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How do I choose a further education course?

How do I choose a course to study?

Careers advisors: Career advisors are trained professionals who can help you make strong choices about your career. Further education and sixth form colleges have dedicated career advisers who offer individual comprehensive academic guidance that you can make a fully informed decision about the career that you want to pursue.

Career advisors can help you if you are:

  • Not sure about the subject and the course that you want to pursue.

  • At high risk of dropping out of your course.

  • Confused about your future career and opportunities.

When choosing a course, it is important that you think about subjects that you have always found interesting and also to think about what subjects you need to study for jobs you would like to do in the future. Take this UCAS buzz quiz to get an idea of which job areas might suit you


Additionally, you will need to understand the different levels of education available and how they match with your previous qualifications. 


Do not worry if you have no qualifications, FE colleges are a place for everyone to achieve their full potential even if you have not had the opportunity to study in the past.

The table below shows the different qualifications that you can achieve at college, click here for a full list on the website.

What subject should I study?

Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself when choosing a course. You can ask for help from other people - your teachers will be a great source of knowledge - but the final decision should come from you and be based on your dreams and plans for the future.


  1. What job do I want to do?

  2. What subjects do I need to study to do that job?

  3. Is the course available full-time or part-time? What suits me the best?

  4. How am I going to fund this course?

  5. Can I contact the college to find out more information or visit to have a look round?

  6. Does the course I am choosing put me on a path to where I want to go (university/ job)?

Here's more information

Click here to return to our main Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page for more information about further education

Contact us for advice and guidance

Click here to find out how REUK's Educational Progression team can help you reach university through advice, guidance, workshops and funding opportunities

Education Workshops

If you want to learn more about your education options in the UK, you can attend a workshop. The workshop explains how education works and your possible routes through the system. 

Access Course 

The Access to Higher Education Diploma course is a Level 3 qualification ie: it is equivalent to A-levels. 


It is designed to prepare people, aged 19 and over, who don’t yet hold the qualifications needed to enter university or other higher education institutions. 


The Access course is offered in several subjects, for example, Nursing and Medicine, Business, Social studies, Law, and Art and design and is equivalent to three A-levels. It is delivered by a lot of FE colleges in the UK and is recognised by many universities.

If you are over 19, finished high school in your home country and have a good level of written English then an Access course might be right for you.


The course is aimed at people who have been out of education for some time, or who have had interruptions in their education, or who have not had an opportunity to take A-Levels to apply to university. The course will help you gain relevant academic knowledge, develop techniques and prepare you to approach studies at university level.


Most FE colleges run full-time and part-time access courses and some will allow students to take English and Maths GCSE alongside the access course.  When you have completed the course you will be awarded an ‘Access to HE Diploma.’

How much does it cost to enrol on an Access to HE course at college?

Access to HE course tuition fees vary between colleges and change each year. 

Depending on your age and immigration status you may be entitled to funding. It is important that you contact the college that you want to study at to find out about the course fees and how they apply to you. You can also ask them for more information for example, how the course is delivered, study hours, and any additional such as books and equipment and any additional available support.


If you are aged 19 or over with certain forms of immigration status such as refugee status and humanitarian protection (see link for complete list), you can apply for a 19+ Advanced Learner Loan to help pay for your course. The loan is only repayable once you get into employment and earn over £26,575 per year. Furthermore, If you complete a Higher Education degree following your Level 3 course, you do not have to pay back your advanced learner loan.

If you are not eligible for an advanced learner loan, you can apply for scholarships to help fund your education. Here is a list of education grant providers that you can apply to. Not all the suggestions on this list will be suitable for everyone so make sure you look at the criteria for the different charities (i.e. some may only fund people of particular ages, particular religions, studying particular subjects, with particular immigration status etc).

Which colleges offer the Access to HE course?

Access courses are delivered by colleges across the UK. You can use this search tool to find colleges near you that offer the Access to HE Diploma course.

What are BTEC Diplomas?

BTECs (Business and Technology Education Council) are vocational qualifications that are designed to prepare you for work. They are available from Entry level to Level 7 (postgraduate).

BTEC courses involve a series of assignments and practical activities, for example, creative writing of a business plan, creating a film clip, or putting on a performance.

Yes, you can study a BTEC as a stand-alone, or at Level 2/3 alongside academic qualifications like GCSE or even a wider program like an apprenticeship. This will vary from college to college, so you are advised to seek guidance from college administrators.


Examples of BTEC qualifications include: applied science, health and social care, ICT, sports, childcare, art and design, business, engineering, construction, media etc.

Can I study a BTEC programme alongside traditional academic qualifications?

Main BTEC levels of study

BTECs are of three main levels of study:


1. BTEC Firsts are from Entry Level to Level 2, these will introduce you to the work in the vocational sector. Combined with other qualifications like traditional GCSE, they can help you progress to a further level or directly into employment.

2. BTEC Nationals are from Level 3 and above, these are considered equivalent to A-Levels and are accepted by Universities and Employers. BTEC Nationals can lead you to get a place at University, continuing study and direct employment. When applying to universities, it is important to check whether BTEC qualifications are accepted as a requirement to the course you are applying to.


3. BTEC Apprenticeships are available from Level 2 to Level 5

BTEC Diplomas

National Vocational Qualification (NVQs)

NVQs are vocational qualifications that are entirely based on practical work-related tasks. You need to be over the age of 16 and have the right to work to access NVQs. They are designed to test your abilities at a particular workplace. You will normally be trained for a set period and on completion, you will be assessed to prove that you can do certain work-related tasks.


NVQs are available in many subjects ranging from child care to plumbing. They are usually a good choice if you know and understand what job you would like to do. There is no age limit and special requirements to study at NVQ level, however, to start a higher level, you need to have completed the previous one, for example, complete a Level 2 NVQ before starting a Level 3.


NVQs are designed in five levels, you will normally be assessed that you can start a level that suits you and then work your way up. They can be taken at full-time or part-time employees at a school, college or work placement that are equipped to enable employees to develop the appropriate skills.

NVQs do not have a specific time of completion, this will usually depend on the training provider but most learners find it takes about a year to complete an NVQ Level 1, 2, or 3.

What are NVQs and how are they assesed? 

How long will it take me to complete an NVQ level?

What are A-Levels and who are they for?

A-Levels stands for Advanced Level are the principle leaving qualification for schools and sixth form colleges in the UK. They are professionally referred to as GCE Advanced Level. Unlike GCSEs, A-Levels are not compulsory, they normally consist of three or more subjects and studied over a period of two years. A-Levels can lead you directly to university, work or further study. A-Levels are very academic so unlike BTECs or NVQs there is little practical application and no work-based experience.

After A-Levels, most students continue to higher education (university). There are different routes that you can take after your A-Levels, some students take on an apprenticeship, others into employment and some go on a gap year to prepare competitive courses’ admission tests. We recommend that you sign up with the UCAS website to receive in-time updates to explore your options.

What can I do after A levels?

What are the grade requirements for A-Levels?

You will be required to have at least five GCSEs at grade 9 to 4 (previously A* - C) and at least a grade B in the specific subject(s) that you intend to study. Specific requirements needed to study A-Levels vary across colleges, so it is important that you check what you need with the college you are looking to study at.


What are ESOL Courses and who are they for? 

ESOL courses are for students whose first language is not English and want to improve their English language.


It is broken down into four parts: speaking and listening, reading, and writing and a student must pass each part to progress to the next level. The course not only improves English language knowledge but also introduces you to employment, the British culture and citizenship. 


If you have little or no English this is the course for you and you will be able to learn English whatever your starting level is. Some Level 1 and Level 2 courses like Accounting and Business skills can be studied alongside ESOL courses to help you develop your skills while using english as a second language.

ESOL courses are split into two groups:


1. 16-18 years old learners

In this age group, unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people (UASC) who have just arrived in the UK are particularly encouraged to enrol. The course is usually for a year where learners study for 16 hours a week. Classes are conducted on a day and evening basis with support from a personal tutor, workshops and trips throughout the year.

2. Adults (19 and above)

The ESOL course will help you to increase your independence, access higher levels of further education or improve your employability. Adult learners ESOL classes usually run for 1 year and can be taken on a part-time (2 days a week). The course can help you if you cannot read or write, learn how to use computers for learning and get a nationally recognised English or Literacy qualification and certificate.


How does ESOL work? 

ESOL (English for speakers of Other Languages)

Note: Not all courses are in scope to receive full funding. Some commercial and training courses offered by colleges are not funded by the government, in that case, you will be required to pay full course fees. This can be confusing as they often have similar names to fully funded courses.  Be aware of this and ask the college if you are unsure of what you will pay.

Use this tool if you would like to know which courses are funded by the government. This can be discussed further with your college admissions team on enrollment day.

What are apprenticeships and who are they for?

An apprenticeship is like having a job but with time given for you to study in work time. You will spend approximately 80% of your time working and 20% of your time at college. You need to be over the age of 16 and have the right to work to access apprenticeships. 


Apprenticeships will help you to be prepared for employment as you earn work experience and develop skills at the same time.  Apprentices usually earn a salary (although this will be lower than full-time employees) and course fees are usually covered by the employer and/ or the government. Depending on your qualification apprenticeships can be a great way to get into a range of industries and job sectors without building up a large amount of student debt.  They suit people who prefer to learn things in a “hands-on” way rather than entirely at college.

In a similar way to other educational qualifications, you can progress by working your way up through different levels of apprenticeships up to achieving a masters’ degree in your area of interest.

Apprenticeship vacancies always specify entry requirements and what the employer is looking for. Normally, employers will ask for at least a Level 2 qualification and some require A-Levels or other equivalent Level 3 qualifications. It is important that you check the job description and personal specification for any essential and desirable skills that may be required.


Intermediate (Level 2) - Applicants need to be aged 16 and above and evidence that they can complete.


Advanced (Level 3) - Some industries may require three or more GCSEs and previous experience in the industry.

What are the entry requirements?


I want to go to a secondary school, what will I study?

In the UK secondary school (sometimes called high school) is compulsory for all children between the ages of 11 and 16. Afterwards some students choose to stay on at school and study for a further two years until they are 18/19. Others will move to a sixth form college and others will go straight into work or apprenticeships.


Students at secondary school study a wide range of subjects including maths, sciences, english, art, music and other languages etc. In your final two compulsory years of secondary school (between the ages of 14 and 16) you will study for your GCSE exams.  You will have some choice at what you study for GCSE but the core subjects of English, Maths and science are compulsory for all students.


GCSEs are graded from 1 to 9 with 9 being the highest grade. Grade 4 is generally accepted as a pass mark and you need to have grade 4 and above in English language and maths GCSE for many jobs or to go to university. 

Applications to Secondary schools are managed through the council admissions department. Applications are usually open until the 1st of September and can be done online via your local council’s educational services website. It is important to check and understand the admission criteria for the school that you are interested in so that you can know if there is a realistic chance of being accepted.


You are advised to indicate interest to specific schools, making sure you use up all the choices listed on the application form in order of preference and to liaise with their LAC Coordinator/ International Programmes coordinator to increase your chances of being accepted. Some schools will need to complete a supplementary information form, for example, a church school will require you to provide evidence of your church attendance.


Be aware that, depending on your location, some schools will have a long waiting period and you will be placed on a waiting list. To minimise this, apply and start the process early. The earlier you will start the more chance you have in securing a place. Here is a link for you to start your application.


Bear in mind that if you are 16 and don’t speak English it might be better for you to study ESOL at a FE college than go to school for one year. There are various pathways through education in the UK, and colleges will have a good range of courses beyond ESOL that will help you achieve your educational goals. 


As you wait for admission in school or college, you can explore informal groups and classes to learn and practice english. We have a list of organisations that offer this in Birmingham and London.  

If you live in other parts of the country we would suggest approaching your local charities and the library to inquire about free english education. Alternatively, you can use this search function to find the nearest academic institute offering free education. The search function is operated by the National Careers Service, which is a government service put in place to provide information, advice and guidance to help you with your career, learning and training choices.

How can I apply to study at secondary school as a foreign student?

Secondary School

Other FAQ's for students who want to study at college

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