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Alternative routes to take after A-Levels

​Traditionally, upon receiving your A-Level results, those three or four letters (or more recently, numbers!) inside the envelope would decide your fate and the choices were seemingly limited: to go to university or not to go to university – there was little leeway in between. However, as the world evolves, the gravitas placed on going to university has lessened significantly and young people, their peers, supervisors, and parents are recognising that there is a world of choice post-school education that involves more than just higher education.

We speak to Issi Briggs, our Marketing Executive, who didn’t go to university and instead followed a different route that gave her invaluable experience and, ultimately ended up leading her onto a career path that she loves.

"My plan was always to go to university. I wanted to either work with animals or do something with the environment – they were my passion points, and at one point I was adamant I was going to follow that dream. However, when it came to the crunch, we were given very little information as to the exact qualifications we needed to get onto our desired courses. Without a Biology A-Level, I couldn’t start a course involving animals and I received little to no guidance on how to enter an environmental-focused career without a specialist degree under my belt. I had to figure out a plan B.

Straight from school, I entered the world of work just to give me some money so I could begin building some sense of independence. Before I knew it, I had gained a lot more than just my own money – the bar work I was doing also gave me a great sense of responsibility and had created the chance to gain a lot of transferrable experience.

Soon after, I entered retail and climbed the ranks there. I went from Retail Assistant to Stock Controller, and helped manage the visual merchandising of stores. After a year and a half at the company, our Marketing Manager went on maternity leave, and I was asked if I wanted to put my skillset to use in a new area; I jumped at the chance and I found my ‘calling’. The creativity offered across these roles ultimately landed me in marketing.

My next step was into Wade Macdonald where I was given the chance to home in on my skills and explore which areas of Marketing I wanted to specialise in. The co-founders kindly gave me the opportunity to undertake the CIM Level 4 qualification through the Oxford College of Marketing, which is equivalent to a university degree, and I’ve never looked back.

Deciding on my chosen career path didn’t come conventionally, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Not only was I able to ‘earn whilst I learned’, but the experience I garnered was hands-on and my skills grew quickly – a real competitive edge in comparison to some of my peers.

Reflecting on my career journey so far, here are three key learnings I have taken away since leaving school that I hope will help you if you’re struggling to know which way to turn post-school education.

No decision is a wrong decision

There’s a lot of pressure on young people to make a decision and to make it quickly, but don’t let anyone or anything rush you – you’ve got your whole life ahead of you yet. Whether you choose to go to university or not, it doesn’t mean your options finish there and then. Higher education, vocational courses, apprenticeships – these are all things you can do at any age. There’s no age boundary on learning, and there’s certainly no age boundary on changing your mind.

Each choice you make will undoubtedly shape you as a person and give you a vital set of skills that you can take with you everywhere and anywhere.

It’s not just about hard skills anymore

A lot of people enter higher education to gain the necessary ‘hard skills’ needed for jobs which certainly makes sense if you’re thinking about entering a profession like Medicine or Law, but when entering an industry such as Marketing, employers aren’t as interested in these academic abilities - especially post-COVID. Instead, they need team members who show willingness to learn, empathy and good communication – all of which can’t be showcased on a degree certificate but must be built up in the ‘real world’.

This is where alternate routes such as Apprenticeships can stand you in brilliant stead. Learning on the job is a sure-fire way to build up these softer skills much faster and much more efficiently.

Have a passion

No matter what route you take, make sure you end up doing something that makes you happy; as Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”.

Just because your friends are off to university, it doesn’t necessarily mean that must be the route you take. If you’re hanging in the balance of indecision, waiting a year or so to see how you feel may be the best way forward. Taking a gap year to see the world, train in a vocation you perhaps hadn’t considered or volunteering for a charity are all options available to you. Whatever happens after this summer, don’t feel limited.