18-year-olds: What can you do after A-levels?

Student sitting and reading a book

After further education, what options are there?

When your A-levels, Scottish Highers or other compulsory education finish, the next step can be whatever you want it to be.

For some, that will mean going to university. But others enter the world of work straight away. It all depends on your career choice and life goals. Here's our guide to the paths you can take after college.

Academic routes
Occupational routes
Getting a job
Taking a gap year

Take our quiz and then scroll down to find out more about all your options. 

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Academic routes

If you want to continue on the traditional academic path by going into higher education, this is the next step for you.

Around 700,000 candidates apply via Ucas for full-time places at more than 380 universities and colleges each year. There's a huge variety of courses to choose from, both in terms of type and subject.

Types of undergraduate course:

  • Bachelor degree
  • Foundation year
  • Diploma in foundation studies (art and design)
  • Foundation degrees
  • HNC (higher national certificate), HND (higher national diploma), CertHE (certificate of higher education) and DipHEs (diploma of higher education)
  • Performing arts course at a UK conservatoire

Examples of bachelor degree subjects:

We have sub-forums for all of these subjects, and more in our university courses forum.

For advice on university applications, go to our Applying to university hub and the Applications, Clearing and Ucas forum.

Our sister site The Uni Guide has a guide to writing your Ucas application and, in case you miss the deadline or change your mind about your course, a complete guide to finding a university through Clearing.

To help you decide which university is right for you, look at our university profiles, our A-Z directory and university websites.

You can either choose to do a year abroad as part of your course, if your university offers this option, or you could apply to a university in a different country.

If you're studying your entire degree overseas, you won't get a UK student loan. But it is an excellent way of getting to know another part of the world.

Here's our list of the nine most amazing uni locations in the world, to give you some inspiration.

Young vet looking at cat

Occupational routes

Want to combine your training with work experience with an employer? You can be employed in the field you're studying by choosing one of these options.

An apprenticeship is a programme involving on-the-job training and study. After completing an apprenticeship, you will have valuable experience in your field plus a qualification or license to work in a regulated profession.

There are paid apprenticeships available in more than 70 occupations, so you can embark on the career of your choice, from veterinary nursing to accountancy. At 18, you can do a higher, advanced or degree apprenticeship.

Higher apprenticeships lead to a Level 4 qualification, which is the equivalent to other higher education routes.

Advanced apprenticeships come after intermediate apprenticeships, which follow GCSEs.

Degree apprenticeships combine full-time work and part-time university study, and you will end up with a degree while getting practical, on-the-job training.

Employers offering higher and degree apprenticeships generally both look for good A-levels, so check the job description to make sure you match the requirements.

To ask for advice and read what others have to say, visit our Apprenticeships and alternatives to university forum.

  • Traineeships

Traineeships are shorter than apprenticeships, lasting between six weeks and six months.

They are for 16- to 24-year-olds and can prepare you for work or an apprenticeship. If you don't yet have the skills or experience an employer is looking for, a traineeship can prepare and develop you.

You need to be qualified up to and including Level 3, equivalent to A-level. They don't pay, but you can be given expenses for food and travel.

The gov.uk website has a tool for finding and applying to traineeships.

  • School leaver programmes

These are designed to give you a direct route into a job at 18, and sometimes include getting a qualification. They last between one and five years.

If you are ready to start working, and have a clear idea of the career path you want to follow, a school leaver programme might be the ideal choice for you.

You will get a wage, learn on the job, pick up new skills and work with people older and more experienced.

Some employers will ensure that, at the end of your school leaver programme, you are in the same position as a graduate and able to compete for graduate schemes.

Well-known school leaver programme employers are PricewaterhouseCoopers and the RAF.

You can look for school leaver programmes on AllAboutSchoolLeavers.

Young people in office meeting

Getting a job

If you are ready to start working, and not interested in formal qualifications, you might want to find a job that doesn't require any more education or training.

Not all jobs have high entry requirements, and careers can be built from the ground up. For example, a job as a shop assistant could lead on to retail management.

Go to our Jobs hub or the Careers and Jobs forum for advice and information on getting a job after finishing your A-levels.

If you’re just looking for a job for over the summer before you go to university or start a programme, read our ultimate student summer job guide and six reasons why you should do a summer internship.

Young man backpacking

Taking a gap year

After years of formal education, you might be thinking it's time to take a year out.

Perhaps you don't get the results you wan but would rather resit next year than go through Clearing. Or you might be undecided on your next steps, so you want to take some time off to think about it.

Whatever your reasons, you can do whatever you want with your gap year, from getting a job to travelling or volunteering. Here are some more gap year ideas, together with useful websites where you can find structured opportunities.

People are talking about everything to do with gap years, including what universities think about them and specific volunteer programmes, in our Gap years forum.