Choosing your options at 16 can be very exciting, but there is a lot to think about. You’ll be deciding both what you’ll be doing for the next couple of years, and how you’ll be doing it.
This is an opportunity to develop the skills, experiences and qualifications that can help your career take off. In this article we will look at some of the things you may want to consider when choosing your options at 16.
What are your options?
There are different rules about when you finish school and what you can do next depending on where you live. For example, in England you must do some form of education or training until the age of 18. In general, most people will choose to either continue to study or enter work. What you choose to do, and where you choose to do it, are up to you!
What should you consider?
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to choosing your options at 16, so please give yourself plenty of time. A rushed decision is less likely to be a good one! Researching all your options will help you to pick something you’ll both enjoy and be good at. Ask yourself:
- Do you have any career ideas for the future?
- What do you most enjoy and what most interests you?
- What are your strengths, the things you are best at?
- Do you enjoy being a student or would you rather be a worker?
- What can you do that would help you move forwards in your career?
- What is available in your local area (e.g. what colleges or job opportunities)?
If you have ideas for your future career, then it’s important to research them so you understand how to get where you want to go. If you have a job idea in mind, are there any particular qualifications, skills or experiences that you will need? If you are interested in going to university, what are the entry requirements (qualifications and grades)?
You can look up university courses on the UCAS website and research different jobs ideas here:
Whilst this is an important decision, you don’t need to have all the answers about your career right now! When it comes to choosing your options at 16 you do need to look ahead (where could it take you?), but you also need to look within (what do you really want?). If you do something you care about, chances are that will lead you onto a career path you are equally enthusiastic about.
It’s a good idea to use this stage in your career to develop your qualifications and skills. Further study and training will open up opportunities and give you a wider range of options for your next steps.
What do you want to go onto after the age of 18? If you’re keen on the idea of university, then you will need to get qualifications that allow you entry, like A levels, level 3 BTECs or Highers/Advanced Highers. Different types of qualifications are taught and assessed differently, so it’s helpful to reflect on how you prefer to learn.
You can find out about different types of qualifications here:
Colleges and sixth forms
If you would like to carry on being a student, then you will likely be looking at a college or sixth form. Generally, a sixth form is attached to a school (Y12 and Y13), whereas a college is not. A sixth form college may be either!
Different colleges and sixth forms offer different qualifications and experiences, so it’s important to do your research. Some places may focus solely on academic qualifications, whereas others may offer more vocational (work-related) courses. In Scotland you may be able to go to university, as an alternative to college, although you’d need to have the necessary qualifications.
Things to think about
Have a look to see what sixth forms and colleges are in your area. There will be open evenings or open days that provide a chance to visit different places and find out about their courses and facilities. Even if you’re really confident you already know which college or sixth form you want to go to, it is still a good idea to visit more than one - you want to shop around before you commit yourself. Each college and sixth form is different and you need to find the right place for you. Some questions to think about:
- What is the atmosphere like? Does it suit you? Do you feel comfortable there?
- What about the size of the college or sixth form - would you feel happier somewhere larger or smaller?
- What are the facilities like - do they have what matters most to you?
- How do the teachers and students seem?
- What courses does the college or sixth form offer and what results do they get?
- How would you get there and what would the travel time be each day?
- If you have a particular career idea in mind, can they support you with it?
- What are the entry requirements, both overall and for the courses you’re interested in taking? Do they match your predicted grades?
As well as considering the different qualifications on offer, think about the different subjects. You will have a wide range of things to pick from. Consider what you’ve enjoyed learning in the past, as well as what you’re best at. You may want to look at new subjects to broaden your knowledge, or you may prefer to stick to what you already know.
Some qualifications (like A levels) are designed so you study more than one subject at a time, whereas others (like T levels) will mean you are focusing on one particular subject or area. What would suit you best?
If you have a wide range of interests or you’re not sure what you might want to do in the future, then studying more than one subject might make sense. If you are only really interested in one thing or have very clear future career plans, then you might prefer to focus your attention on a single course. It’s up to you!
Be honest with yourself about your predicted grades and how well they match what you’re applying for. If you’re not sure what grades you’re likely to get in a subject then check with your teachers. It’s an excellent idea to apply for more than one option as a back-up plan, including courses with lower entry requirements. This is particularly vital if your predicted grades are on the edge of what’s needed. Applying to more than one thing gives you options for the future, whatever happens with your exams.
When choosing a course, make sure it’s something you’re genuinely interested in. Will you still care about this subject six months down the line? Understand what it would be like to study that course on a day-to-day basis (e.g. what topics would you cover, how much work is it?) as well as what you could do with that qualification moving forwards (e.g. university or job options).
If you’re not sure exactly what you’d be getting into with a particular course, then ask the teachers and current students all your questions. You might also look at a textbook or revision guide to give you a better understanding of the course content. Keep researching until you feel confident you really understand your course choices.
If you feel you are done with being a full-time student (at least for now!) you might want to enter the workplace instead. This would allow you to get more experience, improve your skills and, of course, earn a salary. With certain types of work you may also be able to get training and qualifications alongside.
When considering work it’s useful to cast your eye a bit further into the future. If you take a particular job or apprenticeship, what could you move onto afterwards? Some jobs might look good on the surface, but may leave you with nothing to progress onto when you’re ready to move on. Ideally, you’ll want to find work that you enjoy in the present and gives you options for the future.
An apprenticeship is a paid job that also includes training and undertaking one or more qualifications. Every apprenticeship is different, just as every job is different, but you would normally expect to spend about 80% of your time working and 20% studying. An apprenticeship might suit someone who enjoys learning by doing, and who is keen to join the workplace full-time. Being employed is a commitment, so as an apprentice you must be self-motivated and responsible. You can find out more on the apprenticeships sites for England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Apprenticeships may be offered at different levels, which relates to the qualification/s you get from it and also often impacts the entry requirements. Check the details of any vacancy you’re interested in very carefully, so you understand what grades you need in order to apply and also what qualifications you would earn over the course of your apprenticeship.
Getting an apprenticeship is much like getting any other job, you must find a vacancy to apply for and then win the job by being the best candidate. You might also be able to find opportunities through people you know, or by undertaking work experience. As with all job hunting, it is likely you will have to apply for a few different things before you are successful. The more you apply for, the better your chances!
Depending on where you live you may be able to access training schemes designed to help young people into the workplace. These schemes may involve supervised jobs or internships, alongside further training and support. If you feel you don’t have the skills or confidence to get an apprenticeship or job just yet, a training scheme could help you to bridge the gap to where you want to be. Talk to a careers professional or contact your relevant careers service to find out more (the National Careers Service in England, Careers Wales, Skills Development Scotland or the Careers Service for Northern Ireland).
You may choose to get a regular job, that isn’t an apprenticeship or training scheme (although in England you must combine this with part-time education or training). You will likely find there are more regular job opportunities than there are apprenticeship opportunities, but the disadvantage is that you may be competing against people with more experience than you. If you do choose a regular job, try to pick something that has opportunities for development and progression, so you don’t find yourself getting bored after a couple of years.
You may choose to start your own business or become self-employed. This route comes with a lot of risks and challenges, so you would need to do lots of research, get lots of support and have a really good back-up plan!
Things to think about
Before you commit to a job or apprenticeship, be sure you’ll enjoy it. If you can get some work experience or work shadowing in that area you will get a much deeper understanding of what it’s like. This will also help you gain useful experiences and contacts that increase your chances with job hunting.
When it comes to getting work (of any kind) you need to make sure you are as competitive as possible. If you can present a strong application, then you are more likely to be successful at job hunting. It’s a good idea to get some support with CVs or application forms until you get the hang of them. You could talk to a careers professional in your school, or contact your relevant careers service (the National Careers Service in England, Careers Wales, Skills Development Scotland or the Careers Service for Northern Ireland).
Finally, please remember that job hunting can be hard work, with no guarantees. Even if you want a job or apprenticeship it is still worth applying to a college or sixth form as a back-up plan. If you succeed in getting a job or apprenticeship you can just withdraw your application, but if not then at least you’ll have something to do after you finish school. Plus getting more qualifications will help you become more competitive in future job hunting!
- You have some exciting choices ahead of you, but you need to take your time and do your research to help you make the right decisions
- Consider whether you want to continue as a student or join the workplace
- Go to open days and open evenings to research different colleges and sixth forms
- Carefully consider your course choices - both the subjects and types of qualification
- If you’re looking for work, find something that will help you to develop and progress
- Get some work experiences to test out your ideas and get useful contacts
- Have a back-up plan - consider the entry requirements carefully and apply to more than one thing so you have options further down the line
How Morrisby can help with post-16 decision-making
The Morrisby Careers and Morrisby Profile help students discover career opportunities and study options that are tailored to their strengths and ambitions. St Lawrence College saw huge success with Morrisby Profile, supporting 5th and 6th form students with uncovering their subject and career paths.
Polly Wiggins, March 2022
‘As a fully-qualified freelance career consultant, Polly has supported young people with their career ideas in schools, colleges and beyond. As well as delivering career guidance, Polly produces resources to support people at all stages of their careers, helping them to make positive choices and successful transitions.’