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Options at 16

Choosing your options at 16

If you have enjoyed studying chemistry at GCSE (or equivalent), there are various ways you can continue with the subject post-16.There are academic and vocaional qualifications available at this age so it is important that you take time to think about what would suit you and your career plans best. The option you choose might depend on:

  • how you prefer to learn
  • how you prefer to be assessed
  • what your future plans are.

Academic qualifications

If you like academic study and you’re happy to continue learning in the classroom and through practicals in the laboratory these are some of the qualifications to consider:

  • A-levels
  • Scottish Highers followed by Advanced Highers
  • International Baccalaureate Diploma
  • Cambridge Pre-U.
  • Leaving Certificate (Republic of Ireland)

These qualifications will take two years to complete and are assessed by exams, along with practical assessments and coursework in some cases. They are well-recognised by the leading universities in the UK.

You might have heard of the Welsh, Scottish or AQA Baccalaureate; these programmes consist of a package of qualifications like A-levels or Scottish Advanced Highers in combination with an extended project or other core activities.

In Republic of Ireland students generally get to sample a number of career options and subject choices during “transition year” but will depend on the school, after which students will study for the Leaving Certificate

Leaving certificate grades are converted into “points” which are used to access H&FE courses. Additional “bonus” points are currently available for students that take higher level maths.

Subject choices

When it is time to choose your subjects, there are benefits to studying maths alongside chemistry. You’ll find that the two subjects complement one another, with a strong foundation in maths becoming even more important if you intend to study chemistry at university. In some cases, A-level maths is one of the entry requirements for a degree in chemistry.

If you haven’t decided which science is your favourite, you might like to choose a second or third science alongside chemistry. Chemistry works well alongside physics or biology, with physics important if you’re interested in engineering and biology essential for professions like medicine or dentistry.

If you’re really undecided about your future plans, there are ways to keep your options open. A Russell Group guide to post-16 choices recommends studying some of the subjects that appear most often in university entry requirements. You’ll find chemistry, biology, physics, maths and further maths on this list of facilitating subjects.

Vocational qualifications

If you’d rather spend more time learning how to apply your scientific knowledge to practical situations, then you might prefer a vocational qualification. Vocational qualifications can be studied full-time, for one or two years. In some cases, students will mix vocational and academic qualifications.

The vocational subjects on offer tend to be linked to a specific job sector, for example pharmaceutical science or dental technology. If you study applied science, you might specialise in applied chemistry or forensic science, depending on what is available locally.

You’ll still be spending time in the classroom and in the laboratory, but you’ll find that your assessments are based around coursework and assignments rather than exams. Some of the qualifications that focus on vocational learning include:

  • BTEC Certificates and Diplomas (England, Wales, Northern Ireland).
  • National Certificates (Scotland).
  • Leaving Certificate Vocational or Leaving Certificate Applied (ROI)

Look out for Tech Level and Applied General qualifications which will be taught in England from September 2014; these are vocational or technical qualifications that are considered to be of high quality.

Vocational qualifications can be used as an entry route to many universities, as well as into work. If you’re interested in applying to a leading university or studying a competitive subject at university, then you may find an academic qualification will be preferred.


If you prefer to learn by doing then an apprenticeship might be for you.  Apprenticeships offer the combination of employment alongside qualifications which enable you to receive nationally recognised qualifications at the same time as gaining valuable work experience.  As an employee you will also receive a wage for the work that you do.  The current National Minimum Wage for apprentices is £3.30 per hour (Oct 2015), but many employers choose to pay much more than this.

Apprenticeships are available at different levels and offer qualifications from NVQ or SVQ level 2 up to degree level, depending on the requirements of the job. You might find chemistry apprentices using chemistry in settings where food, petrochemicals or pharmaceuticals are developed or manufactured. Opportunities for apprentice laboratory technicians are often advertised.

The government covers the cost of apprenticeship qualifications do you can get qualified to degree level without having to pay course fees.

If you’re planning to apply for an apprenticeship, you’ll need to be fairly certain of your career direction for the next few years and mature enough for the workplace. If you’re not quite ready for an apprenticeship, a Traineeship (in England) could help you prepare for work and gain some essential work experience. The first stop in your search for an Apprenticeship depends on where you live:

You can find and apply for an apprenticeship here.

Alternative options

Alternative post-16 options include starting work, setting up a business or volunteering. In England, continuing in some form of education until the age of 18 will be compulsory for students currently in Year 11 and below. This means that if you live in England and you choose something other than full-time education or an apprenticeship, you’ll have to take up part-time education or training alongside.

When it is time to choose your post-16 options, remember to think about what you would enjoy, what would suit you and what is most likely to fit in with any career plans you have. If you’re unsure about your next steps, try talking to someone at school: a careers adviser or chemistry teacher could be a good person to start with.

Did you know?

94% of those who graduated in 2011/12 with a doctorate were in work or further study 6 months after graduation.

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