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Exploring your options

Whatever you’re thinking about doing, you need to consider all your options to make an informed choice. So in this step, we will start by looking at the different post-18 options and pathways on offer.

Start by watching the video … then you can explore each option a bit further in the article below.

Higher education

This offers you an opportunity to increase your knowledge – study what you love, you’re interested in, and with experts in their fields.

  • You can take your learning to the next level - extend your knowledge in a subject you’ve got a passion for, or try something new.
  • You can gain a qualification that’s internationally recognised – UK higher education qualifications are recognised and respected by employers and academics worldwide.
  • You can develop the essential skills you’ll need in your career and working life, such as communication, organisation, time management, teamwork, leadership, and problem solving. Many courses also offer work placements as part of the course .
  • You can increase your earning potential – having a degree makes you more attractive to employers. You’ll have a greater choice of jobs and you’ll earn more.
  • You get more than education - university life offers a unique opportunity to get to know a diverse range of people and cultures, develop confidence and independence and try new activities.

Things to consider: You could pursue a favourite subject or go for something new. It’s really worth exploring the wider range of courses and subjects on offer. Check the entry requirements for any courses you’re interested in to see if the subjects you’re studying now and predicted grades are a good fit. If you have any specific career aspirations, check if you need any particular subjects or qualifications to enter the career you’re aiming for.


Apprenticeships offer you the opportunity to start work, earn a wage, and continue studying at a higher level.

  • You can gain real knowledge, skills, and experience for specific careers.
  • There are advanced and higher level apprenticeships, as well as the new degree level apprenticeships, which enable students to achieve a full bachelor’s or master’s degree as part of their apprenticeship.
  • They are available in a wide range of sectors – from engineering and boat building, to veterinary nursing, hotel management and accountancy – and focus on a wide variety of job roles.
  • Your tuition fees will be paid for by your employer and the government, so graduate apprentices can be debt-free.

Things to consider: Apprenticeships involve training for a specific job, so it’s important you are confident you’re ready to start work, and that you find out as much as you can about the job role, the career, and progression route the apprenticeship could lead to. Competition for apprenticeships can be tough because there are often only a limited number of vacancies available, particularly on the new degree level apprenticeships. There’s also a range of employer-led School leaver programmes, which also offer a direct route into the world of work and may include obtaining a qualification as part of the programme.

Going into work

This route offers you the chance to start earning, get experience, and build your skills to increase your employability and improve your CV for the future.

  • You can get onto the first step of your career, build confidence, gain experience, and meet new people.
  • It’s the chance to start developing the essential skills and experience you need for your career and career progression.
  • You can increase your employability – having work experience and building a CV will make you more attractive to employers and open up more job opportunities in the future.

Things to consider: Do you have a clear idea of what sort of work and career pathway you want to follow, and are you ready to start work? Do your research – it’s really worth spending time finding out about the job profiles, industries, and employers offering the job roles you’re interested in. You need to set out what you have to offer – your skills and qualities, any work experience, qualifications, achievements, and interests, and map these to what employers are looking for in the job roles and career areas you’re aiming for.

Taking a gap year

This can be a good choice if you’re undecided about university, not sure what you want to do in future, or if you just want a break from full-time education. A gap year offers you the opportunity to gain skills and experiences while giving you time to reflect and focus on what you want to do next, if that’s what you need.

  • A productive gap year can be valuable on your CV – many employers value the experiences students have gained if they’ve actively managed their time, set themselves goals, and stretched themselves.
  • A gap year can also enhance your higher education studies – if you decide to apply for uni, you could tailor your gap year to relate it to the subject area you plan to study.
  • Admissions tutors know that some students may take a little time to adjust back to studying, but many former gap year students are generally more focused and responsible.

Things to consider: You need to set goals to make your time productive, so identify what you want to achieve. Consider, what value will it add to your university study, your CV, or career? How much time can you be away and when? Research the range of gap year and volunteering schemes available, or look into organising it yourself. Research and compare the costs, value, and practicalities such as flights, visas, insurance, and vaccinations. If you’re planning to go overseas, check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for advice.

We will be looking at how you can explore and consider each of these options in more depth in later steps and next week.

In the meantime, there are some resources for you: At the bottom of this page, we have provided some links to more information about each of these options.

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This video is from the free online course:

Smart Choices: Broadening Your Horizons