What type of qualification should I choose at 16?

There are three types of qualifications Post 16: Academic, Vocational and Occupational. Most people focus on one of these but occasionally students study more than one.

When deciding which qualifications to take, ask yourself if the course will:

  • help you to meet the entry requirements for the job, career or higher education courses that interest you?
  • help you to keep your options open if you are not sure what you want to do later on?
  • suit your preferred learning style and use assessment methods that suit you?
  • allow me to combine different types of qualifications? i.e. mix an academic A Level with an Applied General Qualification

Type of course


Vocational/Applied General


Example courses (Post 16)


  • A Levels
  • GCSE (retakes)
  • International Baccalaureate
  • BTEC
  • Tech Levels
  • OCR Nationals
  • Entry Level specialised programmes
  • NVQ’s (National Vocational Qualifications)
  • City and Guilds

Main Characteristics

Academic qualifications are subject based, covering traditional subjects but also offered in some newer subjects. Academic qualifications allow you to study three or four qualifications in depth - they have a lot of theory and written work in them and are mainly assessed through examinations.

Vocational Qualifications are broadly based around an area of work or ‘job family’.

They equip you with knowledge of the sector and introduce you to the different careers within it.

Due to ongoing changes, these qualifications can be called both Tech Level or Applied General

Occupational qualifications are job-related and specific.

They develop the skills needed to do a particular job.

These qualifications are usually gained on the job as part of a training course or Apprenticeship.

Assessment includes coursework as well as observation of you at work

Example Subject or Area

Further Maths, Chemistry, Spanish, Art, Sociology, English Literature,

Health and Social Care, Business Administration, Performing Arts, Music Technology, ICT,

Childcare, Motor Vehicle Maintenance, Plumbing, Food Preparation, Accounting, Hairdressing

Levels Offered

2 and 3

Entry to 3

1 and above

What can I do after?

In most cases Academic qualifications lead to University and Higher Education.

However, a small percentage of students choose to start an Advanced Apprenticeship or job with training

Vocational qualifications give you the option of further education, work or training. You could choose to go to university or to do an Apprenticeship or job with training which is linked to the area you have been studying.

You may already be in work or training while doing these. If not, your next step is likely to be into employment with further training.





Page Last Updated:

4 June 2019

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