Can I go to university without A Levels?

If you decide you want to go to university, you need to choose what kind of qualification you’d like to do – it’s not only A Levels that will get you there! Career Camel gives you the low-down on the differences and similarities between them to help you decide.

GCE A Levels

A Levels are currently the most common qualification at this level in the UK and are recognised as the ‘gold standard’ of English education. Normally students gain A Level qualifications two years after completing their GCSEs.

The A Level programme can be taken for either one or two years. At the end of the first year, students who have completed all units receive an AS (Advanced Subsidiary) Level, and may choose to study for a second year and sit the A2 Level stage, in order to receive a full A (Advanced) Level.

Students usually take four AS Levels in their first year and specialise in three in their second year (as most universities require three full A Level grades for entry). A number of colleges offer intensive one-year A Level programmes, and there is no age limit for taking them. International students often take them too to meet entrance requirements for UK universities. A Levels are graded from A* to U, with E being the minimum pass grade.

A Levels in applied subjects

Students can also take A Levels (at NVQ/SVQ Level 3) in practical subjects, which are equivalent to academic A Levels. Many students will study a mixture of applied and academic A Levels and again, they can be studied for either one or two years.

There are subjects in a number of occupational areas, including business, media, travel and tourism, engineering and IT. Although they are seen as equivalent to academic A Levels, watch out because some universities prefer academic subjects for entry requirements.

Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers

These are the Scottish equivalents to A Levels. They are studied in the final two years of school (like A-Levels) and five subjects are usually taken in the first year, and three in the second year. Highers usually take one year, and Advanced Highers are studied in the second year. Some of the content of Advanced Highers can overlap with content in higher education courses like degrees.

Highers are graded from A to C and Advanced Highers from A to D, and both academic and vocational subjects can be studied. They are the qualifications most often required for a Scottish higher education course (usually three to five passes at A-C for a degree course, and Advanced Highers in up to three subjects for other universities in the UK). Most Scottish universities offer four-year degree courses to ensure that students that have Advanced Highers and A-Levels are at the same level, usually offering a mix of subjects in an undergraduate’s first year.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

The IB is a two-year course offered in many different countries across the world, for students between the ages of 16 and 19. More than 100 UK institutions currently offer the qualification.

It has a compulsory core of three subjects, which are the theory of knowledge; creativity, action and service; and an extended essay. Students can then take six optional subjects, one each from first language; second language; experimental sciences; mathematics and computer science; the arts; and individuals and society. Three of the optional subjects are studied to a standard level and three to a higher level, which requires more teaching.

Students are awarded points rather than grades. Up to three points can be awarded for the core subjects and up to seven for each of the optional subjects. The maximum one can receive is 45 points, and 24 points is the minimum requirement to receive a full IB. A single qualification is awarded for the IB, unless a student fails to get a full IB, then they are awarded separate certificates for each subject.

The IB is accepted by UK universities and other universities across the world as an entry qualification. 24 points is the equivalent of two Bs and a C at A Level, and the maximum of 45 points is equivalent to six As at A-Level.

Other qualifications equivalent to A Levels are also offered, including the Extended Project, the Scottish Baccalaureate and the Cambridge Pre-U Diploma. Whatever your choice may be, make sure you choose the correct qualification depending on what you want to do with it after completion.