Work, rest or play after A-levels? There's a world of opportunity awaiting you

There are more options than ever for post A-level students. Jessica Moore says it's time to plan thoughtfully

The day you collect your A-level results is one you’ll always remember. It’s a seminal moment that will lead to new opportunities and experiences. The first thing people will ask you is: what next? For some, it’s an easy answer. You’ve got your offer to go to university, you’ve arranged your gap year, you’ve got an exciting new job lined up - your plans have come together. For others, it isn’t quite so clear-cut.

If you don’t know what’s on the horizon, now is the time to take stock and make careful plans. Even if your exam results were as good as you’d hoped, there are a lot of options to consider.

Perhaps the most obvious of these is university. It’s competitive. It’s hard work. But, according to data from the Office for National Statistics, graduates have earned £12,000 a year more on average over the past decade than those without a degree. What’s more, the cost of a degree is currently a bargain, with annual fees of £3,375 for courses starting this summer compared with an average of £7,500 a year for university courses starting in 2012.

Clearing could be your route in. This service is run by Ucas until late September. In a nutshell, it matches course vacancies with suitable students. If you have already applied to go to university this year, you can automatically enter Clearing. If you haven’t, apply online now at, but don’t list any course options. You will then be able to get a unique Clearing number, check course vacancies, and ultimately accept an offer, all online. Think carefully about the types of courses that might suit you, and prepare to make some big decisions in a short space of time. When you see a suitable vacancy in the listings, contact the university to see if they’d like to offer you a place. All being well, you’ll find the perfect course – but consider practicalities too. You’ll need to arrange your accommodation and student finance, and you’ll need to commit to three or more years of study.

Another option is to go private. BPP offers business and law degrees at 14 UK study centres, while the University of Buckingham offers a range of undergraduate programmes. Fees are high. Buckingham charges £9,400 a year for most undergraduate courses starting in September 2011. In 2012, those fees will rise to £11,250 – but undergraduate programmes are crammed into two years of intensive study, so the overall cost will be less than many state institutions, which at that time will be able to charge up to £9,000 a year.

Adventurous types can consider studying abroad. You’ll need to put in some research and weigh up your |options carefully, but international |experience impresses employers, and there is much to be learnt from spending time at a foreign university. Making this option more attractive is that an increasing number of reputable institutions throughout Europe and beyond are offering courses taught entirely in English. These can be cheaper than studying in the UK, too. In parts of Europe, such as Denmark and Finland, university education is free to EU residents. In other areas, the costs are significantly lower than in the UK.

The Netherlands are a popular choice, with fees of £1,421 a year. At you can find the cost of tuition fees and average living expenses for a number of popular study destinations, as well as how to apply and what courses are available. Bursaries and scholarships may also be on offer. Contact institutions that interest you to see what they have. Check the dates too, as some offer the option of starting in January, which will give you more time to prepare.

Degrees aren’t the only option for those who want to continue studying. Vocational programmes combine classroom study with work experience. BTECs, HNCs and HNDs as well as OCR Nationals offer a mix of theory and practice. These courses can be a bridge to university, if you decide that’s the route you’d like to take, but they also equip you with skills you can take straight into a job. With an apprenticeship (, you can also earn while you learn.

A tried and tested post A-level option is the gap year. Organisations offer opportunities to volunteer in the UK and overseas, participating in teaching, conservation, construction and other projects. There are also many academic gap programmes. You can study art history in Italy (, learn a language in its native environment ( , or spend a year in the UK studying drama ( Meanwhile, Year in Industry ( offers UK work placements - primarily in engineering, science, IT, business and marketing. All of these experiences, not to mention the skills developed in planning and researching them and, if necessary, in raising money to pay for them, “will help you at university, and improve your employability”, says Richard Oliver, chief executive of the Year Out Group ( They also allow you some time to really think about your plans for the future.

Then there’s the oldest option in the book: work. It’s entirely possible for applicants with A-levels to learn on the job and progress to senior levels. Experience and commitment can be every bit as important to an employer as letters after your name. In some professions, such as accountancy, there may even be opportunities to become a trainee, earning a wage and being mentored through your development.

Whatever route you decide to take, make the decision carefully. Seek advice, weigh up the pros and cons, and think about your interests and skills. Make sure you remember the summer of 2011 for all the right reasons.

peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Developer - Norfolk - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Software Developer - Norf...

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine