Eight things you need to know about BTECs

Plenty of people still believe the cliches about BTECs - the old 'A-levels are better' argument is one that never seems to go away.

But is there any truth to it? Last year over 25% of the students who started university had a BTEC. That's compared with 18% back in 2010 and it's a ratio that's risen consistently since 2008. 

BTEC qualifications also represent a route into a first job. BTECs are recognised in more than 100 countries and, since the qualifications were developed with different industries, many of the skills you learn are tailored to the workplace.

So, is a BTEC right for you? To help you answer that question, we've taken a look at some of the common questions and preconceptions around BTEC. 

Do universities prefer other qualifications such as A-levels?

The short answer to this one is 'no'. Of course, the qualifications you'll need will depend on the course and the uni that's running it. But most unis will accept BTEC alongside other qualifications and that includes the Russell Group unis – even Oxford and Cambridge.

"At Herts University we are committed to offering places to students on their academic achievements and the grades they have achieved," says Penny Carey, associate dead, School of Law at the University of Hertfordshire. 

"We certainly don’t favour one qualification above another and will always consider a student’s application in its entirety; academic achievement, grades, work experience, skillset and extra curricular activity."

"The different areas of study you undertook for your BTEC qualification can be of value to the course to which you are applying and the best way to illustrate the skills you have developed is via your personal statement."

OK, so what kind of BTEC do I need to get into uni?

Some courses, vocational in particular, will prefer the skills that students with BTEC qualifications have developed. Others may require at least one or two A-levels to accompany an applicant's BTEC qualification. 

Entry requirements will be advertised on the course pages of universities’ websites. However, you can also email your chosen university’s admissions team to find out if your particular BTEC would be accepted.

As a rough guide, Level 1 and 2 BTECs are the equivalent of GCSEs, while Level 3 is the equivalent of A-level. Once you get to Levels 4 and above, you're looking at qualifications that are equivalent to degrees. Level 5 is equivalent to a foundation degree, while Level 7 is equivalent to a Master's.

BTECs are graded pass, merit and distinction. You can find out about BTECs and the UCAS tariff here.

I have heard BTECS are easy in comparison to A-Levels, does that mean I have a better chance of getting into a more prestigious university?

BTECS are typically more vocational than A-levels, which tend to be more academic. But that doesn’t mean they are the easy option - or that they will increase your chances of getting into a high-ranking university.

"It was once the case that BTECs were viewed as the low-level education option but that isn’t true at all now," says Carey. "They are respected qualifications and, just like A-levels, some will be harder than others."

"Just because you opt for BTEC doesn’t mean you will get an easier ride. Hard work and meeting the criteria of the university you apply to are the most important things."

Why do students choose BTEC qualification?

You might choose to do a BTEC because you want to gain practical knowledge and employability skills. 

It could help you into employment, because it equips you with the skills that are attractive to employers straight away. 

How easy is it to study a BTEC qualification alongside other qualifications?

There’s nothing to stop you studying for other qualifications alongside a BTEC. But BTECs on their own can be quite intensive and you might find you simply don’t have the capacity to devote to more than one qualification at a time. 

Remember many BTECs are the equivalent of three A-levels or a foundation degree at university so there is plenty of work involved in studying for them.

"If you want to get top marks it’s probably best to concentrate on one qualification and give it your best shot," says Carey. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin and then fail to get the grades you want in any of them."

Do students who do BTEC struggle with uni more than students with other qualifications?

The portfolio-based nature of BTEC courses is very similar to that of a degree and students are generally already adept at independent studying.

A 2013 study by London Economics found that almost 79% of BTEC students graduate with a a first or second class degree.

Naturally, some of the skills you learn on BTEC will be really useful on a degree course, namely time management and organisational skills. You will also have other work-based experience and practical skills that A-Level students may not have. 

Are there particular uni courses that suit BTEC qualification?

Because of their vocational nature, BTECs are well-suited to degrees where you have a strong practical element. You will already have done a lot of hands-on training as part of a BTEC and less classroom-based and exam study so a course where you get out and about more might be ideal.

However, BTEC students adapt well to the rigours of university and just because you studied hospitality and catering at BTEC doesn’t mean you are stuck with having to follow that subject at uni either. 

Like A-level students, you can do one subject at college then change to another as you embark on study at a higher level

I’m worried about getting a job after uni, do employers like BTEC?

BTECs were developed in partnership with industry and because of this there is emphasis on workplace skills. Your BTEC will have given you a great foundation and practical skills which employers are always on the lookout for. Couple that with a relevant degree and you’ll find your employability is pretty high.

According to Pearson, the global education company runs BTEC, 90% of graduates who went to uni after BTEC are employed full-time and 37% of businesses prefer recruits to hold a mix of academic and vocational qualifications. It’s fair to say BTEC could give you a significant headstart.

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