The Careermap Qualifications Guide

Your Post-16 options in one place

What can you do once Level 2 BTECs or GCSEs are over? There are lots of choices if you want to stay in some form of education or training. Some will appeal to you, some might not, which is how it should be –  we all learn differently. Here’s a summary of each one:

A Levels

  • Qualification Level: 3 
  • Assessment: Exams 

What is it?
A Levels are two year courses with little coursework or practical assessments followed by an exam. You can still take one year AS-Levels but they will not contribute to your overall final grade. It’s for you if: A Levels are a popular way to get the qualifications required for university, although you can just take them on their own. They’re for you if you get on well with both classroom learning and independent study, and if you enjoy a more academic style of learning. 

International Baccalaureate (IB)

  • Qualification Level: 3 
  • Assessment: Exams / Coursework 

What is it?

The IB was developed to give students an international understanding along with a balanced education. It is recognised in 153 countries. There are two kinds of IB programme, both studied full-time over two years.

It’s for you if… You want an academically challenging, wide-ranging education with an international flavour. The IB looks complicated at first but it’s really just about keeping your options open by studying a variety of subjects. It’s another popular way to get into uni, too. 

National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) 

  • Qualification Level: 1-7 
  • Assessment: in the workplace 

What is it? 
NVQs are usually taken alongside work. They’re designed to show that you’re competent in the various skills needed to do a particular job and are assessed on the practical work you do. It’s for you if… You want a qualification that ties in with a job, that enhances your career prospects and that you can follow as you gain more skills – once you complete one level, you can progress to the next one.

BTEC Nationals

  • Qualification Level: 3-5 
  • Assessment: written or activity-based assignments

 What is it? 
BTECs are work-focused qualifications that look at the areas of knowledge and skills you might need for a particular sector or industry. You can take them on their own, or alongside other qualifications like apprenticeships and A Levels.You can also choose BTEC Higher National Certificates or Diplomas – sometimes called HNCs or HNDs – which are the equivalent of the first and second years of a degree respectively. These can then be topped up to a full degree with additional study. 

It’s for you if… you know what sector you would like to work in and you learn better in a hands-on, vocational environment. Or perhaps you’d like a course that gives you some of the academic theory while also preparing you for the workplace. BTECs are increasingly popular for getting into uni – one in four students takes the BTEC route.


  • Qualification Level: 2-5 
  • Assessment: at the end of your training 

What is it? 

It’s helpful to think of an apprenticeship as a job, rather than a study programme. You get hired by an employer for a particular role – like hairdresser, veterinary nurse or accountant – and you study while you get paid to do the job. The various levels of apprenticeship are equivalent to GCSEs, A Levels, and Foundation Degrees. 

It’s for you if… You know what you want to do for a living, you want to work, and you want to get nationally recognised qualifications while you’re at it. Apprentices learn by doing the job, so if you prefer a hands-on approach, it could be ideal. 

Degree Apprenticeships

  •  Qualification Level: 6 
    Assessment: on-the-job and written / exam 

What is it? 

These programmes are developed by employers and universities. So, you do a job, and also a university degree at the same time. That means you learn about work and get paid, and you don’t have to pay uni tuition fees. They are still quite new, so there are a limited number of vacancies although they are growing. 

It’s for you if… You want a degree without the cost, or you simply want to get on with your career but still want degree-level training. 

Traditional Degrees 

  • Qualification Level: 6
  • Assessment: exam / coursework / performance 

What is it? 

Traditional degrees last three or four years (full time). They’re more theory-based and academically challenging – students learn to think critically, structure arguments and gain an in-depth understanding of their subject.

It’s for you if… You get on well with academic learning and want to totally immerse yourself in a subject. The university experience is unique, offering students the chance to develop and grow both personally and professionally before entering the world of work. 

T Levels NEW 

T Levels are new courses coming in September 2020, which will follow GCSEs and will be equivalent to 3 A Levels. These two year courses offer a mix of classroom learning and an industry placement. The first courses will include: teaching; digital production, design and development; surveying and planning. Keep an eye out for developments!

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