At Dallam School, we will explore the options between whether to study A Levels or BTECs through our whole-school careers guidance programme. We also welcome students from other secondary schools to join our Sixth Form.
On this page, we explore the many questions our Sixth Form Team get asked when students are choosing between A-level and BTEC qualifications.
1. What’s the difference between BTECs and A levels?
Broadly speaking, BTEC qualifications start to prepare you for a specific career, whereas A-levels aim to give you a solid academic grounding in a given subject. However, some BTECs can be quite academic too, depending upon the subject and the specific modules taught. BTECs revolve around coursework and often work experience, whereas A-levels are much more classroom-based and tend to be assessed largely via final exams.
2. Are BTECs easier than A-levels?
Don’t choose a BTEC expecting an easy life. The top grade – D* – is treated as equivalent to an A* at A-level and the lowest grade – P – is equivalent to an E (a pass at A level). You’ll also have to work very steadily throughout your course due to the continuous assessment methods. BTECs certainly aren’t the lazy way to an equivalent grade in the same subject.
Of course, there may be a subject that you would be very good at that is available as a BTEC but not as an A-level. If this is the case, you might find a BTEC easier due to the good match between you and your subject.
To figure out whether you’d find a BTEC easier than A-levels, think about what works for you personally in terms of teaching and assessment style, and what motivates you. These are likely to have a significant effect on the grades you get.
3. What is the teaching and assessment like?
Are you happy learning about new topics as abstract concepts, or do you find them easier to get your head around if you have hands-on examples and experiences? A-levels tend to be more abstract and BTECs more hands-on. If you score much more highly in coursework than exams, a BTEC may suit you better but if you get your highest marks in exams, A-levels are a good bet.
4. What motivates you to work hard and push yourself?
If a love of learning for its own sake motivates you to work hard and push yourself then consider A-levels. However, if you would like to develop skills and knowledge that are directly relevant to working life, then a BTEC would be better suited to you.
5. Where can a BTEC take me?
After completing a BTEC Level 3 course, you can either look for work immediately (whether as an apprentice or in an entry-level job) or go to university before starting your career. BTECs are more practical than A-levels and can include elements of work experience, which should help give you the skills and knowledge that employers in the relevant career area look for.
If you choose to go to university and haven’t taken A-levels as well as a BTEC, it will probably be to study a subject that relates to your BTEC and is vocational (focused on a specific career – e.g. nursing or business studies) rather than academic.
I run my own beauty therapist business and I work as a carer at a local care home. I’m taking my NVQ4 in nursing in September.
6. A-levels vs BTEC – are you ready to specialise?
One key difference between BTECs and A levels is that BTECs are very focused on a particular career area, whereas A-levels are broader qualifications that could lead in a number of different directions. Are you comfortable deciding on your future career now, or would you prefer to keep your options open?
For university entry, A-levels in academic subjects tend to be the best at keeping doors open to studying a range of different subjects at degree level. Taking a BTEC Extended Certificate plus two A-levels might suit you better if you’re attracted to the idea of a BTEC but don’t want to make a firm career commitment at this stage.
If you’re ready to specialise and choose a BTEC, it’s worth researching whether there will be many relevant jobs available locally – even if you plan to go to university first. If not, are you happy to move to another part of the country?
7. Do universities accept BTEC qualifications?
Many universities are in theory happy to accept BTECs for entry onto undergraduate courses. However, for courses that are academically focused and/or place a lot of weight on exams, BTECs may not be regarded as the best preparation.
Just because a university says that it accepts BTEC qualifications, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all staff regard them as highly as A-levels. In practice, when choosing between applicants, some admissions tutors may favour those with more traditional academic qualifications, particularly for more traditional academic courses.
Many university courses specify that you must have A-levels in particular subjects in order to apply. Even if you’ve studied relevant topics in your BTEC, these won’t always be accepted as an alternative. In other cases, universities may ask you to list which specific modules you’ve taken, as different schools teach different ones.
If you’re ready to decide your career direction, prefer practical learning to lots of theory and perform better in continual assessment than exams, then a BTEC could be a good fit for you. However, if you want to keep your options for careers and/or university study as open as possible, A-levels may be your best bet.
If you have any further questions to help you decide on your options, please speak with your current subject teachers, form tutor or contact any member of the Sixth Form team.
I love the range of subjects at Dallam Sixth Form, having boarders there and a much better relationship with teachers.