Thinking ahead and planning your education or career pathway beyond secondary education can, at times, appear daunting. In the sections below, parents, carers and scholars will find a wide range of information to help navigate their pathway from KS5 to Post 18.
Thinking of going to university? Do some initial research into degree subjects and careers that might interest you and what qualifications you need to get onto them. Again, you don’t have to make a definite decision yet. Depending on your thoughts about careers, you might have quite a limited range of degree subjects to consider, or you could be in a position to pick anything you fancy. This will ensure you are prepared and ready to talk to your post 16 about your furture ambitions.
Browse the degree subject guides, which tell you what different degree subjects involve, what it's like to study them at university and what careers they could lead to. There’s also advice on what the best degree choices are to get into different careers.
However, if you want to go to university but are also keen to start your career then Flying Start Degree Progammes could be an option, as they offer the best of both worlds. Find out more here.
How to choose your degree subject
If you’re not sure what you want to study, how can you choose your degree subject? Wondering what subject you should study at University? Once more, look at Unifrog – log in and then spend some time looking at the UK universities tools found in the ‘Searching for opportunities’ section on your homepage.
Here’s how to narrow down your options while increasing your chance of getting a decent job when you graduate.
Not all jobs require you to have studied a particular subject at university. There are plenty of careers you can do with any degree. However, it’s a good idea to spend a little time now checking if there are any jobs that really appeal to you that would require a specific degree. Take a look at our list of which careers do and don't require particular subjects to get a feel for what your options would be if you leave career decisions till later on.
What would you enjoy?
If you’ve ruled out careers that require a specific subject and are feeling a bit stuck, try to work out what interests you enough to study it for three years. You’ll have much more motivation to study hard if you find your subject intrinsically interesting.
Start by considering what subjects you enjoy, what you like doing outside of school and where your strengths lie. If you’re a keen member of your school’s debating club, or just enjoy picking apart your parents’ illogical arguments, you might like studying law. If you spend most of your money on trips to the cinema and theatre and read widely for pleasure, you might have the motivation for an English degree. Or if you’re currently experimenting to see if your Mum’s old lawn mower could be made to run on beer, you might be suited to studying engineering.
Check your subject choice
Everyone has an opinion on what are the ‘best’ subjects to study at university, but the reality is often a bit more complicated. Take a look at Unifrog and select possible university destinations against possible subjects and then navigate to jobs that are linked to the subjects and university combinations. This will inform you about subject choices and career progression possibilities.
Still stuck? Work backwards!
If you’re still not sure what subject to study, keep in mind what admissions tutors and graduate recruiters typically look for and work backwards.
As well as good grades, university admissions tutors like to see genuine enthusiasm for the subject. If you’ve been involved in activities outside the classroom that relate to the degree you are applying for, it will help you show evidence of this. If you’re deciding between, say, maths and politics and like to spend your free time avoiding your geometry homework while watching Prime Minister’s Questions, reading three different newspapers and campaigning with Young Labour/Conservative Future, you may have more luck getting onto politics courses.
Many graduate recruiters ask for a 2.1 degree (the second-highest grade). So, choose a subject that you think you can do well in and that will interest you enough to keep you working hard.
Some recruiters prefer more traditional, academic degrees. So, you may wish to consider choosing a more academic variation of a subject (eg English literature rather than film studies or media and communication) if you have no strong preference.
The Sutton Trust US Programme
The Sutton Trust US Programme is a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore what studying in the US is like. It will give you a taste of what it's like being an international student in the US and help you see if it could be the right fit for you. It's a fully-funded programme so we'll cover all costs, including travel, residential events, accommodation and food.
If you are not yet in Year 12, you are a bit ahead of the game for this year’s programme. However, please complete the interest form here to register your interest for their 2024 programme and to be reminded when applications open in late 2023.
Parents, carers and scholars can find more details about The Sutton Trust Programme here.
Taking a Gap Year
Are you thinking of taking a gap year before starting university or beginning work on a school leaver progamme? Plan ahead, so you get what you want out of your time out.
There are plenty of potential benefits to having a gap year after you finish your A levels, IB, or equivalent. But to get the most out of it you need to have some idea of what you want to achieve.
It will help you later on to be able to tell employers why you took a gap year and what you did with it. Recruiters typically don’t mind either way whether you take a gap year or not, but if you do one, they may well ask about it and won’t be impressed if you ended up spending most of your time at home watching TV.
Your main options will be working, volunteering and travelling. You might find ways to combine these together or do a bit of everything at different points in time.
What do you want to achieve from your gap year?
Reasons for taking a gap year include the following. Which is most important to you?
- Having a break from studying
- Getting work experience (either in a particular area or just in general)
- Getting life experience
- Having time to do something you particularly want to do, such as going travelling
- Deciding what to do in life
- Earning some money
- Having a second attempt at getting into the university/degree programme/school leaver programme you really want
- Being able to apply to university with the advantage of already knowing what grades you’ve got.
Prioritising your gap year aims will help you plan your time
Knowing which aim is most important to you will help you plan your time.
For example, if it’s having a second attempt at getting onto your preferred degree or school leaver programme, then you’ll need to make sure you’re available for interviews at the relevant time of year. You might therefore choose to delay that trip to New Zealand until you have an offer of a place. You might also plan to get some relevant work experience early in your gap year that will look good on your application.
If your main aim is to clarify your direction in life, you’ll probably want to plan in a series of different activities across the year to allow you to try different things, rather than waiting for inspiration to strike while you work on the till at Tesco.
Taking action before your gap year
Think about what you can do before your gap year that will help you achieve your aims.
For example, if you want to spend a year travelling overseas before going to university, some courses will allow you to apply in your final year at school and then defer entry if you are offered a place. That would save you the hassle and expense of trying to get back to the UK for interviews or worrying about where you can find wi-fi to log onto UCAS Track while you’re halfway up the Amazon.
If you want to work during your gap year, it might be easier to find a job if you have completed relevant voluntary work or training. For example, if you fancy spending a year as a healthcare assistant it may help if you can squeeze in some volunteering in a hospital or mental health setting before you leave school.
Pin down your aims
If you have a clear aim such as ‘Get a job in retail and save at least £2,000 towards the cost of uni then you are well on your way. If your main goal is less clear-cut, try to pin it down.
- If your priority is ‘having a break from studying’, what would you prefer to do instead?
- Aiming at ‘getting life experience’? Think about what this means to you – for example, is it having a full-time job, experiencing a new culture or being the responsible adult in charge of a group of children?
- If you want to spend a year ‘deciding what to do in life’, consider what your career options are, and which potential gap year activities could help you choose between them. For example, if you’re deciding between a career as a doctor or an actor you might decide to get a job in a local nursing home, audition for parts in plays with local amateur groups and book yourself a place on a one-week taster course at a drama school.
Can you afford your plans, yet?
If you want to travel, take a course or do a paid volunteer placement abroad, you need to work out how you will pay for it. You also need to factor in living costs if you are thinking of staying at home. In particular, are your parents willing for you to continue living with them without contributing to costs, or will they expect you to start paying your way? Having an honest chat with them now could prevent your plans being derailed further down the line.