies where you can train at the same time (leading to a nationally recognised qualification) as this means you can keep learning as you work. You are then likely to have more job satisfaction as you develop and use skills that can lead to more pay in the future.

Options for working while training or studying include:

  • Employer supported training - if you already have a job, it's worth asking your employer if they will support you in gaining a qualification related to your sector. Sometimes, they will be happy to contribute to the cost of this, as it will enhance your skills for the future and make you a more valuable and productive employee.
  • Part-time degree - many universities offer degrees on a part-time basis, which means you can work while you study. When choosing your universities, check to see whether the course you want to study is available part-time.
  • Vocational degrees - these courses contain strong practical work links, and include subjects such as Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing. This means that as well as academic learning, you will also spend a large proportion of time gaining hands-on experience.
  • Foundation degrees - these are preparatory courses lasting one or two years that allow school leavers to gain the entry requirements needed to study for a degree.
  • HNC/D - a Higher National Certificate or Diploma is a work-related course that is more vocationally focussed than a traditional degree. Typically, they take between and four years to complete.
  • Employer Sponsored Degrees - the top professional services firms e.g. PWC and KPMG offer school and college leaver programmes where you join the company as an employee, they pay you a good salary (can be up to £20,000 if in London), on top of which they pay all your tuition and accommodation fees for your accountancy degree and guarantee you a permanent position after you complete your degree. Despite the long hours and very hard work you’ll have to put in as you’ll be working and studying at the same time, the limited places are hotly contested.
  • Distance learning - this involves taking a course where you learn remotely, and don't have any regular face-to-face contact with teachers in a classroom or a lecture theatre.

It's worth spending as much time as you can researching all the various opportunities available before applying for jobs and/or a course. This way, you will be more sure of your decision and unlikely to pull out further down the line.

5. Plan a gap year

Alternatively if you feel you need a break from studying, a gap year abroad could be the answer.

To you, a gap year maybe all about travelling around the world for 12 months on your own or with a friend, soaking up different cultures and customs. This is an awesome experience, but other gap year options include:

You can also combine this with A-level retakes if your results weren’t what you imagined and you didn’t go through Clearing. Find out more with our Gap Year Guide.

Finding a job and earning money is always a route that’s open and if you can find an employer that also offers you training while you work, that’s even better.

Many sectors are willing to consider you for jobs without a degree and some e.g. civil service, accountancy and engineering do focus on A-level (or equivalent) leavers.

Further good news is that the police, army, navy, air-force and the emergency services as well as the care and hospitality sectors, need a minimum age of 18 for many of their job openings. Our Finding A Job After School section has more creative ideas for you.

6. Start a business

Have you developed an entrepreneurial spirit? Starting your own business can be an immensely rewarding experience.

If you have a great idea, want to develop it into a product/service that you can sell, and are motivated by challenge and learning skills and knowledge, this could be your answer.

Being your own boss can be wonderful in its own right but you will really need to put the hours in to get your business up and running.

Princes Trust and your local LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) are two organisations offering grants, mentoring and support to young people wanting to start their own business.

We also have our own handy hints and tips to get you started in our Enterprise section, where you can learn more about the courses offered at the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy.

Whatever you decide is your next step, take time to consider your options and talk it over with family and friends.

Ultimately it’s your decision, so choose the one you know you’ll be happiest at and will also help you advance your career plans.  

Further information

For more tips and advice about your post 18 options, please see;