Careers Advice

Leaving School at 16

Your route into the space sector doesn't have to rely on you staying in school and academia after the age of 16. A myriad of opportunities are available as a next step to your career in space!

Many students choose to leave school early for various different reasons, but there are still plenty of options out there if you'd like to get into the space sector! In Scotland and England, even if you leave full-time education at 16, you’ll be required to undertake further training, whether through an apprenticeship as listed above, or a vocational route.

Enhanced A Levels

If you want to continue your academic education outside of school, many colleges offer the opportunity to study A-Levels. Loughborough College offers an Enhanced A-Level Programme in Space Engineering, which combines a BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Engineering, an A-Level in Mathematics and an A-Level in Physics. Successful completion of this course offers you a chance to progress on to an undergraduate degree in Mathematics, Engineering or Physics at a university. This course also features regular visits to the National Space Center in Leicester, along with regular trips and speakers from the space sector.

Traditional A Levels

Alternatively, you can still study the more traditional A-Levels at a college, rather than at school, which would provide you with a progression path for applying to a university. The exact A-Levels to pick will differ based on which degree you’d like to apply for, but Mathematics is usually considered to be a good choice for almost any subject.

The Open University 

The Open University will accept students from the age of 16+ and they have no formal entry requirements. They’re a long-standing and respected university with experience in delivering education remotely. In the UK, they have almost 120,000 enrolled students, which is quadruple the number of enrolled students of the next largest university, University College London, who have over 41,000 enrolled students. They have a complete course catalogue including biology, engineering, mathematics and physics. A degree from the Open University will look excellent on your CV as future employers will recognise the commitment needed to be able to self-motivate your way through studying a degree at home.


Instead of taking an A-Level, you may wish to get a headstart on studying university-level material by completing a Higher National Diploma (HND). An HND is a two-year course, where you will study towards a Higher National Certificate in your first year before obtaining an HND by the end of your second year. Many colleges offer these courses, usually only requiring a GCSE to enter. An HND is considered to be equivalent to two-thirds of a bachelor's degree, making them an excellent choice, as they will allow you to either exit with an HND and enter the workforce, or to apply and transfer to another university to complete your degree. Not all universities will accept an HND, so it is important to check the entry requirements of different universities ahead of time for your chosen degree subject.

Vocational Qualifications

If you'd prefer to do something more hands-on, a vocational qualification may be a better choice. These can come in the form of BTEC qualifications, usually at level 2 or 3. Engineering and Applied Science are among the courses on offer, and the Applied Science qualification contains a module on “Physics and our Universe”. Similarly to the HND qualification, you should check the entry requirements of different universities for your chosen degree subject, if you do want to pursue a degree after completing a BTEC. BTEC qualifications are offered in most colleges, but make sure to check the prospectus of your chosen or local institution for course availability.

T - Levels

Furthermore, the UK Government are now introducing a new type of qualification alongside A Levels, called T Levels, which will be available from September 2020. These new T Level qualifications are available to anyone between the age of 16-19 and will be equivalent to three A Levels. They combine traditional classroom study with hands-on work experience via a 45-day industrial placement. Similarly to A Levels, these new qualifications will allow you to continue to progress, by either working in a job immediately or beginning a higher apprenticeship, or university course.

A note on Scottish education

The education system in Scotland is broadly similar to the rest of the UK. The biggest difference is that a Higher qualification is only studied over the course of a single year rather than two years for an A-Level. This will give you more flexibility, as you may choose to apply to a University straight away with Highers or continue to study subjects further with an Advanced Higher for an extra year. Many Highers are available for study at colleges throughout Scotland, and the typical entry requirement would be a National 5 in the subject, which you will likely do in school.

This interactive table provided by the SCQF will show you progression paths available for different qualifications.

Some further useful links:


More information on the new T - levels


Craig Orrock

Craig is an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Heriot-Watt.

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