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 ucas.com, 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 astarfuture.co.uk 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 (apprenticeships.org.uk), 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 ( arthistoryabroad.com), learn a language in its native environment ( cesalanguages.com) , or spend a year in the UK studying drama ( yearoutdrama.com). Meanwhile, Year in Industry ( yini.org.uk) 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 ( yearoutgroup.org). 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.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Trainee Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Trainee Sales Executive is re...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer - Peterborough - £18,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Cambridgeshire - £23,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Front-End Develo...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower