We know the transition from school to post-16 education (college, sixth form, an apprenticeship, or another form of training) can be a bit daunting and that you might have lots of questions. That’s why we’ve answered a selection of frequently asked questions to help put your mind at ease.
heading into exams – what do i need to know?
At some point in our lives, we are likely to undertake exams either at school, college, or university. For some people it’s no big deal, but for most, exams can be stressful because of the pressure to do well or get good grades.
It’s normal to feel nervous, anxious or worried because it’s an important time in your life that concludes your secondary school journey. It may feel isolating, and it can cause physical and emotional strain – but it’s important to remember you’re not alone.
It’s good to get things off your chest. Talk to a trusted person or someone at school about how you’re feeling – it’s a good way to help ease some tension. You could say:
“I need to talk – I’ve been struggling with studying and feel a bit overwhelmed.”
Teachers know you well and can advise on what support is available; they can offer different approaches to study and strategies that suit you.
Visit our SUN Study Skills programme – our free programme is designed to help you develop your study skills and learn independently so that you’re able to achieve your potential in your chosen pathway.
Give yourself enough time to study – don’t leave it until the last minute. Create your own study timetable: plot the dates of your exams and organise your study time accordingly. You may want to give some exams more study time than others, so find a balance that works for you.
Organise your study space – if you can, make sure you have enough space to spread out your textbooks and notes. Check the following: Have you got enough light? Is your chair comfortable? Is your PS5/Xbox console switched off? Try and get rid of all distractions, and make sure you feel as comfortable as possible – this will help you to stay focused.
Practise old exam papers – an effective way to prepare is to practise taking past exam papers. This will help you get used to the format of the questions and, if you time yourself, can also be good practice for making sure you spend the right amount of time on each section.
Find a study group or start your own – get together with friends for a study session. You may have questions that they have the answers to and vice versa. As long as you make sure you stay focused on the topic for an agreed amount of time, this can be an effective way to challenge yourself.
Take regular breaks – it’s really important to take regular breaks so that your brain can rest between study periods. You’ll come back feeling more energised and better able to concentrate so try to build these breaks into your study timetable.
Stress effects everyone differently. People might experience things like trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, being unsociable and even feeling physically sick. Here are some top tips if you’re experiencing any of these things:
We are not machines – we all need a break sometimes. When revising, it’s important to take short five or ten-minute rest breaks every hour. Also, celebrate small achievements and reward yourself. You could have a snack, exercise, or get some fresh air.
Minimise stress – plan your revision at a manageable pace, giving yourself enough time to eat, keep hydrated and sleep properly. Light exercise every day will also help to reduce stress.
Stay connected – your friends will also be revising, so check in on one another – they’re more likely to understand what you’re going through and might appreciate the chat.
Looking after your mental health and well-being, alongside your physical health, is always important. Click here for links to organisations, articles and videos that might help. As well as finding information about services in your local area that may be able to support.
GCSE RESULTS – WHAT TO EXPECT
This year, GCSE results will be released on Thursday 24 August 2023. You can normally collect your results in the morning, but do check what time they will be available with your school.
It will probably be the first time you’ve ever picked up formal exam results, and you might feel nervous as the grades you get can determine your next step after school. But it’s important to stay as relaxed as possible ahead of results day, so focus on enjoying yourself over the summer.
For many of you, GCSE results day will confirm the next stage of your education. This could be a place at college/sixth form to study A Levels, T Levels or vocational courses, or confirmation that you can start a work-based apprenticeship.
If you’re going to be starting college or sixth form in September, you’ll need to take your GCSE grades (or results slip) when you attend your enrolment day(s) or course confirmation session(s). Likewise, if your next educational steps involve working with a training provider, they will want to see your results before you start your apprenticeship or course. And if you’re looking to get a job alongside your studies, your employer may also like to see evidence of your grades (if required).
Your GCSE certificates or results slip is something you’ll need to show at different points in your educational and employment journey, so keep them safe and somewhere that’s easily accessible.
Remember! No matter what exam you’re taking, your results won’t define you. While an exam might not go to plan, there are always ways to move forward with whatever path you’re on.
Don’t panic! In the first instance, have a chat with someone at your school, college, or training provider – they’ll be able to discuss what options you have. As will a careers adviser. Colleges will often have alternative course pathways ranging from entry-level up to GCSE equivalent (level 2).
You’ll have to retake GCSE English and maths if you’re under 18 and didn’t get at least a grade 4. Depending on your GCSE grade and circumstances, you may be eligible to take functional skills literacy and numeracy qualifications instead. Often you can do this alongside a full-time course or an apprenticeship.
Get free Exam Results Help run by the National Careers Service.
If you don’t have a GCSE Grade 4/C in English and maths, colleges can ask you to take a functional skills assessment, this will help them to determine what level you’re working at for literacy and/or numeracy. It will also help the college ensure you’re on an appropriate course.
English and maths are essential subjects that are included in most training and education programmes. They are a required component of college study programmes and apprenticeships. Functional Skills can be studied alongside a full-time course, or as a stepping stone to GCSEs.
You can leave school on the last Friday in June if you’ll be 16 by the end of the summer holidays.
You must then do one of the following until you’re 18:
- Stay in full-time education (e.g. at a college or sixth form)
- Start an apprenticeship
- Spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training (e.g. you could work as an Accounts Assistant for an accounting company and go to college one evening a week to study a Level 2 Foundation Certificate in Accounting (AAT)).
Don’t panic! There is still time, but it’s important that you start making plans for September now. In the first instance, ask your school careers adviser as they should be able to help you. Alternatively, you can contact the: National Careers Service, 0800 100 900.
Here are your options:
A Levels – you normally choose three subject-based qualifications at sixth form or college, study over two years, and gain qualifications recognised for entrance to higher education institutes both in the UK and worldwide.
T Levels – are technical qualifications studied over two years and are equivalent to three A Levels. They have been designed with employers to help prepare you for work in specific industries. A lot of the learning takes place in college like other academic courses, but you also spend at least 45 days on industry placements.
Vocational courses – are practical qualifications that relate to a specific job or career sector; they can range from one to two years long depending on the qualification level you enter. They combine a mix of theory and practical learning, and you’ll probably do some work experience too.
Apprenticeship – is essentially a full-time job where you get paid a salary and spend 80% of your time in the workplace while being trained. You spend the remaining 20% of your time doing classroom-based learning and working towards an industry-recognised qualification.
Here is a useful Year 11 career guide of your options after leaving school Your Future, Your Options. This resource also includes some information on CVs, application forms and interviews which you may find useful.
Other options include working for 20 hours a week or while volunteering, while in part-time education or training. Or, if you have special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), you could complete a supported internship.
The National Careers Service has more information on lots of different options.
choosing the right college
You can find out when college open days/events are happening by checking the college website or by contacting the college directly. These events often start in the autumn term (of Year 11 or equivalent), from October onwards. Some colleges have a second event in the spring term around February/March time.
Deciding what and where to study after you have finished your GCSEs can be difficult.
Websites and prospectuses are a great source of information, but nothing is quite as helpful as actually visiting. Head along to an open day to meet current students and teachers. Find out about the course, social life, the facilities and most of all, if you feel comfortable there. Don’t be afraid to ask questions at the event.
Start with subjects/courses
The first thing to do is think about what course, or subjects, you might want to study. If you have a career in mind, it’s worth researching what qualifications are needed to get into that industry. For example, if you know that you want to study a particular subject at university, check out the subjects they need you to have studied at college/in post-16 education on university course pages (these are called ‘entry requirements’).
If you’re not yet sure what career you’d like to work towards, that’s absolutely fine! In this case, elimination can be a really good place to start. Using a college prospectus, disregard, tear out or cross through courses you really don’t think you’ll enjoy. You’ll then be left with a much smaller number of courses to choose from!
Grade/rank the course/subjects that interest you
Don’t limit yourself at this stage, and remember you can study almost anything in further education, so don’t just think about the subjects you study at the moment. Read through course information sheets online and rank out of 10 which ones you think you’ll most enjoy. 10 = I’m excited and like the sound of this, 1 = not a course for me.
Ways to study – what course would suit me?
There are lots of different types of courses, all taught in different ways. Do some research about what’s available and think about if they will fit your learning style.
E.g. Do I prefer classroom-based learning with a theoretical emphasis that is assessed by a mix of coursework and examinations? Or do I enjoy being more hands-on and learning by completing unit-based coursework and/or practical assessments?
Where to study
You’ll also need to think practically, considering how you will get to college, how long it takes to travel, what the facilities are like, and if the colleges you may be considering offer all the learning support you expect.
Yes! You most certainly can. It’s important for you to keep your options open and apply for any progression opportunities that you’re interested in. This could be multiple colleges or sixth form applications, multiple apprenticeship applications, or even applying for jobs alongside part-time training courses.
You can usually start applying for courses in October and November of Year 11 (or equivalent) and the application window often remains open until the end of the spring.
Important – please note:
Some colleges may have application deadlines which can close in mid-January.
Others offer places on a ‘first come, first served‘ basis, and once a course is filled, they may close enrolment, so it’s good to submit an early application – even if you later change your mind.
Other colleges accept applications throughout the spring term, and some will accept applications over the summer months, as well as welcoming new applications after GCSE results day.
Make sure you do your research and find out the college application deadline(s) for the college(s) you’re interested in. The best advice is to attend an early open day/evening, these normally happen in October. There’s no harm in attending open events in both Year 10 and 11.
There’s actually no limit to the number of colleges you can apply to! We encourage you to explore all realistic options and it’s important you find a course that suits your interests, strengths and future career plans.
However, you’ll need to investigate the travel options: How will you get there? How long will it take? How much will it cost?
Top tip – attend a college open evening/day, and ask questions such as: What are the entry requirements? How is the course taught? What will I learn? What are the career prospects?
College is free for those under 19, but some study programmes may have additional costs associated with them. In addition to any travel to college costs, find out if there are costs, such as exam fees, trips, equipment, materials, tools or a uniform. You can do this at an open day/evening or at your college interview.
It’s preferred that you apply for one course or study programme on your college application. However, some college application forms will allow you to list the subjects/courses you’re interested in. At your college interview, they might use this information to discuss your most suited course based on your career ideas.
If you’re choosing A Levels, these are subject-based qualifications and you’ll normally choose three to study over two years. You should list all three subject choices on your application form.
At college, you’ll have what’s called a ‘study programme’, which is designed to meet your individual learning needs and prepare you for higher learning, training, or employment.
Yes! You most certainly can. If you want to keep your options open, applying for college and apprenticeships at the same time is a good idea.
In fact, as landing an apprenticeship isn’t guaranteed, securing a college place means you have a great back-up just in case.
Remember! When applying for apprenticeships, you’ll be in direct competition with every other person interested in that role. The popularity of apprenticeships is growing, so getting one will be more challenging than it used to be – but that’s not to say you can’t beat the competition!
Colleges will send you a confirmation letter or email once your application is received. Usually, the admissions or recruitment team will contact you by telephone, post or email to schedule you for a course interview.
Colleges carry out these interviews in different ways: a simple telephone call, a remote Zoom/Teams call, an in-person meeting at the college, or some college staff may even come out to your school and interview you.
No need to worry! College interviews tend to be fairly relaxed. Compared to a series of formal questions like a job interview, it tends to be more of an informal chat with someone that teaches the course. The aim is to tell you more about college life and find out your suitability for a course of study. It’s important you’re happy with your choice and it fits with your career ideas. You can attend your interview with a parent, carer or by yourself.
Please note, if you are applying for:
- A performance-based course – it’s common that the college may ask you to perform an audition
- An art or creative-based course – it’s common that the college may ask to see an art/creative portfolio
- A sports performance-based course – it’s common that the college may ask you to partake in trials
Either at the end of the interview (or similar), or in the weeks after, you should receive a confirmation letter or email confirming your place, subject to meeting the GCSE entry criteria for the course. You will also be contacted again with a date for your college enrolment day or course confirmation.
If you’ve not been contacted by the college, or not heard anything, reach out and contact the admissions or recruitment team to make sure they have received your application.
Again, if you’re awaiting the outcome of a college interview, it’s a good idea to contact the admissions or recruitment team for an update on what’s happening.
Note: During busy times it could take longer to receive a response and please bear in mind some colleges may have reduced staffing over the summer period.
The good news is that there are lots of choices available for you, even if you might struggle to get grade 4s in your GCSEs. There are practical and vocational courses offered at colleges available at various levels.
For instance, there are Entry and Level 1 qualifications, which may not have any specific GCSE requirements, through to Level 2 qualifications that may require 4 GCSEs at grade 3 and above.
You’ll have to do maths and English alongside your course but the college will make sure you’re studying at the right level for you (with the aim of achieving a grade 4 or equivalent by the time you leave college).
college enrolment day – what to expect
Enrolment is where you officially sign up for your course at college or sixth form and is usually held at the end of August or early September, after you’ve received your GCSE results.
You’ll arrive at your given timeslot, be greeted by college staff and get the opportunity to discuss your course choice(s).
They will confirm that you’re still happy with your choice(s) and whether you’re on the right course for your future. They’ll also check your GCSE results to make sure you meet the expected grade criteria of the course.
So be sure to bring your GCSE grades and results slip with you!
On the day, paperwork is completed to get you set up on the college system and you’ll be given a learner agreement. You’ll probably also have a photo taken and will be given your student ID card.
If needed, they may talk to you about any fees you might be asked to pay, such as for uniform, equipment or any trips. They’ll also give you your course start date, along with any other information you need to know.
Often, student services teams will be available at enrolment to support you with any questions you may have about additional learning needs, welfare issues, financial support, counselling or career guidance.
You may need some sort of identification to enrol at college. This could be a National Insurance letter, or a passport (check what documents the college accepts before attending enrolment). You’ll also need to take along evidence of your GCSE grades (results slip).
It’s entirely up to you if you’d like to bring anyone to enrolment. Some students attend on their own. Others come with a group of friends if they’re all enrolling on the same day. And some bring their parents, carers or supporters.
Nothing! This isn’t unusual at all and college staff will discuss this with you in detail on your enrolment day. You don’t need to contact the college about possible course changes at this stage.
Don’t panic! If you didn’t get the results you were hoping for, or if you’ve changed your mind about the subject(s) you would like to study, the college will support you to find a course which suits you and your future plans.
If you don’t have a GCSE Grade 4/C in English and maths, colleges can ask you to take a literacy and numeracy (functional skills) assessment, which will help determine which study level or course is right for you.
It’s well worth watching our short four-minute video ‘Discover Your First Week at College’. It’s a great insight into what your first week at college may look or feel like.
I’ve started my post-16 course/ apprenticeship & have changed my mind
Don’t worry, this isn’t a bad thing, it’s fine and it happens. The first step is to speak to your college/sixth form/training provider careers team about how you’re feeling. They can help you consider your options. It’s best not to continue on a course you don’t enjoy if you know in your heart of hearts it’s not the right decision.
If you’re at college or sixth form and have this conversation early enough (within the first four weeks of the autumn term), you may be able to change courses (depending on space) and you may even be able to leave and join another college (if they accept late applications). Always check with the college first.
Try reflecting on why you feel it isn’t right for you. Common reasons can be: there isn’t a spark (no passion), felt pressured into it (doing it for someone else), you’re drawn to another course/career, or you’d prefer real-world experience (and to earn money).
An alternative option could be to seek a work-based apprenticeship and use your network and supporters to find a job. You could also consider short courses or part-time study options. If you can’t secure any work, then volunteering is a great option to meet new people and gain transferrable skills. You can always reapply for a college course the year after.
If you’re in college, sixth form, studying with a training provider, or in an apprenticeship, take the time to consider your options. Sometimes the course/qualification you’re on can be the entry criteria needed to progress onto a university course or job. So give yourself time to weigh up the pros and cons of staying in the course/qualification you’re in, over moving to something new.
Where can I get advice?
Remember that there are always people you can speak to before choosing the best course of action for your circumstances. You can always turn to:
- Careers service – a careers adviser will discuss how well suited your course is to your career ambitions, and whether taking an alternative course or qualification would be a more worthwhile venture
- Health & wellbeing – if it’s a personal matter that’s making it difficult to study, such as a disability or health issue, speak to the health and wellbeing team where you’re studying/training. They can help you with any issues you might be facing
- Friends and family – they know you on a personal level and will have your best interests at heart
Apprenticeships give young people aged 16+ the chance to work, earn and learn. Apprentices do a real job, earn a salary and gain qualifications all at the same time! Apprenticeships can take between one and four years to complete, depending on the level taken.
There are four levels: Intermediate (level 2, equivalent to GCSEs), Advanced (level 3 equivalent to A Levels), Higher (level 4/5, equivalent to a Higher National Certificate or Higher National Diploma) and Degree (level 6, equivalent to a university degree).
Click here to find out how to become an apprentice, what apprenticeships are available, and which employers offer them. There’s also information about starting an apprenticeship.
You can start an apprenticeship, or job with training, after the last Friday in June if you are 16 years old, or will have turned 16 by the end of the summer holidays.
To start an apprenticeship, you’ll need to be:
- 16 or over
- Living in England
- Not in full-time education
You can search and apply for an apprenticeship while you’re still at school, but you will not be available to start work until you finish school and have sat your last exam.
Apprenticeship start dates aren’t like college or sixth form (where course dates run from September to July). Deadlines vary from place to place, and you can apply for apprenticeships at any time of the year – it all depends on when an employer has a vacancy.
- Each vacancy will have the date the vacancy is posted, how many vacancies they have available and the possible start date (make sure the start date is once you have finished school)
You can search and apply for an apprenticeship in England here.
In addition to the gov.uk apprenticeship search website, you can look for vacancies on college websites, local apprenticeship training providers websites, and also directly on company websites (larger companies may advertise apprenticeships on their own websites).
Careerpilot – Find a provider near me is a good place to find local colleges and training providers that offer apprenticeships.
You can apply for an apprenticeship in various ways. You can apply to either a college, an apprenticeship training provider or directly with an employer. It all depends on who is offering the apprenticeship and where it is being advertised.
Most colleges that offer apprenticeship opportunities will have their vacancies advertised on their website. To apply, follow the ‘Apply Now’ links via the college website, this will often re-direct you to the main Gov.uk apprenticeship website where you will have to fill in an online application form.
An approved apprenticeship training provider will advertise their live vacancies on their own website. Again, you will have to complete their online application form to apply for these roles.
Some larger companies or organisations will advertise the apprenticeships they offer on their website. In this instance, you may be able to apply directly on their website. As the training is completed within the company, sometimes these vacancies may not be advertised on the Gov.uk apprenticeship website.
Top tip: When searching for apprenticeships, search everywhere in the careers areas you’re interested in: on the main Gov.uk website, local college websites, training provider websites, and company websites too.
Also, it’s really useful to have your CV up-to-date and ready to use as part of apprenticeship applications.
KEY POINTS TO INVESTIGATE
- What is the apprenticeship and job role – does it fit what you’re looking for?
- Find out about the employer – are they the type of company you want to work for?
- Find out about the training provider or college where you could be studying.
- What qualifications, subjects, and grades are they looking for?
- What essential and desirable skills and experience do they ask for? And what qualities are they are looking for in applicants?
what kind of support is available?
Colleges will provide financial support to help you reach your full potential. Most colleges aim to provide financial support or schemes to meet your needs.
Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for support to (check with your local college):
- Travel between home and the college
- Access free student meals
- Access specified equipment, books and clothing required by the course you are intending to study (e.g. financial contribution)
- Attend other essential activities, such as approved compulsory day trips and residential visits
- Pay UCAS administration fees when applying to university
- Part-fund travel expenses for up to three ‘University Open Day’ visits or to access a part-refund towards audition fees
- Access help with childcare costs whilst attending your course
IMPORTANT: Check with your local college to see what support they can offer and what the eligibility criteria is.
If you’re looking for a new job, are out of work or are affected by redundancy there are benefits and financial support you can get. Check for benefits and financial support here on the Gov.uk website.
Benefits – it’s important to make sure that you get all the help that you’re entitled to. The Citizen Advice Bureau provide information about the benefits you’re entitled to if you’re working or unemployed, sick or disabled, a parent or a young person.
The National Careers Service can help you with your career, learning and training choices. Find out more about the different ways they can support you.
Alternatively, the Prince’s Trust is also a great place to help if you’re unemployed. Whether you want to work on your confidence, gain essential skills for work or even want to start a business, they have courses available for you.
Supported internships are for young people aged 16 – 24 with learning difficulties who want to get a job and need extra support to do this. To be eligible you need a Statement of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), a Learning Difficulty Assessment, or an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
Further education colleges can offer supported internships. It’s a study programme put together to give you the exact training, support and work skills you need to help you get a job. Most of the learning is done in the workplace. Your employer gives you work experience, trains you to do a job role and learn the skills needed for work.
Where to find out more – find out about supported internships from your local college, social worker, transition worker, or from Job Centre Plus.
If you have any questions about university, college, apprenticeships, employment or anything to do with your next educational or career steps, you can start a chat with one of our friendly team using our free Future Steps Chat Platform. The SUN team are on hand to help you find the answers you need.