No, My Child Is Not Going To University - So What Next?


Every year in mid-August, thousands of teenagers and their parents turn into quivering wrecks: AS and A level results are due and many teenagers' futures hang in the balance: will they be accepted at university or not?

But this year university applications have fallen. Higher tuition fees and graduate unemployment are two reasons why some young people are deciding that the university route is not the be all and end all.

Many school leavers who have not opted for university have a career path mapped out, but some don't.

"What are the options for teenagers who decide university isn't for them - or whose A level grades are not what are required for a place on a degree course? "


Ben, now almost 19, decided the traditional university route was not for him.

"I decided to leave school at 17 and do an IT apprenticeship course. I didn't want to go to university as I wanted to get out and earn a living.

"I had to go to college every day from 9am to 5pm. We had to dress in a suit as though we were going to work. It was very good for getting you into a work mode and being used to the discipline of the work place. After the initial six weeks we were paid £100 per week. This felt like being quite rich at the time. After five months I qualified with an array of IT skills."

How easily did he find a job?

"I managed to get my first interview after three weeks of finishing my course and was lucky to land my first job. I have been working ever since. Many of my peers are still studying, whilst I'm earning enough to have two holidays this year. If I'd gone to university I might not have got a job."

Is there a downside to any of this?

"The only thing that would have been nice would have been to have delayed the stress that goes with a full time job at a young age. I sometimes find this quite difficult."

There are three levels of modern apprenticeships, including advanced and higher. Higher levels can be the equivalent to a foundation degree.

Vocational courses are popular and provide practical learning along with qualifications. Colleges of Further Education provide courses in hairdressing, beauty therapy, photography, childcare, catering, the performing arts, and construction skills such as plumbing, brickwork and carpentry.

Most colleges offer BTEC or NVQ qualifications which can be an alternative to A levels, should a young person decide that he or she may want to apply for a degree course in the future. For example, almost all degrees in art require the applicant to have done a foundation course in art, and local colleges offer this.

Becky, now 23, attended an academic, single sex school but didn't feel university was right for her, despite all her close friends going to university. She took a year out of education after her A levels, working in retail. Then she decided to follow her dream of being a fashion designer. She studied for a foundation degree in art at her local college, was accepted at a college of fashion where she is completing a degree and is now gaining practical experience in some of the top fashion houses in the world.

There are also colleges which offer training in more specialist areas, such as horticulture, animal care, agriculture, equine studies and countryside management. Again, achieving a qualification at these colleges may offer the foundation for higher study without having to take A levels.

Louise decided to study for an animal management foundation degree at her local specialist college. She adored animals, had her own horse, but knew that academically she would never be accepted at a vetinerary college.

"I'm not an A grade student. But this way, I can still work with animals and can go on to do a full degree in Animal Management."

Going straight into employment is still an option after A levels. Large organisations such as banks and accountancy companies will take school leavers who can work and study for qualifications at the same time, as will larger retailers, such as John Lewis.

The Armed Forces and the police are other routes open to school leavers, as well as graduates. Entry into the Armed Forces is possible at 16, and at 18 for the police.

In 2011, figures from The Office for National Statistics showed unemployment of 21 year old graduates to be 25 per cent, compared to 20 per cent for school leavers aged 18.

If your teenager doesn't make the grade with their A levels and university is not an option - or they decide it's not for them anyway, there are other routes that can lead them into a fulfilling career. Most importantly, they should choose something where further study is an option and they are adding to the skills they have.