How to choose a sixth form

During year 11 you are free to apply to any sixth form you want, whether it’s a sixth form college, further education college or school sixth form. If your own school has a sixth form, there is absolutely no requirement for you to continue there. You can apply to more than one sixth form although you should decide where you actually want to go well before the summer holidays.

This is a big decision which will shape your life. You need to take it seriously and take your future into your hands. Here are 10 tips to help you make a well-informed decision.

  1. Think about what you’ve enjoyed studying

You know what subjects and what type of learning you’ve enjoyed. A good starting point is to think about what you’d most like to study further.

  1. Think about what you’re interested in and good at

Which subjects are you passionate about and which ones have you already excelled in? These might be a good basis for further study.

  1. Think about your future

Don’t worry if you don’t have a definite career ambition yet. See a careers adviser for a careers interview. Combined with your thoughts on (1) and (2) this will help you to explore a range of options you might want to pursue and will also help with your choice of subjects. It’s also a good idea to look at university websites and check what specific subjects, if any, are required by possible future degree courses. For some of the more selective universities, make sure you understand their approach to ‘facilitating subjects’.

  1. Decide what you think you want to study

Draw up a list of potential courses and subjects which might be right for you.

  1. Find what courses and combinations are on offer

Now you’re ready to look at what’s on offer in sixth forms within travelling distance. Research any subjects and courses which you know less about but which seem interesting. Don’t compromise on the subjects or courses that are important to you. Remember also that you might change your mind so it’s helpful to have a range of alternatives and fallback options.

  1. Decide what kind of environment you want to be in

You’re going to be spending a lot of time in the sixth form you choose. Imagine yourself being there every day, what are you absolutely essential requirements? You obviously want an environment which suits you but don’t make any assumptions about  whether a particular sixth will appeal to you until you’ve been to visit.

  1. Find out about different providers

Research all the sixth forms you are considering; look at their course offer and their results and read what they say about themselves in their prospectus and on their website. Remember that they will tend to publish positive information and don’t make assumptions based purely on statistics eg: 30% A* grades in a small college could be far fewer students that 5% A* grades in a larger one. More selective sixth forms will have higher average scores overall but that doesn’t mean that an individual student necessarily has a better chance of success there. This is about choosing what’s right for you and you are an individual not an ‘average’. Prepare the questions you want to ask on your visit.

  1. Shop around, visit and ask plenty of questions

You really need to get a feel for any sixth form you’re seriously considering. You can only get this by actually visiting. Attend open days and other opportunities to look around. Is there a purposeful working atmosphere focused on academic success? Do the staff and students seem friendly, respectful and supportive? Will your teachers have high expectations of you? Do you think you’d be happy there? Meet the teachers who teach your subject(s) and find out how you will be supported and assessed. Ask about university and employer links, the enrichment offer such as sports, music, arts, debating, lectures, student council, leadership, volunteering, student magazine etc. Look at the library and IT facilities and ask about careers advice, opportunities for work placements and the support available for any specific learning needs you may have. Remember, there are no stupid questions. If it’s on your mind, just ask!

  1. Find out about the entry requirements and application process

Make sure you understand what is expected. What is the application deadline? What grades, average point scores or subject results will you need to get on to the courses you want to study? These will be different for different sixth forms. If you don’t quite make the entry requirements will they be able to offer you alternatives or stepping stones?

10. Talk to others but make your own decision

Talk to current or former sixth formers to get their views but take all second-hand opinions or anecdotes with a pinch of salt. One person is a very small sample, so you need to ask more people if you can. Even better: judge for yourself. Don’t just follow, or avoid, what your friends are doing because you can’t make your mind up. Make sure you’re well enough informed to make your own choice. After all, it’s your future.

See also:

How to make a strong college application

Your college interview

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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