16 year-olds: What can you do after GCSEs?

Teenager student thinking in library

Now your GCSEs or Nationals are out the way, what does the future hold?

Results day is a time to breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate with your friends, no matter how you've done. It's also a chance for you to reflect on your education so far and think about all the options for your next chapter.

This is a unique time in your life, when you've just finished school and there are a number of different paths you can take. We've put together this guide on your options for post-16 and further education to help you come to a decision you're happy with.

Academic routes
Vocational qualifications
Occupational routes
Getting a job
If you didn't get the GCSE grades you wanted
10 steps to making the right decision

Group of students talking

Academic routes

If you're thinking of going to uni, or if you're the kind of person that enjoys classroom learning, these options are well-suited to you.

You can choose from lots of A-level subjects, from psychology to business studies. Students usually study three subjects for two years, with exams at the end.

Here are 11 things A-level students wish they'd known before they started studying.

Need help choosing your subjects or want to ask fellow students for advice? Visit the A-levels forum.

  • Cambridge Pre-Us

In some schools, Cambridge Pre-Us have replaced A-levels. You choose three subjects from 27, including maths, classical heritage and literature in English. You get a pass, merit or distinction for each subject and your final diploma is an aggregate of the three.

An old thread, Cambridge Pre-U vs A-levels, gives some insight into how they compare to A-levels.

If you live in Scotland, you will take Scottish Highers instead of A-levels. They are the main route into higher education. You choose four or five from more than 60 subjects.

Ask a question about Scottish Highers in the SQA forum.

The IB is available all over the world. It's a two-year course, and you have to choose one subject from each of their five groups of subjects.

Go to our IB forum to talk to other students about the programme.

The EPQ involves writing a report and presenting on a topic of your choice, and is taken alongside A-levels.

If it's something you're thinking about doing, read a student's full guide to the EPQ.

  • Under-18 university admissions

If you are going to be attending university early, read this thread on university life for under 18s.

Runners on starting line

Vocational qualifications

For those who prefer hands-on learning, vocational courses combine classroom teaching and practical elements where you can apply your learning to real-life situations.

  • Applied generals

Applied generals are Level 3 (post-16) vocational courses offered by the major exam boards. They usually take around two years to finish, and will give you real work experience in the career of your choice.

The most popular ones are BTECs (awarded by Pearson Edexcel) and OCR Cambridge Technicals.

There are more than 2,000 BTEC courses across 16 sectors, including sport, engineering and media. See what students are talking about and ask your own questions in the BTEC forum.

Cambridge Technicals include subjects like information technology and health and social care, and AQA's Applied General certificates include applied business and applied science.

You can study applied generals at colleges, university technical colleges, studio schools and through employers who offer apprenticeship programmes.

Engineering apprentices

Occupational routes

If you prefer to learn on the job, the occupational routes are for you. You can choose to do an apprenticeship in any industry you want, or a T-level in technical fields.

Apprenticeships give you the chance to earn a wage and get work experience in a specific job while getting a qualification.

You can choose from around 1,500 job roles, covering more than 170 industries. They usually last a year and lead to qualifications like NVQs, HNCs, HNDs or technical certificates.

The most appropriate types of apprenticeships for you right now are intermediate apprenticeships, which are the same as five GCSE passes, or advanced apprenticeships, which are the same as two A-level passes.

You may need certain GCSE grades to get onto an apprenticeship.

Here is our guide to apprenticeships, full of information from the National Apprenticeships Service.

  • T-levels

The new T-levels will be introduced from September 2020. These will be equivalent to three A-levels, and are designed to give you the knowledge and experience you need for skilled employment, further study or a higher apprenticeship.

They will involve a mixture of classroom learning and an industry placement of at least 315 hours to give students 'on-the-job' experience.

AQA has been teaching its tech levels in business, engineering, entertainment technology and IT since 2016.

Young man working as barista

Getting a job

You need to be doing some sort of training until your 18th birthday, but that doesn't mean you have to stick to one of the routes above. Although you can't go straight into a full-time job after your GCSEs, there are alternatives to these options if none of them are for you.

You can also find a part-time or full-time job, volunteer somewhere or be self-employed, as long as you are also doing some kind of part-time learning or training that leads to accreditation.

We have a handy article on everything you need to know about finding a job at 16.

If you are looking for a job over the summer to see what the working world is like, look at our ultimate summer job guide.

For more careers advice and to ask questions, visit our careers and jobs forum.

Teenager sitting exam

If you didn't get the GCSE grades you wanted

Don't worry if you're disappointed on results day. There are plenty of options still available to you.

  • Retaking your GCSEs or National 5s

Most colleges want you to have grade 4s in GCSE maths and English, or a C in National 5 English. So if you want to continue with academic study and didn't do as well as you'd hoped, you might want to resit your core subject exams.

For GCSE resits, you have to retake all the units of the subject in the next exam season in order to be awarded a new grade. The first opportunity for you to do your Maths, English literature or English language resits is November.

Find more information on GCSE retakes in our article on what to do if you're disappointed with your results.

  • Getting a review of marking

If you think you did better in your exam than your mark suggests, and you were close to the upper grade boundary, it could be worth applying for a review of marking.

Think about whether it is really necessary, because it is pricy and your mark may not change at all, or may even go down.

Students and teacher

10 steps to making the right decision

1. Think about your future career and where you see yourself working

2. Research the paths you can take to get there

3. Network with people who work in your chosen field

4. Talk through your options with family, friends and teachers

5. Ask other students for advice on TSR

6. Choose your subjects or route based on what you enjoy

7. Consider how you learn best, whether that's in a classroom or doing practical exercises

8. Follow your own dreams; don't just do what your friends are doing if it isn't right for you

9. Relax and avoid rushing your decision

10. Remember you can always change your mind later if you need to