GCSEs complete, what next? Level 3 apprenticeships vs A-levels

By Sarah Chisnall Aug 22, 2019

Congratulations, you did it! Completing your GCSEs is a major achievement and signifies an exciting first step to building your early career. 

So what are you going to do next? Though there are many options available for school leavers, chances are that you’re looking at doing either a level 3 apprenticeship (usually through an employer or college) or A-levels (usually at college or sixth form).

Completing your GCSEs can be a significant time in your life for many reasons. It’s usually the first set of grades and qualifications that can be put on a CV to apply for jobs. Once you’ve finished year 11, you have the freedom to leave school behind you forever! However, if you live in England, by law, you still need to be doing one of the following until you’re 18:

  • stay in full-time education, for example at a college
  • start an apprenticeship or traineeship
  • spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training

This means that you face an important decision to make: what kind of qualifications are you going to get? Usually, this boils down to joining a sixth form or college and completing your A-levels or doing a level 3 apprenticeship through an employer. 

What is a level 3 apprenticeship?

If you’ve attended secondary or upper school, you’re probably already familiar with sixth-form and college as post-GCSE options. However, in the case of apprenticeships, you might be feeling a bit more in the dark.

Apprenticeships are available at different levels. They span from level 2 (equivalent to GCSEs) all the way up to the highest level, 7 (equivalent to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree). Once you’ve completed your GCSEs, you’ll be looking at Advanced or level 3 apprenticeships which are equivalent to two A-level qualifications. In order to do a level 3 apprenticeship, you will usually need at least 5 GCSEs at grade 4 (formally, grade C) or above. 

They work like most other apprenticeships, with a ‘learn on the job’ approach. This means you will be working throughout your apprenticeship but your employer will also provide you with training and you will usually have to spend a bit of time each week at a college as part of your studies (usually one day a week). A level 3 apprenticeship usually lasts for 24 months however it really depends on what apprenticeship you’re doing.

Level 3 apprenticeships vs A-levels: weighing up the factors

Making decisions is hard. Making a decision that affects your future career is even harder. 

An effective way of helping you along in the decision-making process is by weighing up the different factors involved in level 3 apprenticeships and A-levels. Then, you can choose which is the best option for you depending on what your own priorities and needs are.

1) Financial freedom

APPRENTICESHIP: Doing a level 3 apprenticeship means that you will be working, and therefore earning! Most level three apprenticeships will pay you the minimum wage which for an apprentice is £3.90 per hour. 

A-LEVELS: Doing A-levels usually means you will be attending sixth-form or college full-time. This means you may have enough spare time to take on a part-time job to line the pockets, but mostly, you’ll be busy with your academic studies which sadly don’t pay to be studied!


2) Free time

APPRENTICESHIP: So you’ve just finished your GCSEs, you have a long summer stretching out in front of you and you’re looking forward to having all that free time to do exactly what you want? Getting into an apprenticeship normally means working full-time hours, which means much less free time than you get at school. You’ll be entitled to a minimum of 20 holiday days per year. Doing an apprenticeship means saying goodbye to those long, endless summers!

A-LEVELS: Most sixth forms follow the same daily structure as schools: 6 hours of lessons a day, with breaks for Christmas, Spring, Autumn and Summer. If you go to college, depending on what course you choose to take, contact hours can be quite low and you may find yourself going in for lessons only 3 days a week. However, despite all this free time, doing A-levels involves a lot of study time, meaning that much of your free time should be spent on revision… 


3) Employability

APPRENTICESHIPS: These days it seems like you need previous work experience to get work experience. Doing an apprenticeship and learning whilst working will give you lots of experience to draw from and bulk out that CV. Additionally, starting at a company by doing an apprenticeship will give you the opportunity to progress through the company, giving you the chance to start working up the career ladder straight away!

A-LEVELS: Completing A-levels is usually far more academically focussed than doing an apprenticeship. In terms of employability, you may not be gaining as much relevant work experience by going down the A-levels route. However, continuing your studies full-time does help you to develop your soft skills, which are just as valuable in increasing your employability as work experience is.


Things to consider

Are you confident you know what career you want or are you still undecided?

Level 3 apprenticeships involve starting work and are therefore quite vocationally specific qualifications. If you are still open-minded and unsure about what you want your future job to be, doing something like A-levels could give you a bit more time to explore what you want your future career to be.

 Do you want to go to university?  It is a common belief that those who stay in school to do their A-levels in sixth-form will usually follow the path into university. Whilst it is very common for a-level students to look at going into university, this doesn’t mean that students with different qualifications can’t go either. Doing an apprenticeship doesn’t write university off for you, however, you’ll need to look into how you can do this and may not have as much support available to you as you might in a school or college.

Check out this short film that talks about how taking an apprenticeship can get you into university.

What is your learning style?

Doing something like A-levels will involve a lot of academic studying, in an educational institute environment. If learning and studying for your GCSEs wasn’t quite your thing or you’re a more practical learner, a level 3 apprenticeship might suit your learning style better.

Whether it's level 3 apprenticeships or A-levels, make the right choice for you

Whether it’s a level 3 apprenticeship, sixth form, college or something else, only you know what is right for you. Each option has its pros and cons. The beauty of having so many options to choose from is that you really can cater it to your own needs! And don’t forget that no decision has to be final. You might choose to do A-levels but after a year decide an apprenticeship might be the better option for you - go for it! 

No matter what you decide, Fledglink have you covered. Go to our app for more helpful articles like this one and to view all the opportunities available to you, whether it’s a level 3 apprenticeship or A-levels that you decide to do, we’ll have something for you!

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