Many academic qualifications are often referred to as ‘steppingstones’ in one’s life. Some consider the more conventional route to be completing GCSEs, then A Levels, and then spring-boarding into university and graduate level jobs.
However, there are certainly other adventures to have and numerous other avenues to explore. But what are these different paths? Are they accessible to all, or are there certain requirements to be met? Here are the other options available to you after GCSEs and A Levels…
Gap years mainly occur after finishing A Levels and serve as a between stage before moving on to bigger things. Some use this period to travel extensively, venturing to far off places they never would have otherwise. Places like Africa, Asia, New Zealand or Thailand are typical destinations for the gap year traveller, favouring remote wilderness over urban metropolises or lush beaches. After all, a gap year isn’t really a holiday. It’s not a case of spending a year lounging around while sunbathing at a resort – it’s staying in budget accommodations such as hostels to afford the long-term travelling and hiking.
There will also be plenty of working involved through things like part time jobs, which’ll be needed to fund all your shenanigans here! You needn’t be choosy, things like stacking shelves or working in hospitality will bolster your bank account for all the hits it will take. Others also volunteer or undertake some work experience to flesh out their CV. In the end, gap years are about self-exploration and discovering who you are when outside the confines of your usual routine. If you want that sense of liberation and productivity, a gap year could be for you.
Apprenticeships can be undertaken by anyone over the age of 16, which means those who’ve completed either their GCSEs or A Levels can get involved. These schemes allow you to earn a salary through on the job learning, with the added benefit that you’ll also gain qualifications by the end of your tenure. Typically, they last as long as an academic course does, taking one to three years to complete – sometimes coming with a full-time job at the end!
Requirements vary from apprenticeship to apprenticeship. Some will enrol you with minimal qualifications, others require a set of 5 GCSEs at grade C or above, including English, Mathematics and sometimes even Science, depending on the nature of the role. Most apprenticeships are also completed in classrooms, online and on the job too, so there’s a lot of variety there for you to excel in line with your learning preferences and strengths. Therefore, you should do some further independent research yourself to discover what hoops you need to jump through to get on your preferred apprenticeship scheme. Unfortunately, in 2017 apprenticeship numbers fell by 59%, so there’s still some demand out there two years on for new applicants!
Internships are another option you could consider. These types of roles can be paid or unpaid and can have a minimum age of 16 or 18 for applications, depending on the offer at hand. That said, internships can provide a plethora of invaluable learning experiences, and have helped many young people get their foot in the door to their dream careers. Depending on where you’re at in life, these offerings can offer a series of great opportunities!
However, there have been reports of graduates being trapped in these roles, so the sooner you get through your internship phase, the better. The older you are, the more important it is that the internship is paid and can lead to further opportunities, such as solid references or the strong likelihood of the position evolving into a full-time job later. They typically pay less than apprenticeships and don’t last as long, and they also come with much less responsibility, but it’s learning new skills in a new role and can flesh out your CV.
Of course, there is always the option to just launch yourself into employment as soon as your exams are finished. You could work part-time in customer service while contemplating what to do in future, or start a full-time job and explore the career path you always wanted to. It’s not as common today to go straight into work after your GCSEs or A Levels, but it is possible! If you’re over 18, it may even be in your interests to start your own business. You could pick a trade, start small, get a few clients, and even go freelance, working to your own hours and targets. It would be tough, but it’s a perfectly valid life trajectory if you’ve just finished your A Levels and are keen for your next big challenge!
I'm a freelance copywriter with an undergraduate degree in English Literature. I've written for many different outlets, including but not limited to marketing agencies, graduate recruitment websites, and online training companies. I've even interviewed a few famous actors for student and arts blogs too! Covering a wide span of material has been incredibly rewarding, as I get to turn my experiences in the arts, education and careers into helpful advice. I sincerely hope you'll find something to your liking here!