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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 a range of school- and college-based and work-based qualifications available at this age so it is important that you take time to think about what would suit you and your 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

School-based qualifications

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland you can choose to study:

  • AS Chemistry

  • A-Level Chemistry

  • International Baccalaureate (IB)

  • Pre-U Chemistry

  • Applied General courses in Applied Science, e.g. BTEC and other Level 3 Diplomas and Certificates.

AS qualifications do not count as part of your overall A-Level grade in England whereas in Wales and Northern Ireland they do. You will be assessed through exams and practical assessments in the laboratory. AS Chemistry takes one year to complete whilst the others take two years.

Applied General courses include Level 3 Certificates and Diplomas, a common example is the BTEC in Applied Science. These courses are assessed by a combination of written exam, assignments and practical reports. These qualifications are well recognised by UK universities should you want to go onto a University Degree, or start a Higher, Technician or Degree Apprenticeship.

Studying chemistry also leads onto lots of different careers you may not have thought of as chemistry teaches you valuable skills that employers look for.  

In Scotland, there are several options to consider:

  • Highers are a one-year course with formal exams at the end. Students can progress onto University with Highers, however it is becoming more common for students to take a mix of Highers and Advanced Highers during a sixth year at secondary school.

  • Advanced Highers are a one-year qualification assessed by examination. They are often required to attend University in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. There are some cases of students taking a mix of Nationals, Highers and Advanced Highers in a single year. Check with your local education provider if you want to explore this option.

  • National Certificate in Applied Sciences or National Progression Award (NPA) in Laboratory Science are one-year coursesdelivered flexibly with a combination of assessed tests and practical assignments. The National Certificate supports knowledge of laboratory work whilst the NPA prepares individuals for a career as a laboratory technician or technologist across industries. Both courses are intended for adult learners, school leavers and individuals currently working in the science industry. It can lead onto the Higher National Certificate (HNC) Applied Science, or you can start working.

In the Republic of Ireland, students in the Senior Cycle who are interested in Chemistry could choose Leaving Certificate Chemistry or Leaving Certificate Physics and Chemistry. Both can be assessed at Higher and Ordinary levels.

There is also an NFQ Level 5 award by QQI in Laboratory Science which contains modules in all of the sciences and maths alongside work-related skills development and can be used as a preparation for work or further study at Third Level.

Work-based qualifications

If you like the idea of working whilst you study science and are not sure about going to university then an apprenticeship might be for you. Apprenticeships offer the combination of working alongside studying nationally recognised qualifications and setting yourself up on a long-term career path whilst gaining core skills. For the majority of roles you need to be 16+, you will not pay for your qualification and you will be paid the National Minimum Wage for apprentices. This is currently £3.50 per hour (Feb 2018) but many employers pay more particularly for higher level apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are available at different levels and offer qualifications up to degree level, depending on the requirements of the job. You might find chemistry apprentices working as laboratory technicians using chemistry in settings where food, petrochemicals or pharmaceuticals are developed or manufactured. Once successfully completed, each apprenticeship can lead to either continued employment or the next apprenticeship up in the level of demand.

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 apprenticeshipa Traineeship (in England) could help you prepare for work. Securing an apprenticeship can be very competitive. The level of qualification and how you apply for one depends where you live in the UK.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland you can complete:

  • Advanced level apprenticeship where you could be supporting scientists and engineers, analysing samples or maintaining quality standards in the lab. You will be studying and assessed throughout your apprenticeship, which can last 18-36 months. You will gain an Applied General qualification depending on your training provider. After completion, you can work as a Registered Science Technician in a local school or major science company, or apply to be a Degree or Higher Apprentice.

  • Degree level apprenticeships are currently only available in England and Wales. They take 3-6 years depending on whether you have chosen to study towards your BSc or Masters whilst you work. There are currently limited numbers of degree apprenticeships and you will need to hold at least missing the number of GSCEs or other higher Level 3 qualifications to apply.

  • Higher apprenticeships allow you to study for a Foundation degree or Higher National Diploma (HND) one day a week whilst working. These can last up to 5 years and you are  likely to be working in the science industry operating specialist laboratory equipment to test and develop new products and materials. You need a set amount of UCAS points to apply. It is possible to top-up your Foundation degree or HND to a Bachelor’s degree.

In Scotland, there are different levels of apprenticeships that you can apply for dependent on what qualifications you hold:

  • Foundation apprenticeships are for 5th and 6th year secondary school students who are working towards one or two Highers. This is the only apprenticeship open to under 16s. You could be working as a Laboratory Assistant or Technician. This can lead onto further study, a job, a modern or technical apprenticeship, or a related university course in some cases.

  • Modern Apprenticeships build on each other and range from Level 5 to 7 offering individuals the option to progress from junior technician to supervising a team developing medicines or flavours in the food industry. These apprenticeships can last 1 – 3 years and you will gain recognised qualifications that can also be used for University entry.

  • Technical Apprenticeships can last 1 – 4 years and are for individuals with a modern apprenticeship level 7, equivalent qualification or work experience. You could be employed as a Technician or Trainee Scientist improving scientific techniques, supervising others or progress onto a University degree.

  • Graduate apprenticeships were introduced in 2017 and are currently not offered in chemistry-related roles.

Find out more about work-based options and how to apply for them by visiting our earn as you learn page.

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 will 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 future plans you have. If you are 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.

Subject choices

When it is time to choose your subjects, there are benefits to studying maths alongside chemistry. You will 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, physics is important if you are interested in engineering, and biology is helpful for professions like medicine or dentistry.

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

Did you know?

The average salary of a chemist may be dependent on their specialisation with an analytical chemist's average salary of £22,631 and a polymer chemist's average salary of £29,155.

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