Post 18: Information for Students

Information, inspiration, and advice to help you make the right decision for your future.

St Mary's has a strong focus on raising aspirations and aiming high. Consequently, many of our pupils wish to continue onto university to pursue a higher education qualification.

We are aware, however, that university is not the right decision for all of our pupils. With the ever-growing number of high quality apprenticeship opportunites available, there are certainly excellent alternatives for continued education, whilst also gaining invaluable experience of the world of work. Additionally, an increasing number of colleges are offering higher education qualifications.

A small number of our students decide to move straight into employment after Sixth Form, sometimes just as a gap year, whilst for others it is more permanent. 

Regardless of the route that a young person wishes to follow, St Mary's works closely with all pupils to support them in their next steps.

Higher Education

Higher education means any sort of nationally recognised qualification which is at Level 4 or above; A-Levels are a Level 3 qualification. 

A degree starts at Level 4 and progresses to Level 6, usually over three years. Although in the past higher education courses were delivered at universities, they are now offered by universities, colleges, and also by some training providers.

Benefits of higher education: Employment Benefits

  • People with higher level skills are less likely to be unemployed, partly because their higher-level skills allow them to do a range of jobs. 
  • Many professional jobs require a university degree - architecture, dentistry, physiotherapy, and lots more.
  • Many professions only employ graduates and many of the opportunities they offer can be open to graduates with any degree subject.
  • Even if you have no career in mind you can, through a degree, develop skills employers want such as team working, communication skills, research skills.
  • Many universities will give students the opportunity to do work experience or a placement as part of their course, either in this country or abroad, where you work which will add to your CV.
  • You will meet new people and build a network of contacts that can really help with your future career.

Benefits of Higher Education: Financial benefits

  • An Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report shows "Higher education leads to much better earnings than those earned by non-graduates, although students need to realise that their subject choice is important in determining how much of an earnings advantage they will have."
  • On average, graduates in the workforce earn £10,000 more a year compared to non-graduates. 

Careerpilot : Get information : Higher education at 18+ : What is Higher Education & what are the benefits?

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Higher education opportunities

There are a number of ways by which you can research higher education opportunities which include Unifrog, UCAS, and Prospects, or you can go to the webpages of individual institutions.

When researching, you may not yet know your predicted grades, but we would recommend that you are aspirational when searching; it might provide that little bit of extra motivation! It is also recommended that you look for a course with somewhat lower grade requirements, to act as an insurance place in case you do not secure the final grades for your first choice.

There is only so much a prospectus and website can do to show you what university life is like at each institution and so it is recommended that you attend an Open Day. Open Days are events hosted by universities to show you the facilities, let you meet current students and staff, and also to get a feel of the space and campus. A complete database of upcoming open days can be found on the Open Days website.

Whilst you complete your UCAS application, St Mary's provides extensive support through the Personal Development programme and tutor time. Additionally, Mrs E Smith, the Head of Sixth Form Pathways and Personal Development, monitors the progress of pupils and provides additional taylored support as required.


If you have a particular job sector or career in mind, then an apprenticeship could be a choice worth considering. On average, there are up to 10,000 vacancies online at any one time. There are over 1,500 different jobs roles you can do an apprenticeship in across 170 different industries, from law to graphic design, advertising to electric vehicle engineering. You would also have an improved chance of getting a job at the end of the apprenticeship - research shows that around 90% of apprentices stay in work on completion of their training and 71% of apprentices stay with the same employer. Competition for some apprenticeship placements is intense, particularly at higher or degree level.

Intermediate Advanced Higher Degree
Level 2 Level 3 Level 4-5 Level 6-7
Equivalent to 5 GCSE pass grades 9-4 Equivalent to 2 A-Level passes Equivalent to a Foundation Degree Equivalent to a Bachelor's or Master's Degree

Table 1. Apprenticeship levels and their educational equivalents

Degree apprenticeships were introduced in 2015, and are part of what is known as Higher Apprenticeships - which includes all apprenticeships between Level 4 and Level 7. These enable you to gain a higher qualification such as a foundation degree, Bachelor’s degree or a Master’s degree whilst you are working. The big benefit of degree apprenticeships is that there are no university tuition fees as the costs are paid by the employer and the government. You also earn while you learn; you will develop real skills for the job through doing the actual job whilst gaining a nationally recognised degree qualification. You will also be entitled to paid holidays and sick pay.

The minimum you can earn if you are under 19 years old is £4.81 per hour which works out as £177.97 for a 37 hour week of work and training.  When you are over 19 and have completed the first year of your apprenticeship the minimum rates of pay are higher. The salary of a higher/degree apprentice varies depending on the sector from approximately £16,000 - £25,000 a year. If the apprentice is 16 to 24 and a care leaver, they will receive a £1,000 bursary payment to support them in their first year of the apprenticeship. 

The length of an apprenticeship depends on the qualification being obtained and the type of job role. For example, a Level 3 business administration apprenticeship can take 18 months, whilst an engineering degree apprenticeship could take up to 6 years to finish. 

As well as learning 'on the job' at work, you will also be given time to train 'off the job'. There will be at least 20% of time for structured learning with a university, college, or training provider.

On the Job Training - is in the work place with your employer. You will develop your skills by working with colleagues who will show you how to carry out certain tasks. 

Off the Job Training - is when you learn away from work, often at a local college supported by your training provider.

Your training provider provides an important role in delivering your 'off the job' training, by attending regular reviews with your employer, and assessing your progress towards your qualifications. It might be that you use a computer to access online learning, or you might go to college, university, or a training centre one day a week,  or on a block for a few weeks at at a time. You will need to make sure you are managing your work and studies. This means you will be developing your organisational and time management skills alongside your work skills.

If you want to do an apprenticeship after a degree you have two options. You can apply for a post graduate level in the area of your degree or you can apply at a graduate level in a different field to the degree. As long as the apprenticeship involves a significant amount of new learning or updating of skills, you would be able to apply.

Careerpilot : Get information : Apprenticeships : What is an Apprenticeship, how much will you earn?

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Gap Year

A gap year usually means taking a year out in between your studies, often at age 18 and after Level 3 qualifications such as A-Levels.

Some people apply and get a place at university and then ask for their place to be deferred so that they can have a gap year. If you know what course you want to do at university then this is the approach that St Mary's recommends; you will have the suppport of St Mary's staff whilst making your application and will not have to try and complete the process whilst you might, for instance, be out of the country!

A gap year can offer a great opportunity to develop personal and employability skills, or to get experience working in a job area of interest, or to meet people from different cultures. It is important, however, that you consider the advantages and disadvantages of taking a gap year.

If you are considering a gap year then some opportunities can be found below:

  • The Year in Industry A paid placement for, typically, 12 months. ​The Year in Industry has vacancies with companies working in technology, computing, science, engineering, business, marketing and finance across the UK – from leading FTSE 100 companies to small innovative start-ups. Around a quarter of The Year in Industry students will secure university sponsorship each year, or return to guaranteed vacation work with their host company. Many of the partner companies see The Year in Industry as an important part of their graduate recruitment programme, or an introduction to a future apprentice.

  • The Year Out group An association of approved gap year organisations, most of which are registered in the UK.  At least one of the principal activities of each of these organisations is the provision of well-structured gap year programmes in the UK or overseas.
  • Prospects has a list a list of organisations dedicated to overseas internships, volunteering, and gap year opportunities.

Careerpilot : Get information : Your choices at 18 : Gap year

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