Taking the leap from GCSEs into the unknown

Taking the leap from GCSE to A-level is guaranteed to get you (at least a little bit) stressed; it’s a time full of uncertainty with so many questions to get answered. 

Here's a quick guide to some of the key questions and answers.

Should I go to college or stay at school?

As each college and school will offer different subjects and opportunities this is the first thing you need to get sorted. It may be daunting moving up to a big college or maybe you’re feeling ready for a new challenge. Here are a few of the advantages of making either choice:

The advantages of staying at school: teachers already know you; you probably have an established groups of friends and often smaller A-level classes.

The advantages of going to college: (often) bigger; with more subjects to choose from; more facilities and lots of students - so many potential new friends.

You should also think of the practical implication of making this decision, the college you really want to go to might be difficult to travel to or have a strict entry criteria. Going to open evenings and checking out their websites will help get a better understanding about these issues. 

What do I write for my 6th form application personal statement?

If you have chosen to move on from your current school you’ll probably need to write an application form. The more competitive colleges will use your personal statement to judge whether you’re a suitable candidate for them. You’ll need to show that you’ve done a bit of research about the college, have passion for the subjects you’re going to study and enthusiasm for learning.

The expectation of each institution will be slightly different, the key is to not drag it out, be concise and make an impact. Each college will have a guideline of what they expect from the application make sure you stick to their guidelines and get in everything they ask for. 

Advice on sixth form personal statements


Do I need to go to open evenings?

Yes. Colleges and Sixth forms hold open evenings (each one varies, so you’ll need to do some research). You may already have an idea of where you want to go; maybe all your mates will be going there, or an older sibling went and loved it. But you shouldn’t just take other people’s word for it as going there yourself will give you a better idea of whether it’s a good fit for you.

The best way to figure out if the college is right for you is to ask lots of questions. Ask teachers about the syllabus, how the subject is marked, and about the college week (how many free periods are you likely to have, how many hours per subject and anything else you're curious about).

Talk to current students about what the college offers in terms of extra-curricular activities and social clubs. You'll be spending two years there so you need to know if you're going to enjoy it and if the college can offer you the kind of subjects, and opportunities, you're looking for.


Should I do A-levels, BTECs or an apprenticeship?
Unfortunately there’s no easy answer to this. The difference between each qualification can be vast. A-levels are academic and usually exam-based. Going the BTEC route can offer you a vocational focus which isn’t available if you do A-level while an apprenticeship offers you real-life work experience while getting paid.

A good starting point is to ask yourself how you like to learn. Do you thrive off the pressure of having one assessment at the end of the year? Or prefer to be continuously assessed? 

Next you need to think about what you’ll be doing after college; what kind of career you might want to go into, which universities you might apply for. 

Going down any of these routes does not mean you'll be closing off another avenue, but you might find it easier to pursue a certain academic (or career) path with one set of qualifications over another. 

More on TSR: 
Chat in the BTEC forum 
Find out about apprenticeships here 
Get involved in the A-level forum