General Career Questions

If you have questions about Careers or Careers Pathways, then have a look at these FAQs.

If you know the job you want but are unsure on what it is or how to get there try the UCAS website where you can search by job family, subject area you’re currently studying or a skill you have.

If you aren’t sure what you want to do then have a look at the Make Happen website. It has interviews with people who work in all different industries, telling us all about their jobs.

Another good place to start is by taking a personality quiz on icould or Prospects.

Alternatively, LaunchYourCareer provides a Career Planner that would be a useful tool to explore.

This is called Post 16 options
Use the National Careers Service website to help you to think about and understand what your next step in education or training will be once you are 16 years old.

These are called your Post 18 options
From 17 to 19, explore the education, work, and study options available to you.

There are different options available.
Find the right learning or training option available to you with an EHC plan.

There is careers and job support for people with a disability or health condition to find and stay in work.

A gap year is taking time out of education before continuing your studies.

Starting your forces career at university
The armed forces offer sponsorships and bursaries for university students in subjects like:

  • science
  • technology
  • engineering
  • maths
  • healthcare

You can see full details on their recruitment websites. While you’re at university, there are exciting ways to get experience and a taste of military life during your degree.

The NHS careers website is a great place to explore the hundreds of different roles within healthcare. You can take their careers quiz to find out which roles are most suited to you and find relevant courses.

There are lots of options on this question, so we have tried to give you a few options.

Prospects has information on Cover letters, Example CVs, interview tips and open days.

Springpod look at Apprenticeship opportunities as well as Virtual Work experience

Youth Employment UK offer a wealth of ideas and guidance to support young people seeking work.

An internship allows you to spend time in a company, to learn new skills and gain experience in a particular industry or job role.

Think of an internship programme like a fixed period of work experience – this work experience gives you the opportunity to improve your understanding of a particular job or industry.

  • You can either shadow a professional or work for a company.
  • Some internships are unpaid – particularly if competition is high.
  • You’ll understand what a particular role is like and gain real life work experience.

It’s always worth trying to reach out directly to local companies to see if they offer work experience placements. Bigger companies will have webpages dedicated to their work experience schemes too. For example, look at HSBC’s programme here.

Virtual work experience can be a great alternative and just as valuable as in-person work experience. Go to Prospects website to help you learn more about virtual work experience and try searching for placements on Springpod.

GCSEs Explained

If you have questions about what GCSEs are and choosing your options, then have a look at these FAQs.

GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education. It’s taught to students aged 14 to 16 in years 10 and 11.

Most people take about 9 GCSEs

You will have to do core subjects: Maths, English and Science.
Depending on your school you may have to do English Language and some schools might make you do English Literature as well.
Science may be split into the three separate sciences (Biology, Chemistry and Physics) or into two combined Science GCSEs.

Depending on your school, you may have to take a Modern Foreign Language such as French, German or Spanish.

Explore BBC Bitesize for some more information

GCSEs are graded from 1-9, with 9 being the highest and 1 being the lowest.
A 4 is a pass – it’s at the bottom of what was a C. A 5 is a ‘strong’ pass

Grade 9 – The top mark is even higher than the old A*
Grade 8 – Below an A* but above an A
Grade 7 – Slightly below an A but only just
Grade 6 – Slightly better than a B
Grade 5 – Below a B but above a C. Also called a ‘strong pass’
Grade 4 – Equivalent of a C. Also called a ‘standard pass’
Grade 3 – Below a D but above an E
Grade 2 – Between an E and an F
Grade 1 – Between an F and a G
Ungraded – The lowest mark possible. As in the old system, a U denotes a fail

Education Quizzes provides a helpful video with more explanation.

If you wish to re-sit a GCSE, then you can. Re-sits are held in November for English and Maths or June for the other subjects.

For Maths and English, resitting is compulsory if you haven’t achieved a pass (grade 4). You’ll need to continue studying these subjects until you either pass or turn 18.

The opportunities you get after your GCSEs depends on the grades; the better you do on your GCSEs the more choices you will have!

You can either go to a 6th form or a college; your school might have a 6th form, or you might have to go to another school.
There are a lot of colleges in Essex, you might have heard of some…
Writtle College
SEEVIC College
Harlow College
Chelmsford College
Either way, you must stay in some sort of education or training.
You can’t leave school and get a full-time job, but you can do a course which is a balance of working and training, such as an apprenticeship.

Explore the UCAS and Make Happen websites for some more information.

The most common studying options after GCSEs are A-Levels, B-TECs and Apprenticeships.

There are other options as well, such as NVQs, T-Levels and supported internships.

If you’re thinking about going to university, most higher education courses require A levels.
If you’re not sure what career or job you want to do, studying a selection of A-levels can be a good way of keeping your options open.

BTEC qualifications are flexible – you can take one alongside (or instead of) GCSEs and A levels in schools and colleges. They’re also usually studied full-time, either in college or jointly between a school and a college.

Here are some examples:
Public Services

These combine on-the-job training with classroom learning.
You get paid while you learn.

Usually, but not always, you would be at your job for four days a week and then in college for one day a week.

Explore the Prospects website for more information about apprenticeships.

Options after Year 11

If you want to know about the options available to you after Year 11, then have a look at these FAQs.

Sixth forms offer a variety of A-level and BTEC qualifications and are attached to a secondary school, which is why they are often referred to as school sixth forms. Students will continue onto Year 12 and Year 13 at school.

Sixth form colleges offer the same provision as a school sixth form however, they are separate from secondary schools. Sixth form colleges are a separate building for just Year 12 and Year 13 student.

Colleges are much bigger than Sixth forms and sixth form colleges and hold many students aged 14 years old to adult learners. At college, you can study A Levels, BTEC; s and they may also offer apprenticeships and other community provision.

So, one way to think about it is that FE colleges are on one end of the spectrum and school sixth forms are on the other, with sixth form colleges being the middle ground.

Click here more information on the differences between Further Education institutions.

School is when you are in Year 7-11. When you are at university, you are usually 18 years old and choose to study further studying 1 subject at a degree level. University is much bigger then school and you can move away from home and live away from home in the university’s accommodation.

Your school timetable is 8.30-3pm approx. 5 days a week whereas university will be much different, where you could study only 8 hours a week depending on your course you choose to study.

You also have lots of socialising at university, you can join sports, societies and get involved in many events that happen on campus.

For more information, please click here.

To find out where your nearest sixth forms and colleges are please use our interactive map here.


T Levels are new courses which follow GCSEs and are equivalent to 3 A levels. These 2-year courses have been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses so that the content meets the needs of industry and prepares students for work, further training or study. T Levels offer students a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience during an industry placement of at least 315 hours (approximately 45 days).

This depends on your career aspirations, your exam results and how you like to study. If you think you might be interested in finding a job immediately after leaving school and want to get some job specific qualifications and training, then an apprenticeship could be for you. If you have an open mind about future career possibilities, like to study academic subjects in-depth and do well in exams, then A-levels might be the perfect fit. If you have some idea about the kind of work you want to do, prefer to do coursework and get some work experience, then a technical course could be right for you. Remember there is also the possibility of combining A-level and technical study at many Sixth Form.

Use Make Happen’s planning ahead guide

An apprenticeship is a real job where you can gain a qualification while learning on the job and getting paid. You gain valuable experience. You are employed and have a contract of employment and have holiday leave.
You can study from intermediate (GCSE equivalent) to degree level.

The easiest way to do this is go on Find an apprenticeship and create an account. This will give you access to local vacancies and you can apply directly from there. You should also go to the websites of local training providers (all advertised vacancies have contact details of the training provider).

In the UK there are five options you can take after Year 11 including:

  1. school sixth forms
  2. sixth form colleges
  3. further education colleges
  4. Apprenticeships
  5. T Levels

Sixth forms offer a variety of A-level and BTEC qualifications and are attached to a secondary school, which is why they are often referred to as school sixth forms.

Sixth form colleges offer the same provision as a school sixth form however, they are separate from secondary schools. Unlike the latter, Further Education (FE) colleges offer a much variety of courses including access courses, higher education-level diplomas and often, bachelor’s degrees.

Colleges may also offer apprenticeships and other community provision. So, one way to think about it is that FE colleges are on one end of the spectrum and school sixth forms are on the other, with sixth form colleges being the middle ground.

Apprenticeships are real jobs where you learn, gain experience and get paid. You are an employee with a contract of employment and holiday leave. By the end of the apprenticeship, you will have the right skills and knowledge needed for your chosen career. It is funded by the government and your employer.

Each apprenticeship has a level and an equivalent education level. At the end of your apprenticeship, you will achieve an equivalent education level, for example, if you complete a level 3 apprenticeship, you will achieve the equivalent of 3 A Levels.

T Levels are new courses that follow on from your GCSE’s and are equivalent to 3 A Levels. They are a 2-year course and have been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses. This course prepares you for work, training and study. T Levels offer a mixture of classroom learning and on the job experience during industry placement of at least 315 hours (approx. 45 days).

Options after Year 13/College

If you want to know about the options available to you after finishing College or 6th form, then have a look at these FAQs.

There are lots of benefits of going to university. It’s important you have all the information to weigh up the pros and cons so that you can make the right decision for you.

Read our handy Make Happen guide on all the reasons why university could be a good option for you.

There can be a lot of confusing terminology and acronyms when thinking about your next steps. What is HE compared to FE? Does Higher Education just mean going to university? What’s the difference between university and a degree apprenticeship? The answers can all be found in our Make Happen guide.

Watch our Make Happen video to find out in more detail the differences between apprenticeships and traditional university routes.

For most university courses, you apply through UCAS. This is also where you can find everything you need to know about the application process. Usually your sixth form or college will guide you through the process and have its own timelines so it’s always best to ask your teachers first. For example, your school or college deadline might be earlier than UCAS so that your teachers have plenty of time to check over your application before you submit it.

Read our Make Happen guides on the 15 things you need to know about UCAS and top ten tips for writing a personal statement for further help with your application.

The Informed Choices website can help you see which A level subjects open up which degree options. Unfortunately, this is limited to A level subjects so won’t help you if you’ve done BTEC or other qualifications.

You will be able to find all the entry requirements for every course on the UCAS website. Try searching for the course you are interested in and compare the entry requirements across a few different universities. They may not list all the qualifications they accept, especially if they are newer qualifications like T levels, so if you can’t see yours there it’s best to get in touch with the university directly. You should be able to find the course or admission teams contact details by scrolling to the bottom of the page or by going to the specific university website.

Narrowing down your research to a broad subject area that you enjoy or are interested in is a good place to start. UCAS Subject Guides give you an overview of a subject area and the type of courses you can study within it, rather than going straight to searching for specific courses.

Signing up for a UCAS Hub account gives you lots of handy tools, including saving your searches and favourite courses. It also makes suggestions of suitable courses based on your level 3 qualifications and tells you what other students with similar qualifications to you have gone on to study.

Discover Uni has lots of information on how to choose a course and the different factors you might want to take into account. Remember you don’t need to consider everything; just take into account the things that are most important to you!

Watch our quick Make Happen video on finding the right uni for a run-through of all the different factors to consider.

The amount of choice can be overwhelming and it can feel difficult to narrow down your options to just 5 universities. University course comparison sites help you to compare courses based on different factors, including league table rankings and student satisfaction. Remember to always take these with a pinch of salt as they’ll be based on different data sets. Every student will have a different experience but it might help you to get a feel for a university.

Here are some of our favourite comparison sites:

Discover Uni

The Uni Guide

The Complete University Guide

What Uni?

Don’t be overwhelmed by comparing every single thing about a university. Just pick 3-5 factors that are most important to you and compare those. For example, course content, accommodation, sports available, nightlife, wellbeing support. A table where you write down how a university scores in each of your priority areas might help to organise your research and narrow down your options.

Speak to university students themselves! You can speak to students at university open days, whether that’s online or in person.

You can search for relevant open days and taster sessions on our University Taster Days webpage.

Open days can give you a real feel for what a university is like. Read our Make Happen guide on how to make the most of them.

Read our handy guide on the top 10 things to know about university life.

You can also read about our own personal university journeys directly from the Make Happen team.

Stephen’s story: what I loved about uni

Hannah’s story: what I loved about uni

Jade’s story: what I loved about uni

Elise’s story: My five favourite things about university

First of all, don’t worry lots of students will be in a similar position to you! It’s normal to worry if you’re doing something for the first time. Our Make Happen guide will hopefully reassure you about some of the concerns you might have.

There is plenty of support available whilst at university. The following Make Happen guides will help you find out more about the support on offer and what university is like for students with disabilities:

What help can I get at university if I’m a disabled student?

Three students with disabilities share their university experiences

Distance Learning as a disabled student

You can also take a look at unifish, which is a directory of London universities that you can filter by the different kinds of support you need.

Yes! Many students work part-time on top of their university studies to supplement the money they get from their student loans as well as to gain work experience, meet new people etc. Read our Make Happen guide on this to find out more.

We’ve shared our own top tips in this short video here.

It’s normal for parents/carers to have concerns about you going off to university or doing an apprenticeship, especially if they don’t have any experience of this themselves or you’re the first one in your family to do this. Send them over to our handy Make Happen guide on removing the university ‘fear factor’ for parents and carers.

Your parents or carers can find a whole host of useful guides, videos and links to further resources here

Watch our short video for an overview of the different types of university accommodation.

You can find out more about where you can live by looking at the accommodation pages on specific university websites. Here’s some examples from our local partner universities:

Accommodation at Anglia Ruskin University

Accommodation at University of Essex

Accommodation at University of East London

Accommodation at Writtle University College

Watch our short video guide to student finance to find out all you need to know about paying for university.

Clearing is the process where universities fill any leftover spaces they have on their courses. You can find out all about Clearing on the UCAS website.

Read about the personal experiences of 2 students that got their university places through Clearing:

How does clearing work? Moya’s story

How does clearing work? Emma’s story

An apprenticeship is an opportunity to combine on-the-job training with study so that you can earn while you learn. Find out more in our Make Happen guide on apprenticeships.

Applying to an apprenticeship works the same as applying to a job vacancy so, unlike university, there’s not a set timeline to apply and companies will advertise them throughout the year.

There are lots of places to search for apprenticeship vacancies. A good place to start is creating an account and job alerts on the Government’s Find an Apprenticeship website.

UCAS also advertises apprenticeship vacancies here and has lots of useful advice about how to find one here.

You should also go to the websites of local training providers (e.g. the university providing the qualification side of the apprenticeship). Researching employers in the industry you are interested in and going directly to their website/social media pages is another good way to keep an eye on when they advertise their vacancies. Some companies will only directly advertise on their own website or social media pages.