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GCSEs and A-Levels or Access Course - need some advice!

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    I posted about this last year, so I apologise if I do repeat myself somewhat. I have been out of ‘formal’ education for the past three years and am currently attempting to get back into education. I have been unwell for years with various symptoms, but fell seriously ill in summer 2009 shortly before I was due to take my GCSEs (I completed only one exam.) For the following two years I was ill and in and out of hospital on and off. As a result, I couldn’t enter back into school or college. I have only just reached the stage where I feel well enough to study again, but I find myself at a bit of a crossroads.

    Because I am now nineteen it feels like my options are suddenly incredibly limited. I have been to see Connexions and have discussed options with advisors. I originally planned on re-entering education last September, but there wasn’t enough time to make a decision, as I only started investigations in July. Prior to falling ill I was doing very well in my studies and had high aspirations. I would like to study English Literature at degree level. Despite my circumstances, I still have high aspirations in terms of the kinds of grades I would like to gain and the universities I would like to apply to. Having spoken to the Connexions advisors, it seems like these are my options:

    Take two GCSEs at the local college this year (Maths and English Language) and take a Humanities access course the following year.
    Take five GCSEs this year at my local college and take A-Levels the following year (i.e. the traditional route. The only problem with this is that my local college only offer Maths and English and obviously it would also put me back another year.)
    Apply for some kind of funding and do A-Levels via distance-learning, without doing the GCSEs.

    It feels like there is no direct pathway, so it is very frustrating. In an ideal world, I would have liked to have gone straight onto A-Levels. I have completed some A-Level grade work and done well in it, so I don’t feel that it would be unmanageable to me. After all, I did study to GCSE level, including the coursework, so in a way it feels like spending a year re-doing some GCSEs is a step-backwards. I understand it may be a necessary step.

    Option two does appeal to me - my only worry is would it be possible to do five GCSEs in one school year? I am a lot more healthy than I was a few years ago, but I still experience fatigue and ailments related to my illness, so obviously I wouldn’t want to take too much on and risk relapsing. It would also put me back another year, which is a slight disadvantage.

    Option three is also appealing, as I would be able to begin A-Levels this year. However, my previous experiences with distance-learning were not particularly good and with A-Levels I think I would need a better support network and teachers who I could speak to regularly about the work. You do get tutors via distance-learning, but they only mark work occasionally (‘assignments’) and generally speaking they just cannot help you as much as school or college teachers.

    I really don’t know what to do. I need to make a decision in the next few months, as I will have to sign on for the courses in June. I have contacted the universities that I’m interested in and all of them accept Access Course students, but there’s a niggling part of me that thinks I would have a much better chance if I were to go the traditional route (i.e. GCSEs and A-Levels.) However, I’m not sure that this is feasible - I did speak to my Connexions advisor about this and she said that if she were in my position, the Access Course would probably be the best way to go. She also added that sometimes Access Course students have something different to offer to A-Level students and so that could be an advantage.

    That is true to some extent - despite having no formal qualifications, I do have fairly extensive work-experience in journalism. I’ve also won writing competitions and have continued to ‘educate’ myself over the past few years by reading and learning as much as I can, whenever I feel well enough. Hopefully this would be enough to prove to universities that I am just as motivated and capable as ‘traditional’ students. I did ask my Connexions advisor whether she’s ever met anyone in my position and she said, ‘no.’ That disheartened me a little, but I suppose it also proves that my circumstances are quite unique.

    If anyone has any advice that might be able to help me, it would be hugely appreciated!
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    Sorry to bump this up, but I'm no nearer to making a decision and could really use some advice!
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    (Original post by The Nightingale)
    If anyone has any advice that might be able to help me, it would be hugely appreciated!
    If I was you, I would go and do the GCSEs for a year, then A-levels, don't worry about that extra year, think about how long you will be working after your degree, if anything you may look back and say, wish I had an extra year of school...

    You have a vaild excuse for it, so it isn't like you are being 'held' back.

    As for the distance learning, it can be rather expensive, most sites I have seen are about 900+ for 3 A-levels, then you need exams fees and exam centre fees on top of that. Plus, I would recommend a personal tutor for D.learning such as an old high school teacher, that again adds more to the fees.

    GCSEs I don't think would be a problem in one year considering you have covered the material. However I do think they are needed. They may be easy, but they are the foundations to which you build A-levels or any other level 3 qualification on.

    What GCSE's may I ask, and is 5 the maximum you can do?
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    Since you have an idea of what unis you want to apply to, have you looked at their websites? They may have details of what they prefer, and whether they'd accept you with a smaller number of GCSEs and whether they accept access courses. You could even email a few unis and see if they can offer any advice.
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    I'm wouldn't worry too much about an access course not giving you a good chance of getting into Uni. I'm about to finish my access next month and had offers from all 5 universities I applied to for Law next year, 3 of them being Russell Group intitutions. Do well in your GCSEs this year, work hard on an access course and that combined with your work experience will give you as good a chance as most for starting at a good Uni in only 2 years from now. Best of luck whatever you decide.
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    Thanks for the replies!

    (Original post by bestofyou)
    If I was you, I would go and do the GCSEs for a year, then A-levels, don't worry about that extra year, think about how long you will be working after your degree, if anything you may look back and say, wish I had an extra year of school...

    You have a vaild excuse for it, so it isn't like you are being 'held' back.

    As for the distance learning, it can be rather expensive, most sites I have seen are about 900+ for 3 A-levels, then you need exams fees and exam centre fees on top of that. Plus, I would recommend a personal tutor for D.learning such as an old high school teacher, that again adds more to the fees.

    GCSEs I don't think would be a problem in one year considering you have covered the material. However I do think they are needed. They may be easy, but they are the foundations to which you build A-levels or any other level 3 qualification on.

    What GCSE's may I ask, and is 5 the maximum you can do?
    The GCSEs I’d be doing (if I took five) would probably be English Language, English Literature, Maths, Biology and History. The problem is my local college only offers English Language and Maths. So if I were to do five, I would have to do three via distance-learning. I could do more than five if I wanted to (via distance-learning, of course,) but I think six, seven or eight would contain too much content to study in one year. To be honest, I have a similar worry about taking five. I’ve not been well recently and I don’t want to take too much on and crash again! Also, Maths isn’t my strongest subject (and never was) so I am a bit concerned about the amount of time I would need to dedicate to that in comparison to my other subjects. Though equally, I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity of taking A-Levels - and possibly getting to a better uni- if five GCSEs in a year is feasible.


    (Original post by Juno)
    Since you have an idea of what unis you want to apply to, have you looked at their websites? They may have details of what they prefer, and whether they'd accept you with a smaller number of GCSEs and whether they accept access courses. You could even email a few unis and see if they can offer any advice.

    I have already emailed and phoned almost all the universities I’m interested in. They all accept Access Courses and I think the majority of them will accept two GCSEs (along with the Access Course.) Although I do need to double-check on the second point. I was told by all but one that they don’t have a ’preference’ in terms of A-Levels/Access Courses… although I’m sure they have to say that! Ultimately it comes down to which of the two options would be best in terms of my future and which would the most suited to my situation at the moment. And that’s why the decision is so difficult!
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    (Original post by *whatkatiedidnext*)
    I'm wouldn't worry too much about an access course not giving you a good chance of getting into Uni. I'm about to finish my access next month and had offers from all 5 universities I applied to for Law next year, 3 of them being Russell Group intitutions. Do well in your GCSEs this year, work hard on an access course and that combined with your work experience will give you as good a chance as most for starting at a good Uni in only 2 years from now. Best of luck whatever you decide.
    Congratulations on doing so well! It's great to hear that doing an Access Course hasn't held you back at all in terms of opportunities. It gives me hope.
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    I am doing an access course this year and have had offers from a variety of universities including Manchester for biomedical science, I personally think the access course is a good option for people who have been out of education as it eases you in to studying again.
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    (Original post by The Nightingale)
    I have already emailed and phoned almost all the universities I’m interested in. They all accept Access Courses and I think the majority of them will accept two GCSEs (along with the Access Course.) Although I do need to double-check on the second point. I was told by all but one that they don’t have a ’preference’ in terms of A-Levels/Access Courses… although I’m sure they have to say that! Ultimately it comes down to which of the two options would be best in terms of my future and which would the most suited to my situation at the moment. And that’s why the decision is so difficult!
    Well, another thing you might need to think about is that Access courses are generally only valid for uni entry for 2 years after completion. How likely is it that your illness will flare up again and you won't be able to go to uni? You may find that in the future you've limited your options because of events outside your control.

    Or you could consider possible future jobs. Some grad schemes ask for a certain number of UCAS points which would need to come from A Levels as they won't accept an Access course. This might not be relevant for you, but again taking that route may limit you.

    I realise this may come across as though I have issues with Access courses. I don't. It's just they're a relatively new thing and you need to be aware of their limitations in the wider world.
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    I'm in a similar position. 20, left school when 12. Went to a local college to try and gain GCSEs, relapsed, missed classes, dropped subjects, missed exams and only came out of it all with English Language and Literature

    I have, again, relapsed so my advise might be a little off putting but here it goes.
    When I was 19 I applied for to certain "adult" colleges. Ruskin College in Oxford to apply for History. Their history of getting people accepted into universities is fantastic ( my brother who was also quite ill in his younger years did their one year course and was accepted into Warwick) and their teachers are amazing. They are also meant to be amazing for student support and they realise that their students may have to work at a different pace. Understand their backgrounds and their possible illnesses - you will however need a medical clearance for this college which is where I failed (after being in hospital after getting accepted but before sending off a doctor's letter). It's also a residential college.
    Another college is Birkbeck, University of London which is known as a part-time mature college mainly. I went here after being out of education for several years and it was a bad idea for me personally as it was too much. Both these colleges' qualifications are Certificates of Higher Education which are studied at university level with Birkbeck's course being taught with people who are actually on a BA in their first or second years. Again, Birkbeck's support is...Well, okay. It could be better and I did recommend to them that they improve it but there are study groups to attend, essay groups, and with the Certificate's seminars being held with just Certificate students. There are also a few more residential colleges around UK. Some offering access courses and some not.

    As for the 5 GCSEs in one year I believe that's the average people take in a year? Not too sure, though. Most people seem to be able to cope with them and not be under stress but obviously it depends on the person but if you believe they might be too much don't put yourself through it.
    With distance learning, a friend of mine, who was terrible intelligent and also home educated, did GCSEs with Oxford Home Learning and he was under so much stress from it that he had to drop them all. He said the help he received was good but could be better - which seems to be the most common comment.

    Oh, also, what type of funding could you get to jump straight onto a-levels? Or are you just looking into the possibility of funding?

    I'm sure you'll get where you want but don't rush these things. You're a very (as far as I can tell) intelligent and determined person and will get there.

    *edit* another distance learning place I found is Craven College. I think it's an actual college but has the extra option for distance learning, too. Now, I know nothing about this place however you would assume they were okay but do not trust me on this at all. I've only looked at their website http://www.craven-college.ac.uk/inde...ance-learning/ and not seriously looked into them

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Updated: April 29, 2012
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