Sixth Form, College Or Apprenticeship? What Options Do I Have?

Leaving school at 16 and jumping straight into work is now a thing of the past. In 2015, the government made it a legal requirement that everyone born on or after 1st September 1997 must stay in some form of education or training until they are at least 18 years old.

The positives and negatives

sixth form, college or apprenticeship

Research shows that young people who continue education after the age of 16 earn more money, are likely to be healthier and less likely to get into trouble.

Some school leavers may not be motivated enough to move onto work or further education at the age of 16. So, this requirement ensures students are continuing to learn and grow. It also gives students the chance to gain a higher qualification after their GCSEs at sixth form college, or, if opting for an apprenticeship, dip their toes in the working world.

However, some youths may not have any career aspirations just yet. So, having to pick A-Level subjects or an apprenticeship qualification may cause more confusion than clarity.

The good thing is there are a variety of options, subjects and career choices teens have to choose from and it can be an exciting time for 16-year-olds.

Options available after secondary school


sixth form, college or apprenticeship

Choosing to go to college after school has many benefits. Not only are there many colleges to choose from, they all offer a range of traditional AS and A-Level courses. Colleges now also offer a variety of vocational courses, suitable for the more practical learners.

Hundreds of students from different schools and communities attend college. It’s a good way to make new friends and learn what it is like to be independent. Timetables at college are very different from secondary schools and enjoy a more relaxed environment.

Sixth Form Colleges

Sixth forms differ from colleges. This is because they are attached to schools and have a greater focus on personal development and acquiring the skills that are required to get into university. There are a few options; your school’s sixth form, another schools sixth form or a private sixth form.

Sixth form colleges, in general, tend to have a smaller number of students. This means that classes are much more focused on individual students and their learning, as well as providing students with more opportunities for positions of responsibility.

They are known to have a closer community of students and teachers and a more structured routine. Going to your own school’s sixth form would mean familiarity with buildings, routines and teachers. This means students are more than likely to learn alongside the friends made in secondary school.

Private Sixth Form Colleges

Private sixth form colleges are very similar to standard sixth form colleges. The main focus is on personal development and being a stepping stone to university; as well as having smaller, more personal classes. Private sixth form colleges are known to have a greater range of subjects to choose from; including AS, A-Levels and vocational courses. The focus is individual, helping students to flourish and gain that academic and competitive advantage. A lot of private sixth form colleges provide special, extra-credit classes. These provide students with more opportunities to really take their education to the next level.

sixth form, college or apprenticeship

For example, Advantage programme, Internal Leadership Opportunities, International Sixth Form Programme and an Extended Project Qualification. This will help with getting into University and allow students to really let out their creative side. There are lots of advantages to attending a private sixth form college.

Private sixth form colleges can sometimes be put to the bottom of the list because of the expense. But don’t be put off by it, the experience can be life-changing for your education and career, and most offer scholarships, awards and other forms to help with fees.


Apprenticeships are a brilliant way to dip your toes into the real world, earn money all while gaining a qualification. More and more companies are hiring apprentices in industries such as engineering, law, construction, accounting, childcare and hospitality. Giving 16-year-olds greater opportunities to kick start their careers at an early age. Apprenticeships combine practical training with studying, usually taking one day out a week to attend college.

sixth form, college or apprenticeship

As an apprentice, you will earn the Apprenticeships Minimum Wage (or more, usually depending on the size of the company) as well as an NVQ. Depending on your age (you don’t have to be 16 to apply for an apprenticeship although the funding may differ if you are older) and your current qualifications, there are different levels of apprenticeships you can apply for. These include Intermediate, Advanced and Degree. For example, you can study for a Legal Service Degree with a Law Firm; then progress onto a Solicitors Apprenticeship to qualify as a Solicitor.


For school leavers, Traineeships are short-term, unpaid courses for students to earn more skills to help them progress into their desired career. Traineeships usually last between 6 weeks to 6 months and provide students with hands-on learning in a working environment. This helps them to acquire practical skills to prepare them for further education, an apprenticeship, or even work.

These tend to be in speciality areas such as engineering, construction, design or accountancy. There are many benefits to traineeships, such as learning valuable skills and gaining experience that can be pivotal for your CV and impressing employers. In some cases, students can be offered an apprenticeship at the end of their placement.

sixth form, college or apprenticeship

But how do you know what to choose?

  • Think about what career you want to work towards, or what subjects you enjoy.
  • Take a look at colleges, sixth form colleges, apprenticeships and traineeships that are local to you and see what they offer. Do any of their courses appeal to you? Will the courses help with your career?
  • If you’re unsure of what you want to do, take a look around and see if anything sparks your interest. Are there any courses you are passionate about? Work backwards if necessary, what subjects do you need to study if you want to be a teacher? There is so much choice out there, the sky is your limit!
  • Take a look at Scholarship programmes to see if you qualify.


  • They don’t have to be traditional academic courses. There are BTECs and apprenticeships too that offer practical, on the job learning.
  • Take a look at the entry criteria, you may have to have certain grades in order to apply.
  • You can apply to more than one college. Then you can keep your options open, and do not have to make a decision until after you have received your GCSE results.

It can be an overwhelming time, waiting for GCSE results and choosing what to study next. But with so many options, you’ll be sure to find where you’ll flourish. There are also many helpful sites out there that can provide study and careers advice:

National Careers Service


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