Post-16 Options: Your Next Step

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The 'next step' after GCSEs is tricky.

Young people have never had so many post-16 options as they do now. The range of schemes has opened new pathways for school leavers to get into higher education, and to start a career. 

How do you decide which path to take? 

Post-16 Options: Your Next Step is a guide to help you better understand the options available to you after you finish your GCSEs. 

Read on, and make a clear, well-informed and well-thought-out decision about your future.

​Post -16 Options

​The next step you will take after your GCSEs is often decided before you even take your exams; often before you know the full extent of your options. 

Have you considered doing an apprenticeship? ​If you're doing A levels, have you considered the alternatives to going to university? Read on for an overview of all of your post-16 options, including the entry requirements, the qualifications on offer, and where each path leads...


​Apprenticeships have changed in recent years. They used to be associated with trade industries, like construction and plumbing. 

There are now apprenticeships available ​in a crazy-range of sectors and job roles. Did you know, for example, you can do an apprenticeship in finance or law?

New frameworks have been developed by the government, in partnership with employers across various sectors, to provide a pathway for young people to gain professional skills and start a career. These schemes are available to anyone between the ages of 16-24.

These new type of apprenticeships are a combination of real work and academic study. An apprentice will receive on-the-job training, as they study towards qualifications on the side. You might think it couldn't get any more exciting. You would be wrong. 

An apprentice receives a salary for the duration of the scheme. The minimum wage for apprentices is £3.70 per hour. It might seem low, but many employers pay above the minimum rate. Check out our article, The Highest Paid Apprenticeships in the UK to see how much you could earn in different sectors. 

Essentially, an apprenticeships is an opportunity for you to earn while you learn

Modern apprenticeships have been divided into four tiers:  

  • INTERMEDIATE    (level 2)
  • ADVANCED    (level 3)
  • HIGHER   (level 4/5)
  • DEGREE   (level 6/7)

Once you have finished your GCSEs, you will be able to apply for an intermediate or advanced apprenticeship. Below is a short breakdown of each tier...


Two or more GCSE passes, preferably including English and Maths
A completed traineeships (see below)

 ​- knowledge based qualification (BTEC or National Vocational Qualification)  AND
 - Level 2 Competence Qualification
These qualifications are considered to be equivalent to 5 GCSE passes.

12-18 months

£12, 585

For a more detailed overview of level 2 schemes, read The Complete Guide to Intermediate Apprenticeships


Minimum of 5 GCSE passes, including English and Maths
A completed intermediate apprenticeship (in a role similar to the job on offer)

 - knowledge based qualification (related to the job role)  AND
 - Level 3 Competence Qualification
These qualifications are the equivalent of 2 A levels.

18-24 months 

£15, 241​

Check out Advanced Apprenticeships: The Essential Guide for more information about level 3 schemes. ​

The buttons below will transport you to our jobs page. Find an intermediate or advanced apprenticeship today!

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What if ​you were to finish your GCSEs without the grades you need to get a job or an apprenticeship?

'What do I do next?' you ask a stranger on the bus. 

'Well,' they say, 'you can either retake all of your exams, or runaway and live in secret in IKEA.'

Do not listen the stranger on the bus. The IKEA security are well-trained and would find you very quickly. Retaking all of your exams does not sound much fun either. 

Thankfully, there is a third option - a traineeship. Traineeships are short, flexible education schemes ​designed for school leaver who do not have the qualifications or work experience required to get a job. 

Each scheme is designed to help a young person develop the crucial skills that will help them find a career. 

A traineeship can last anywhere between six weeks to six months - as long as it takes to make a candidate more employable. 

For a in-depth overview, read our Guide to Traineeships

If you've suddenly decided that a traineeship is something you simply have to do,  check out our vacancies. 

A Levels (and then university)

Sixth form →  A levels  →  University... ​it's a well trodden path. 

​Many of you will progress into sixth form after your GCSEs, with the intention of going to university. However, did you know that it is possible to go university, to get a cracking degree without paying tuition fees.

No fees. Not a sausage. 

If you just wet yourself a little bit, or let out a small scream, ​read on. 


​Degree apprenticeships are the newest tier of the modern apprenticeship, and have been developed through a collaboration between UK universities and the Tech Partnership. 
​A degree apprentice works on a full-time basis for a company, while they study towards a Bachelor's or Masters degree. 
These schemes can last anywhere between​ 3-6 years, and candidates receive a bloody brilliant salary for the duration. 
​Tuition costs are covered by the government and the employer. 
​Be sure to check out our Guide to Degree Apprenticeships for a detailed and daring overview.


​If you are already head-over-heels in love with degree apprenticeships, run straight over to our jobs page.

post 16 options

Post 16 Options: Conclusion

It appears you have more career options than a chimp that can play tennis. When you finish your GCSEs, you are in a great position. There is a high quantity of high quality schemes that you can choose, each that are a solid first step towards a fulfilling career.

Choosing the right scheme, however, can be difficult. It's simpler to break down the range of schemes on offer into three different pathways


If you remain in full-time education, you will study towards A level qualifications, which are a pathway towards higher education. You can do a traditional university degree, a degree apprenticeship, sponsored degree or a school leaver programme


If you decide to opt out of full-time education, to break free and jump into the world of work, there are a number of paths you can take. You can step straight into employment - typically in a junior or non-skilled role - and work your way up through a company.

If you are not ready for full-time employment, you could get some work experience or volunteer locally. You must do this for a minimum of 20 hours a week while in part-time education or training. Visit for in-depth information about school leaving age in England and the rest of the UK. 


If neither full-time education or full-time employment sounds appealing, you can combine the two. This is a good path for any young hero who is career conscious, who wants to get practical work experience, but also wants to get qualifications. Apprenticeships are a combination of on-the-job training with theoretical training, and are designed as a ferry to transport young people between school and employment. 

These are the three questions you have to consider after you finish your GCSEs...

Do I remain in full-time education, with the intention of getting a degree? Do I leave full-time education altogether, and focus on getting work experience instead of further qualifications? Do I take the apprenticeship route, and get professional work experience while I study towards further qualifications? 

It is not an easy decision. It's not like deciding what to have from the canteen at lunchtime...

Do I go for the salad, which appears to contain stale lettuce, one slice of cucumber and not much else? Do I take the sandwich route? Do I brave the curious looking meat dish, which Karen the kitchen-lady has decided to call cottage pie? 

These decisions are not going to make much of an impact on your future. Your post-16 career options, however, will define the next five years of your life, and the direction of your future career. 

Well, that sounds terrifying...

​Yes, making decisions that will affect your immediate and distant future can be rather frightening. Choosing what to wear on a non-uniform day is stressful enough as it is.

But do not let the weight of decisions ahead stop you from making them. 

​The Next-Step Explorer is an interactive tool we have designed to help you decide which path to take after your GCSEs. Think of it as a career pathfinder. A series of simple questions will analyse your career aspirations and your current qualifications, to reveal which post-16 option is right for you. 

Click the button below to discover your next step.

In this video, an employer discusses the benefits of choosing an apprenticeship over going to university. 

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