Important Things You Need to Know Before Starting Sixth Form


  1. What is sixth form?
  2. How long is sixth form?
  3. How can I get into sixth form?
  4. What year do you start sixth form?
  5. Which sixth form should I choose?
  6. Is sixth form really hard?
  7. What to do if I don’t get into sixth form?
  8. Is sixth form better than sixth form college?
  9. How to prepare for the first day of starting sixth form
  10. Common sixth form mistakes


The end of GCSEs is in sight, so close that you can almost touch it, but as with every other stage of your school life so far, the next chapter of your education is looming ever closer. But you’re not sure what to do next. Would you like to go to sixth form or sixth form college? What is the difference? Maybe you’d like to consider going to a college offering hands-on courses and apprenticeships

We’ll go through everything that you need to know to make the best choice when it comes to starting sixth form.

After GCSEs, many students choose to go onto one of the following:

Sixth form -Attached to a secondary school

Sixth form college -Similar to sixth form, but not attached to a secondary school 

College- Offering vocational courses and apprenticeships


What is sixth form?


Starting sixth form is the next stage in a student’s education after finishing GCSEs. The primary focus of your time in sixth form is to achieve the best A Level, BTEC or IB results. These results could allow you to go on to study at your dream university. Your local sixth form may be connected to your secondary school, or you could study at another sixth form or sixth form college. A sixth form college still enables the same qualifications to be obtained as in school sixth forms.


How long is sixth form?


Students start sixth form usually at age 16 and leave when they are 18. In total, sixth form lasts for two years. Of course, there can be students who might need to retake exams and stay for an additional year but this is unusual. In exceptional circumstances a student may need to leave sixth form temporarily in the middle of their study, for example  due to a serious medical complaint, and then return the following academic year to resume sixth form.


How can I get into sixth form?


Your GCSE grades are the single most important factor in determining whether you can get into sixth form. Sixth forms are looking for students who show commitment to their studies and the potential to become university students, so GCSE grades are deemed an accurate way to look at each student's potential.

The exact grades required vary from sixth form to sixth form so be sure to check the websites of every institution that you are interested in to determine which ones you’d be a suitable candidate for. Generally speaking,a minimum of 5 GCSE grades are required to get into sixth form but some sixth forms and colleges do accept 4 GCSEs. There are more selective sixth forms that require a minimum of 6 GCSEs at the highest grades.

Sixth forms, much like universities, are able to be picky with the students that they choose to enrol, which although daunting, reflects the seriousness of studying full time after GCSEs.


What year do you start sixth form?


Usually you’ll be starting sixth form the following academic year after finishing your GCSEs. So if you’ve reached the end of Year 11, you’ll have a Summer Holiday and then return in September for your first day at sixth form or college.


Which sixth form should I choose?


Choosing which sixth form to go to is especially important because not all sixth forms are equal. To narrow down the possibilities, first consider your GCSE grades or predicted grades, and which sixth forms this would enable you to apply for. Among those sixth forms, take a look at the qualifications that they offer. This means that you should think carefully for yourself about whether you’d like to study A Levels, BTEC, T-Levels or the International Baccalaureate (IB). Not all sixth forms offer all three options, in fact many sixth forms and colleges offer just one type and they are all quite different qualifications. 

Once you’ve found a few sixth forms that are both likely to offer you a place and teach the type of qualification you’d like to study (A Level, BTEC or IB), take a closer look at the specific subjects offered. For example, maybe you’d like to study Law at university so want to study Law at A Level (though this is not a requirement for studying Law at university) but not all of your sixth form options may offer it as a subject at A Level. For A Levels, you’ll be studying up to five subjects very intensively for the first year, so be sure that your sixth form offers enough subjects for you to get excited about. 


Is sixth form really hard?


Anything with entry requirements has an element of challenge. We won’t sugar coat it, sixth form is challenging. It’s the step before entering the world of academics at university. It’s going to be intense and the workload is heavy, but if you want to go to sixth form then it’s likely that you have the motivation and desire to work hard already. 

It’s a common misconception that studying subjects you’ve chosen yourself will make studying easier. Of course, it’s lovely to receive a timetable without that subject you loathed at GCSE and the magic free periods in your timetable might make you feel unstoppable. Truthfully though, the amount of detail in each of your chosen subjects that you need to study, retain and then recall on demand during a high pressure exam setting is not comparable to GCSEs and that’s what makes sixth form so difficult. There is just so much content.

Teachers will not mollycoddle students who aren’t keeping up with the course, and by this time you may have slowly begun to get your heart set on the university of your dreams, which makes the pressure of sixth form more intense as you work towards a goal that is almost within touching distance. 

While keeping up with your studies, you’ll be simultaneously expected to prepare your university application, if you’ve decided that you’d like to apply. It’s a real juggle of sixth form deadlines, university applications and weird abbreviations like UCAS being thrown around. Add into the mix the pressure of finding a part-time job, volunteer work and possibly even learning to drive, it is a really busy time in a student’s life.

It cannot be underestimated that most 16 year olds experience school related fatigue. You’ve spent your whole life at school so far, and it’s probably felt like one wave of exams after the next. Adults around you are telling you that school will be over soon, but you simply can’t imagine it. Being at school is all you’ve ever known. In the harder moments, sixth form can feel like treading water. If you are beginning to feel worn down, lean on your friends, especially those also in sixth form who will understand you and share the same worries. Also reach out to your family, parents or guardians, being very frank with how you’re feeling and how starting sixth form is going.


What to do if I don’t get into sixth form?


If you didn’t get offered a place in any of the sixth forms that you applied for, first of all, it’s important to understand why you were not offered a place. It could be that your GCSE grades didn’t hit the right mark, or was it just one GCSE in an important subject that let you down? You might want to consider retaking one or two GCSEs that may have prevented you from being able to get into sixth form. Once you’ve secured the grades you need you can apply to study at a sixth form college. You might be starting sixth form a year later than anticipated but in the long term that won’t matter.

If the majority of your GCSEs weren’t what you needed, then consider applying to BTEC colleges instead. BTEC qualifications are less academic than A levels and the IB, so often the entry requirements are lower. Some universities also accept BTECs to study too.

If you’re not planning to retake your GCSEs and studying BTECs are not an option then an apprenticeship may be more suitable for you. Apprenticeships are for those leaving school from the age of 16 who feel that they are ready to begin their career. Apprenticeships are often a mix of training on the job and studying. They are not solely based on GCSE grades or any other academic qualifications and some apprenticeships may not have any entry requirements. It should be noted that an apprentice between the ages of 16-19 years old can be paid £2.73 per hour for the first year, and afterwards be paid the National minimum wage.


Is sixth form better than sixth form college?


It’s not easy to give a straightforward answer as to whether starting sixth form is better than a sixth form college. Truthfully, both serve a purpose in the community and one will be more suitable for you than the other, and this differs person to person. The most accurate way to understand which is better for you, is to know how sixth form and sixth form college differ. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages for both

Sixth form advantages

  • If you plan to study at the sixth form where you went to secondary school then the transition from Year 11 to Year 12 will not be as daunting. You’ll likely already know most of the teachers, you’ll know the way to your classes and you’ll probably have a friendship group too.
  • Class sizes are often smaller than sixth form colleges, giving you more time with your teachers, which can be a big advantage with the heavy curriculums.

Sixth form disadvantages

  • Starting sixth form you’ll still feel in many ways as though you are at school. Although your sixth form teachers may choose to refer to you as adults when they’d like you to take responsibility for your own studying for example, they will still probably make you call them by their Mr/Mrs titles.
  • Sixth forms are limited in the courses that they can offer by their staffing and a smaller cohort of students to cater for.

Sixth form college advantages

  • A new learning environment closer to university, since you will not share your learning space with students below the age of 16 and may be studying with people older than 19. Generally you are treated more maturely and expected to behave more maturely too.
  • Sixth form colleges have a much higher intake per year, this means meeting many more people and probably being offered a wider range of courses too.

Sixth form college disadvantages

  • If you plan to apply to university, a sixth form college teacher may not be able to write you a really personal reference as they likely will not know you as well since you’ll be new to the college and in larger classes.
  • There is a settling in period when starting sixth form college. Getting used to new routines, a new place and a new learning style can be quite a lot to take in at first.

From a university's perspective, they have no preference about where you choose to continue your studies. Most importantly, you should think about where you can achieve the highest grades possible in an environment that is most comfortable for you.


How to prepare for the first day of starting sixth form


Prepare for the first day of starting sixth form as you mean to go on, by instilling habits that will help start each day off right. Packing your bag with the right books the evening before and laying out your clothes so that you are able to get ready quickly in the morning are small details but they’ll help you arrive to sixth form each day in a calm frame of mind and avoid feeling frazzled. 

Be sure that you’re aware ahead of the first day if your sixth form has a particular dress code. You may be expected to wear a uniform if you are attending a sixth form connected to a secondary school, or you might have to abide by a smart business dress code, which will require you to invest in a few smart suits beforehand. 

Start your first day with the optimism of starting your next chapter in which you are the author! 


Common sixth form mistakes


Comparing yourself to others- GCSEs are quite possibly the first official results that you and your peers have received, so it can be really tempting in sixth form for people to ask “What did you get?”
Accept the fact that your GCSEs have already happened and have no influence on the grades you’ll get in sixth form.

Losing track of deadlines- Coursework deadlines, project deadlines, application deadlines, write them all in your planner at the first mention of them. No, seriously! Write that down.

Listening too much to the year above you- It’s practically law that the year above at sixth form should do all they can to terrify the year below them. No matter how stressed you might be feeling, there will be a Year 13 around the corner telling you that you “don’t know what it’s like to be in your final year” and that the stress is about to get worse. Do not listen to them, they’re on their own path which has no connection to yours.

Worrying about having to have it all figured out- Is there anything worse than listening to your classmate talk about their work experience and extra reading for their top university application? Meanwhile you’re still deciding if you want to go to university. You don’t need to have it all figured out when starting sixth form, and remember that those who are trying a little too hard to show they’ve got it all figured out probably haven’t. 

You’ll only be accepted into sixth form because the institution believes that you are capable of achieving the qualifications that you aspire to! Your GCSE grades are tangible proof of your potential, so all that’s left is for you to prove it!