A student perspective - top things to consider when choosing a sixth form

Mati, Year 12
Mati, Year 12 student

If you are anything like I was, choosing your sixth form may seem like an absolute monster of a decision! This is completely understandable, for a lot of people this is the first time in your educational journey that you are likely to be having as much (if not more) input as your parents into where you go, and unlike secondary school, you might not be as limited by catchment areas. Furthermore, it often feels like the choices you make about your post - 16 education can impact your whole life. Quite frankly, when you’re 16 years old and already juggling your GCSEs, this decision is HARD, that’s why I’ve made a list of a few things that might be helpful to consider.

1. College vs Sixth Form

For the first time in your life since you started school, there are a lot more options about the type of institution you want to study at. You could go to a sixth form in a school, do A-levels at a college, do a vocational course at a college, or even do an apprenticeship. These are all completely different experiences and will get you to completely different places by the time you leave. In my opinion, there are two factors when making this decision:

a) Do you know what career you want? - A lot of us have no idea what we want to do as a job in the future, therefore it’s probably better to opt for somewhere where you can do A-levels, as these will keep your options more open. However, if you are certain that you want to be a hairdresser, and have been all your life, it might be better to choose a college where you can do a vocational course in hair and beauty, for example, or even look for an apprenticeship.

b) What sort of ‘feel’ are you looking for? - Obviously, The Queen’s School is a sixth form college within a school, and although the ‘feel’ is different from the secondary school, we still get a lot of support from our teachers and are involved in the school community. Friends of mine who chose to go to college have said that it is a lot more based around independent study, so you have to be self-motivated!

2. Independence

Another important consideration when it comes to choosing your sixth form is how much independence you want. At Queen’s, although we wear our own smart clothes rather than a uniform, and we are allowed out into town in our free periods and at lunch, we still feel involved in the school and get plenty of support. I briefly attended a different sixth form, where we wore a uniform, and it was very strict. We were still treated the same as pupils lower down the school, which I didn’t like. However, other pupils really enjoyed the safety of still feeling like they were in school. Colleges are a different ball game altogether, in most places you are only expected to attend for your timetabled lessons, so could find yourself with a lot of free time and independence, BUT within this free time, you have to find the motivation to study and get your work completed.

3. Subjects

Sixth forms and colleges don’t all offer the same subjects. If you know you want to study a particular course, like politics, it is essential that you look for a place where you can do this. Furthermore, if you know you want to do a course at university that you need certain subjects for (like dentistry), you need to make sure you can take all the sciences you need.

4. Location

Sixth form often means that you are not confined to schools that you are in the catchment area for (yay!), so there are more choices of areas you can go to. This said it is vital to think about whether you want to be spending an hour on a bus every day to get there. The amount of time you have to spend studying does get more intense post - 16, so if you are spending two hours a day travelling this will have an impact on your study time, and as a result, you might have less time to spend doing things you enjoy. On the other hand, if the only place that does the subjects you are desperate to do is a bit further away, it might be worth the extra 20 minutes in the car!

5. Atmosphere and Facilities

I cannot stress enough how important it is to visit your sixth form in person before you join! It was something I did not get to do as I was moving from abroad, and I ended up making the wrong decision. You will be spending a lot of time in your sixth form over the next two years, so if you don’t like the atmosphere of the place, it is likely to impact how happy you will be there. The facilities are also important - if you like sport, do they have a good gym? Do they have a cosy place to study?

6. Reputation

This is a tricky one. Obviously going somewhere with a good reputation is great, but you have to make a choice that is right for you! If you are an academic student looking to get 3 A*s in science, then the academic results of the school might be a top priority. However, if you are more concerned about feeling happy, and you think this will help you commit to your studies better, you might want to look for somewhere that feels nurturing and friendly, or even better find somewhere that does both like me

7. Friends

I know that for a lot of people it can feel really daunting leaving your friends for sixth form, but you have to choose the path that is best for YOU. This decision will affect your future. Good friends will always be there for you, whether you are at school together or not, and you will make more friends at a new sixth form. Lots of people move at this stage in their education, so you will not be alone!

Obviously, there are other things to consider too when choosing your path post-16, but these are a few that I think are particularly important, having been through the decision myself. It is a daunting time, but you will come to the right answer in the end!

Good Luck!