So you want to continue your education after school but A Levels just don’t appeal... what can you do instead?

There are loads of alternative paths you can follow, all of which lead to more qualifications, more skills and in some cases a University degree. Here are five of your best options:

1. National Vocational Qualification (or SVQ in Scotland)

NVQ’s are vocational, work-based awards. You’re trained and tested on your competency in the work place, rather than your academic skill.

NVQ's are a fantastic route for people who may have struggled at a secondary level. Just five GCSE's D-E are required in certain circumstances, meaning this type of qualification is open to helping you find your full potential in a working environment.

You must be employed to take on an NVQ. If you are currently unemployed there are other options such as progression awards which stand as an equivalent.

If you decide you do want to attend university after you’ve gained your NVQ, you’re in luck! While each university set their own admission requirements, many do accept NVQs as an alternative to A-levels.

For more information, please visit City and Guilds.

2. Apprenticeships

The good ol' apprenticeship has been giving millions of individuals their first step onto the career ladder for decades.

An apprenticeship is suitable for school-leavers wanting to start their career early, and higher and degree apprenticeships are available for older applicants aged 18-19 looking for an alternative to university.

This route will certainly give you invaluable work experience and first-hand knowledge in your chosen field, and you will find apprentice opportunities in lots of industries, including creative sectors such as broadcasting, media and production.

Find out more about apprenticeships over at our dedicated guide, and search for apprenticeship vacancies at the government's apprenticeship service


You don’t fancy college but you like a challenge and still want to go on to university when you're ready. What do you do? A BTEC!

The major difference between A-levels and BTECs is the latter is 100% coursework assessed.

That’s right, no exams!

While that may sound a little daunting, it is actually a really flexible (and arguably less stressful) way of achieving higher education grades.

Speaking from first-hand experience (ex-photography student over here), a BTEC is a much more creative way of flexing your academic muscles and increasing those key skills.

And with over 2000 BTEC courses available you’re truly spoilt for choice.

4. Advanced Diploma Qualification

The advanced Diploma qualification is most appropriate if you are certain you want to go to university.

Relatively new in terms of translating to UCAS points, an ADQ takes two years and entry requirements include proven English, Maths and IT skills.

Combining practical and theoretical learning this type of higher education includes courses such as Hair and Beauty Studies, Retail Business and Travel and Tourism.

5. International Baccalaureate

No, I can't pronounce it either. However, the International Baccalaureate is highly regarded and if you have one university admissions officers are likely to be very impressed.

Over 100 schools and colleges in the UK offer this type of higher education and it’s available in many countries around the world. Did someone say travelling AND learning at the same time? Count me in!

The Baccalaureate offers traditional courses including Science, Applied Languages and Geography.

Combining six units which result in 24 credits and a possible place at university, an IB is an excellent choice if you want to take a subject you love further.

Learn more at

6. Cambridge Pre-U Diploma

Like the International Baccalaureate, the Cambridge Pre-U Diploma is another more academically rigorous alternative to traditional A-levels. However, this post-16 qualification isn’t modular like A-levels and it doesn’t have compulsory parts.

It was launched in 2008 and is now offered in over 120 schools.

Students choose three principal subjects out of 27 and they can also take additional subjects and short courses. Students are also asked to complete an independent research project and a global perspectives portfolio.

The grading scale is Pass, Merit and Distinction, and candidates can go on to secure a place at university, join a school leaver programme, or apply for a higher apprenticeship or job.

This qualification is a great option for students who want to be academically challenged and study complex subjects in more detail.

If you are considering this course, please be aware that it is recognised by fewer universities (although most of the big universities in the UK accept it) than the IB and not as well established, and isn't a good choice for those who want to pursue a more vocational education.

7. Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers 

This is the main qualification required for entry into higher education if you live and study in Scotland.Highers and Advanced Highers are considered the equivalents of AS and A levels.

Currently theere are over 60 subjects available and you usually study four or five Highers subjects.

Each Higher is made up of units, and you need to pass all units and the course assessment to achieve the qualification. 

Find out more about Scottish Highers over at UCAS and SQA.

8. Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and Interdisciplinary Project

These are taken alongside A levels or Scottish Highers and involve doing an independent study of your choice.

The qualifications are worth the equivalent of an AS level and usually involve a written research report on an appropriate topic which doesn't have to be linked to your other courses.

Supervision from a teacher in school/college is required, and many universities will look favourably on this extra qualification as evidence of independent research and study.

If you are considering other qualifications as an alternative to, or alongside A levels, then it's best to seek advice from your school or college.

It's important to do some research to check that your qualifications will be suitable. If in doubt, get in touch with university admissions team before signing up for anything.

Further information

For more tips and advice on A level alternatives, please see:

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions about my post, please leave them below.