The pressure is on when you finish A-Levels to know exactly what it is that you want to do. People are firing questions at you from all angles; “Are you going to university? What are you studying? Do you have a job lined up? An apprenticeship? ANYTHING??”.
Before you know it, you’ve hit ‘submit’ on your UCAS application just to shut them up. But what if uni’s not what you really want to do?
After noticing students were voicing similar concerns, we invited some experts on-site to share some pearls of wisdom, and here’s what they had to offer:
“I have no idea what to do, so uni it is!”
Sound familiar? If you don’t have a clue what you want to study after A-Levels or what you want to do for a career, the gentle persuasion from teachers and parents that ‘going to university is better than doing nothing’ can make you think education is the only way forward. Obviously, it’s better to earn a degree than to lounge around binging on Netflix, but you’ll get a lot more out of uni if you know why you’re there in the first place.
Start by working out where you want a degree to take you. What career interests you? Look at your hobbies and interests outside of your studies – perhaps you can take aspects of these into a career. Pop into the careers forum on The Student Room, where you can get advice on getting into various job roles; and maybe get inspiration for other potential careers that hadn’t yet crossed your mind!
The National Apprenticeships Service encourages students to ring the free number for the National Careers Service and chat with impartial professional advisors for careers advice, and visiting the National Careers Service website for further inspiration if you’re still stuck.
Seeking advice from your teachers or school’s careers service may also help you narrow down your choices, as they can offer an insight into areas you’re strongest in academically, which could inspire you to study further or even choose a direct route into work.
The key thing to do if you’re undecided on careers is to research! Saddling yourself with debt is one thing, but it’s also unlikely you’ll stick to a degree for three years if you’re applying through panic. Take your time and work out what really interests you before making your next decision.
“I won’t have a career if I don’t go to university”
A lot of young people worry that not going to university will mean their dream future career is unattainable. This can be true for certain careers – it’s unlikely you’re going to become a doctor or architect without studying – but there are certainly many routes to consider for a variety of career paths.
If you know exactly what it is that you want to do, it’s best to research all the routes you can take to get there, and what your next steps should be. An often overlooked path is an apprenticeship – an opportunity to ‘learn while you earn’ and get hands-on experience of your industry whilst in an entry-level position.
A representative from Leeds City College explains that there are some excellent Higher Level apprenticeships available that are actively looking to recruit applicants. They involve learning on the job but, depending on the apprenticeship, can also include part time degrees. They explain that you can now become a fully qualified solicitor, for example, via an apprenticeship, plus prestigious companies such as KPMG and British Gas offer apprenticeships, so there are plenty of options for students.
Many big-name companies offer apprenticeships, and they can help you get started with your career while earning a qualification (sometimes a degree) at the same time.
The TSR representative for Apprenticeships encourages students to browse the gov.uk website to find available placements – you can search by your postcode, level or job type to see if anything interests you, then apply on-line. They also recommend attending any ‘apprenticeships fairs’ or open days, and to look at the websites of companies you would like to work for. You could also consider services such as the NHS or the Civil Service, but they stress that the main time for recruiting apprentices is in the spring.
Remember, you’re not necessarily guaranteed a job once you graduate from university, and so if you’re applying for a subject for the sake of it, researching and applying for an apprenticeship could suit your needs better. It’s also unlikely that an employer will spend time training and qualifying you to not give you a job at the end of it!
“I’ve applied and now it’s too late for me to change my mind!”
If alternative routes hadn’t occurred to you before and you’ve already submitted your application, don’t panic. Many students feel that once they’ve submitted their choices they have to continue on to university out of obligation, but your future is still totally in your hands.
If you’re still interested in going to university but have changed your mind about the course or university, you can gracefully decline any offers that come your way and reapply through UCAS Extra. This route will allow to choose an additional uni, providing you’ve declined all offers and have nothing pending.
If you’re still completely undecided, the best idea is probably just to wait it out and weigh up your options. You can always try applying for any internships or apprenticeships that interest you while your application is pending, and then decide on your next move when you have all your options in front of you.
If you’re still unsure, taking a gap year is a sensible option. Getting a job (be it a part-time bar job or something that provides a route into your career) will help to distance you enough from academia that you can assess all your options and weigh up what it is that you really want.
It’ll also be a great opportunity to learn some valuable life skills whilst managing your own finances, allowing you to get into the hang of budgeting.
The key thing to remember is that it’s your decision – just make sure you’ve done all the research you can before you make it!
How's university going for you? Is university life different from expected? Join in the discussion below.
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