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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second Making great decisions relies on doing plenty of research and understanding the pros and the cons of the options available to you. In this step, we’ll look at what to consider when you’re thinking about those options

Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds available to you: higher education, apprenticeships, going straight to work, or taking a gap year. When you’re considering whether higher education is right for you, have a think about what subjects you’re studying now and your predicted grades, think about what subject or subjects you’d like to study further. Have a think about if you have a particular career or profession in mind – do you need particular subjects or qualifications for that? Find out more about the whole range of different courses that are on offer, you can have a look on ucas.com, check and compare the different entry requirements, the study options and the course modules for all of the different courses that you might be interested in.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds And go to open days, talk to the experts whether that’s the students, the academic tutors or the admissions staff. So what do you need to consider when you’re thinking about an apprenticeship? Well first of all you need to think about the career and role that you’re aiming for in the future. You need to start with research, think about the qualifications, skills and experience you may have. What are the employers actually looking for? Find out what’s involved in an apprenticeship. All apprenticeships are different. You need to think about the pay, the hours, the study pattern, you also need to think about the work and what’s involved in that.

Skip to 1 minute and 17 seconds The best way to think about that is to speak to other apprentices, maybe at careers events. It’s really important that you listen to what they have to say as well as talking to providers and to employers themselves. If you’re thinking of going into work, here are a few things you need to consider. What is the career path that you’re actually looking for? Research the career area and the job roles that are involved. What qualifications are needed, experience and qualities, and how do you match up to these? Find out more about what is actually involved? So, this entails looking at the hours, the pay and the opportunities for progression as well.

Skip to 1 minute and 54 seconds Research the market itself and explore if this is a growth industry or a growth sector. Explore listings both nationally and locally, see what’s available and just have a read. And go to careers and recruitment events as well, this is really, really important. Check out video case studies online and hear from the experts – the people doing the jobs themselves and get a feel for that particular career and whether it could be right for you. So, if you’re thinking of doing a gap year, what are the kind of things that you need to think about? Well, first and foremost, what do you want to achieve from your gap year?

Skip to 2 minutes and 27 seconds Do you need experience, do you want skills, or is it simply a bit of time to think about the next stage in your application process or just your life? Planning ahead of time, setting some goals, will really make sure that you get the most out the time away. Next up, what do you want to do and where to you want to do it? How long can you spend away from home, what do you want to spend your time doing and where? Are there any hobbies or interests that you could follow up on during your year, or even help othersby volunteering?

Skip to 3 minutes and 0 seconds And think about the experiences that you’re getting whilst you’re away and how they might help you build a CV or make an application to university in the future. There’s loads of organisations that can help you to put together a gap year package, and they can help with volunteering, they can help with travel etc, but make sure that they’re financially viable and also make sure that they’re renown by a quality mark scheme like ABTA or the Year Out Group, and make sure that they’re just generally a good company.

Skip to 3 minutes and 31 seconds So finally, think about the cost of logistics, so everything associated with your gap year, so travel, immunisation, visas, all of this stuff can add up, so make sure you’ve taken that all into consideration whilst you’re planning. And before you go abroad, make sure that you check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website before you go.

Getting started – do your research

In this step, we will be looking at what you need to research and consider for each of the different post-18 options and pathways on offer, to help you take your decision-making forward.

Start by watching the video – this sets the scene and highlights some of the key things you need to consider. Then read the article below about how to focus your research.

We’ve provided some resources which you can download from the bottom of this page with more information, suggestions and sources for you to research each option. Have a look at the ‘Doing your research’ template which you can use to focus your research and keep notes of what you find out.

Researching higher education

Draw up a list of your top subjects or courses – the ones you want to explore further. You might want to start by looking at the UCAS Subject Guides to get going and then browse courses on the UCAS search tool to start your research. Here are some of the key points you need to find out:

  • Which subjects/courses have entry requirements that are going to match your grades? If you have predicted grades, consider applying for at least one course with lower entry requirements to have as a reserve offer, but also think about being more ambitious with a choice if there’s a course that really appeals to you, but sets more demanding entry requirements.

  • Make sure your course choices cover modules that are suitable for you – browse through the course outlines so you know what to expect and consider if these match your interests.

  • Costs – tuition fees can vary between course providers, and living expenses will be dependent on where you study, either in the UK or abroad. Also, check to see if there are any scholarships or bursaries on offer.

  • See if the course or university/college offers any internship or placement opportunities – getting experience in the workplace could be really useful.

  • Does the course carry professional accreditation (for example, in psychology, is the course recognised by the British Psychological Society)?

  • When are the open days? It’s really worth trying to get to open days if you can, because you will find out so much more and get a feel for each university or college you’re considering. If you can’t attend open days, see if they provide a virtual tour on ucas.com or their own website.

Researching apprenticeships or going into work

Draw up a list of the sorts of jobs you’re looking for so you can focus on the sort of work and/or career pathway you want to follow.

Research the job role – it’s really important to find out as much as you can about the job role, industries and employers offering jobs or apprenticeships as well as the career path it could lead to. You can find more information about apprenticeships on UCAS website and the different careers and job roles on the UCAS Explore jobs or job profiles sections of Prospects website. In particular, you need to take note of the entry requirements and, if appropriate, confirm that an apprenticeship is a valid pathway into this career.

Find two or three vacancies for the kind of job roles or apprenticeships you’re interested in.

You can find the websites listing apprenticeships vacancies here: there are different websites for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Here are some of the key points you need to investigate:

  • What is the work or apprenticeship job role – does it fit what you’re looking for?

  • Find out about the employer – is this the type of company you want to work for?

  • For an apprenticeship, find out about the training provider, college, or university where you could be studying.

  • What qualifications, subjects, and grades are they are looking for?

  • What ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’ skills and experience do they ask for, and what qualities are they are looking for in applicants?

  • Does the job require you to work in different locations across the country, or would you need to move away from home for work?

  • What is the pay or salary, and do they offer any other benefits or facilities you can use?

  • For you, what are the three most and three least positive aspects of this apprenticeship or job opportunity?

You can do further research by checking out the employer’s website for any details and information you want. Remember, you can contact the employer and university, college, or training provider, if you’re considering an apprenticeship, to ask any questions you have.

Researching a gap year

You need to set goals to make your time productive, so identify what you want to achieve. Decide how much time you can be away and when. Now you can start researching the range of gap year and volunteering schemes available, or look into organising it yourself.

Start by identifying the top features or experiences you want to include in your gap year. Here are some of the key points you need to find out:

  • The essentials and the costs – flights, accommodation, visas, insurance, vaccinations, etc, and check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website if you’re thinking of going abroad. Set yourself a realistic budget that you can afford. Costs vary considerably, so research carefully.

  • Look into the wide range of gap year and volunteering schemes around. If using an agency or scheme, check out how long they have been running, if they are financially sound, and are members of a reputable organisation such as ABTA or Year Out Group, where they agree to follow a code of conduct.

  • Consider using social media, online forums, and websites – look at the reviews, articles, and advice from people who’ve ’been there and done that’ for the sort of gap year you’re considering.

  • The deadlines – you need to start planning well in advance. Some voluntary work schemes are popular and have deadlines, and you need to consider when you need the money to pay for any airfares or visas.

Remember, it’s always good to get advice If you are at school or college, you may be able to speak with someone in their careers department.

At the bottom of this page, we have provided some resources with more information about researching each of these options which you can download.

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This video is from the free online course:

Smart Choices: Broadening Your Horizons