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Article: Options at 18


'Options at 18' looks at the choices you have to make in Years 12 and 13. It covers the advantages and disadvantages of going into higher education, or of starting work (including through an Apprenticeship, and self-employment).


At the age of 18, you have two main options. You can go into higher education, or into employment, including becoming your own boss.

If you decide to go for higher education, you have a third possibility - to take a year's break (or 'gap year') between leaving school and starting to study.

Higher education

The benefits of higher education

Higher education includes degrees, foundation degrees, Diplomas of Higher Education (DipHEs) and Higher National Diplomas (HNDs).

Some people benefit hugely from higher education. Most importantly, you can only enter some careers if you have a degree, such as doctor, dentist, Chartered Engineer and librarian.

Higher education can be a very positive experience. Universities and colleges have all the resources to help you develop an excellent understanding of your chosen subject.

Also, higher education can help you to develop personally and socially. For example, you can leave home to go to university. You might jump at the chance to increase your freedom, to become more independent and self-sufficient, to see a different part of the country and make new friends.

Universities often have excellent social and sporting facilities, so this could be your chance to get really involved in a new hobby.

Depending on your course, you may get the opportunity to travel or study abroad for some time. With careful thought and planning, you can get the most out of the periods between terms (vacations) too.

You can do something that will broaden your horizons, and give you the skills and experience that employers look for.

However, higher education is by no means the best option for everyone. It could be better to develop specific skills that are particularly useful in the career you want to enter.

It might make sense for you to find the right job and then study for work-related or professional qualifications while you are in work.

Diploma of Higher Education courses

Many courses are equivalent to the first two years of a degree, and some guarantee that successful students can go on to join the third year of a degree course. A DipHE can be one of the requirements for entering a career.

Foundation degrees

Foundation degrees are employment-related higher education courses. They are available at some universities and higher education colleges. You can also study a university foundation degree at some further education colleges.

Full-time and part-time foundation degrees are available, and there can also be flexible study methods, such as distance learning.

Completing a foundation degree can enable you to enter a related degree course.

Higher National Diplomas (HNDs)

HNDs are vocational qualifications. They are usually full-time courses, taking two years to complete. Having completed an HND, you might be able to join the second year of a degree course, or the third year in some cases.


If you opt for a degree, you'll be able to choose from the following:

  • Studying subjects singly or in combination. Some universities offer modular degrees that allow you the freedom and flexibility to design a large part of your course.
  • Studying a subject for its own sake or because it has work-related relevance. For example, most arts degrees don't train you directly for a specific job.
  • Applying for a sandwich degree. This is a degree combined with a year's work experience. An employer, for example, in an engineering or science-related industry, might sponsor you.
  • Studying abroad for part of the time. Remember, this doesn't just apply to language degrees; a number of science and arts degrees provide this opportunity.

Examine your motives

Before you decide to apply for a course, it's a good idea to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Will higher education help me in my career?
  • Do I really want to study this subject in depth?
  • Is it completely my own choice, or am I being influenced by my teachers or parents?
  • Am I prepared to be very careful with money? How will I feel if people I know get jobs straight after they leave school and start earning good money?
  • How do I feel about leaving home and the friends who went to school with me?

Do your homework

If you decide that higher education is for you, then you must research all the possibilities. This means:

  • Looking at university websites to check that the courses offered will meet your needs.
  • Visiting as many campuses as you can and talking to students there.

Job availability for graduates

The number of job opportunities for graduates depends on the health of the economy. When the economy is doing well, opportunities generally increase, and the reverse is true when the economy is not doing so well.

Generally, graduates are less likely to be unemployed over their lifetime than non-graduates.

A graduate's chance of getting a job depends on factors such as their degree subject, their personal qualities and skills, and the demand for graduates from different sectors of the economy.

Generally, employers will look beyond the degree, focusing on 'soft skills' and personal qualities, such as communication skills, willingness to learn, self-motivation and dependability.

You'll need to demonstrate to employers that your education, work and life experiences have helped you to develop and use these skills.

Degree Apprenticeships

Degree Apprenticeships are an exciting new partnership between employers and universities. They are intended to give young people the opportunity to gain a degree alongside real life work experience

As a Degree Apprentice, you will split your time between university study and the workplace. You will be employed throughout, your tuition fees will be paid for you, and you will gain a degree or an HND/HNC from a university while earning a wage and getting on-the-job experience.

The duration of your Degree Apprenticeship will vary according to the course and industry. They will usually take between 4 - 6 years to complete.

The following Degree Apprenticeships are currently available:

  • Chartered Surveying
  • Electronic Systems Engineering
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Aerospace Software Development
  • Defence Systems Engineering
  • Laboratory Science
  • Nuclear
  • Power Systems
  • Public Relations
  • Digital
  • Automotive Engineering
  • Banking Relationship Manager
  • Construction


Some people prefer to start work rather than go into higher education.

However, you should be careful not to let attractive wages tempt you into a job that won't give you long-term career development. You should think about whether or not an employer will give you training and encourage you to develop your skills and knowledge.


Another way to 'earn as you learn' is through an Apprenticeship, which cover a wide range of occupational areas. Just some are:

  • agriculture
  • marketing
  • engineering
  • travel services
  • finance

After completing A levels, you can join a Higher Apprenticeship scheme, or one of the new Degree Apprenticeship which combines Higher Education and Employment (See the Degree Apprenticeship section for more details)

For information about Apprenticeships in England and Wales, please see the Apprenticeships website, and Careers Wales websites in Further Information.


Self-employment is another possibility. However, you shouldn't decide on this option without a lot of thought and planning - it's likely to mean lots of hard work and long hours.

You'll need a good business idea, as well as the skills and knowledge to run your own business. You'll probably also need a source of finance to help you set up in business, for example, to buy or rent premises and pay for advertising.

You can get help from an organisation called Shell LiveWIRE. This gives advice and support to people aged between 16 and 30, helping them to start and expand their own businesses.

Further Information

Shell LiveWIRE



Apprenticeships: Get In. Go Far

National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)

Tel: 0800 015 0400



What Next After School? All you need to know about work, travel and study

Author: Elizabeth Holmes Publisher: Kogan Page

Careers Wales (Provides careers information, advice and guidance)


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