Leaving school is a tumultuous time and one that breeds difficult decisions for those making their next steps to adulthood and independence. The leading question on every student’s mind is what they want to do with their lives; what kind of work do they want to undertake, and what would they like to specialise in?
With over 780,000 individuals enrolled in A Level exams in 2020 alone, there are more young people than ever trying to intuit their own path forward. In addition, increasing numbers of adults are choosing to change their careers later in life which often involves re-entering the education system in order to get relevant qualifications. Even retirees commonly join local courses to pursue deeper knowledge of a long-held passion. So, whatever age you may be – what are the best options for higher education, and what opportunities might they provide?
University is the most straightforward path of higher education for budding students. There are well over 150 universities in the UK, 90 of which appear in the QS World University Rankings – making the UK a uniquely strong place in which to pursue an academic specialism.
University is also an exceptionally flexible path of study for students. Many offer a wide range of courses across all subjects, with modular course paths and the opportunity to transfer to a different discipline entirely in certain scenarios. University degrees are worth a little less to employers than they once were, but nonetheless remain an impressive – and sometimes essential – addition to your CV.
The downside to university is the prohibitive cost. Between high annual tuition fees and the cost of living, full-time study can be expensive to the point of inaccessibility for some. Still, there are financial options like independent student loans and government grants for low-income families available that students can use to bridge gaps between their bigger maintenance loans. The qualification at the end can more than justify the cost, especially with high-demand jobs in niche professions.
Colleges differ somewhat from universities in scope and provision. Many students in further education will already be familiar with colleges, as learning institutions for the gaining of A Levels and BTECs. But colleges also provide higher education in the form of vocational courses and qualifications, which enable you to specialise in a skill or trade without the academic requirements of university.
Colleges are particularly apt learning institutions for those wishing to work with their hands – whether as a carpenter, electrician, plumber or even builder. Colleges can offer routes to more technical roles but are generally a swift way to get on track with a career you already know you want to start.
Conservatoires are a specific form of higher education institution, that focus on performing arts and creative disciplines over other forms of academic study. They are akin to universities in the type and level of qualification on offer but specialise in qualifications relating to creative industries and practice.
A conservatoire is a natural choice for you if you are a dedicated creative, or otherwise interested in the industry surrounding creativity. Instrument study and artist development are key themes, but courses also exist for those interested in technical and business aspects of music, dance, or drama.