Deciding what to do at 16

by Emma Grafton-Williams

When you reach the age of 16, big decisions need to be made.

Young people are expected to stay in education until the age of 18 depending on which school they attend - and with lots of options available it’s a tough choice to make.

Check out our guide on what a 16-year-old can do once they finish their GCSEs. Options are divided into three areas.

Studying full-time

Schools, colleges and training providers offer a range of subjects and courses if your child wants to stay in full-time education.


  • General qualifications that are valued by employers and universities and are a great route to degree-level study at universities and colleges. They are a fantastic option for people who want to study subjects further

  • There is a huge list of A-Level subject ranging from maths, ancient history, film studies, philosophy, travel and tourism etc

  • Pupils would ordinarily need to have at least five GCSEs at grade A*to C or an equivalent qualification.

Studying A-levels can be a fantastic route to degree-level study at university

Vocational Qualifications – NVQs and BTECs

  • You can also start work and go into job-related courses

  • They combine practical learning with studying subjects and technical skills and these are specialist courses that relate to particular jobs, sectors and subject areas

  • They are a good starting place if you know exactly what you want to do in the future and are widely accepted at most universities in the UK.


If you are interested in starting work and learning new skills then this could be the right option for them. There are different types of apprenticeships across plenty of industry sectors.

  • On an apprenticeship you will study for qualifications while working and they learn the skills they need for the job they are doing

  • You will earn a wage and will be entitled to holiday pay. The national minimum wage for an apprentice is £3.30 per hour

  • Hundreds of options are available from engineering to journalism, veterinary nursing, chefing courses, music production, graphic design and lots more.

Apprenticeships are a great way to combine practical learning and key skills with on the job training

Work or volunteer while studying part time

If studying full-time isn’t the right option for you, you can combine full or part-time work with training or studying for a qualification alongside the job

  • The options include work, volunteering or setting up your own business

  • Working doesn’t have to be a paid job, you could volunteer for a project or charity work, or get a work experience type placement in a career or job you are interested in.

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