Whatever job or course you're aiming for, find out about the different post-16 qualifications you can take to get you there.
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Not sure what qualifications to take? Download our  Which qualifications are right for me? guide for tips on choosing.

Academic qualifications – studying subjects

If you want to carry on studying some of your favourite subjects or you're thinking about university, you may want to look at the following types of Level 3 (in England/NI/Wales)/Level 6 (in Scotland) qualifications :

  • A levels – you usually study three subjects or more. There are a wide range of subjects available. They’re usually studied at the same time over two years.
  • Cambridge Pre-Us – this involves studying a range of courses in a single qualification.  There are 26 principal subjects available, and each is a two year course with exams at the end. You can take up to four Pre-U subjects, and they can be combined with other qualifications such as A levels.
  • Scottish Highers– the main qualification required for entry into higher education if you live in Scotland. There are over 60 subjects and you usually study four or five Highers subjects. Each Higher is made up of units. You need to pass all units and the course assessment to achieve the qualification. 
  • Advanced Highers – these are usually taken after the Higher is achieved. These are Level 7 qualifications, so are at a higher level than the Higher, but often taken in conjunction with them. If you take two or three of these you may get some credit in your university study, or even be offered a place into year 2 of a degree. University websites give fuller details on this.
  • Baccalaureates – these are broad-based programmes that combine academic subjects with components designed to develop skills. The Welsh and Scottish Baccalaureates are available in those countries. The International Baccalaureate is a qualification that is available throughout the world.
  • Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and Interdisciplinary Project – these are taken alongside A levels and involve doing independent study of your choice.
  • Core Maths – a group of Level 3 maths qualifications, usually taken alongside A levels or other qualifications, to help develop mathematical skills and thinking after GCSEs.
  • GCSEs – if you do not have a grade C/4 or above in GCSE English or maths and are studying at school or college, you will need to retake these subjects to get grades A* to C/9 to 4 (or equivalent level qualifications, this can vary in Scottish universities, you can check this on university websites). If you are a trainee or apprentice you may take Functional Skills qualifications in these subjects, but if you want to go to university later you should try to retake the GCSE. You can also study other GCSE subjects. 
  • National 5s – most universities require you to have five or six subjects, although they do realise the flexibility of the Scottish examination system allows you to bypass these qualifications. However, most universities require you to have Nat 5 in English at grade C or above. Sometimes, they also ask for other specific subjects, depending on the degree you wish to eventually study (e.g. science, or a language) – refer to the university website for full details.

Applied learning – qualifications offering broad study of a job family

If you’re interested in a particular job family or industry but not yet sure what job you’d like to do, these qualifications might suit you. They combine practical learning with developing knowledge and skills. You can go on to further education, training or employment, or you can go on to university.

  • BTEC diplomas – give you a broader knowledge of a particular sector or industry. They are available in a range of sizes which are equivalent to one, two, or three A levels. They can be taken in combination with other qualifications.
  • Certificates – these enable you to develop transferable knowledge and skills through studying a particular industry or subject area. They are available in a range of subjects and can lead on to higher level study.  
  • Cambridge Technicals – involve studying a range of eight subject areas, each with flexible choices of units. They are available in a range of sizes which are equivalent to one, two, or three A levels.

Technical qualifications – job-related study

If you know what sort of job you want to do, or want a course that's more practical, or includes some work experience, these may be the right qualifications for you. There are many types of technical qualifications in a wide range of subjects and career areas, and there are qualifications available for all levels, from entry level up to level 8.

  • NVQs and SVQs – provide you with skills to do a specific job and can be taken if you have a full-time job, or are on a course with a work placement.
  • T Levels – include a range of qualifications which give you specialist technical knowledge and skills and are recognised as leading to specific job roles.
  • Technical certificates – these give you the opportunity to develop specialist knowledge and skills to help you get an apprenticeship or job, or progress to a higher level qualification. They cover jobs where employers may recruit people with specific level 2 qualifications, as well as jobs where you need to have a level 2 qualification before you can progress to level 3.
  • TechBac – this is a new programme (offered by City and Guilds) comprising of a Technical Level qualification, the Extended Project qualification, and some elements which are not-assessed, like project and team work, and work experience.

Functional/Essential/Core skills qualifications

These qualifications are called by slightly different titles in each of the four countries of the UK, but they all provide the essential skills you need in English, maths, and ICT to progress in education and work. They focus on developing and using skills, including communication, team working, presentation, and problem solving. You can study these alongside other qualifications or as part of an apprenticeship, traineeship, or study programme.

For more information on the different kinds of qualifications  download our guide

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