3 min read

Sixth Form vs College

Sixth Form vs College

by Katherine Hanrahan

In the UK there are three types of institutions that provide further education. These are School Sixth Forms, Sixth Form Colleges and Further Education Colleges. 

If you've finished your GCSEs and you want to move into further education, the good news is there are plenty of options available to you. The not-so-good news is that you have a decision to make.

It's important you don't panic, or rush into choosing one over another just because it's easy or because that's what your friends are doing.

For perhaps the first time in your life, you have a choice over what your day-to-day school life looks like, and you should really use this opportunity to figure out what's right for you. 


What is the difference between sixth form and college?

Put simply, sixth forms and colleges are different because of the types of courses they offer. 

  • Sixth Form: These have both A Level and BTEC qualifications and in some cases, International Baccalaureates (IB). These are usually attached to a secondary school.,
  • Sixth Form Colleges: These are very similar to sixth forms, but they are separate from secondary schools. They offer A Level and BTEC qualifications, as well as access courses, diplomas and more.
  • Colleges: Colleges usually offer what's called vocational courses. These courses are very hands-on and practical, like cooking or uniform services, and will sometimes be in the form of apprenticeships.

So, now you know the difference, which one is right for you? In this blog, we're mostly going to talk about Sixth Form and Sixth Form Colleges, because these are the two similar ones.


What is Sixth Form like?

If you’re staying at the Sixth Form where you spent your high school years, it’s likely that you know the teachers pretty well, and vice versa. This could be really helpful when applying to university (if that's something you're interested in!), as not only will they be able to give you the best advice, they’ll also be able to write a really personal reference for you when you apply. 

Knowing your teachers and surroundings will also help you settle into A level life a lot quicker than if you move, giving you more time to crack on and be the best student you can be! Lots of pupils find staying in a familiar space comforting, and that's great if that's right for you!

As well as this, class sizes may also be smaller which will give you more contact with teachers, meaning more opportunities to get help if you’re struggling.

School Sixth Forms tend to be more formal places, as the space is often shared with younger students in years 7 to 13. The learning environment in a School Sixth Form can therefore already be very familiar to you, particularly if you’ve stayed on at the same place where you did your GCSEs.

Teachers at a School Sixth Form might ask that you still address them as ‘Sir’ or ‘Miss’. Things like this can make School Sixth Forms feel closer to being at school, whereas a Sixth Form College is closer to what the university experience will be like.


What is College like?

Sixth From Colleges provide a different learning environment to what you were used to at school. In Sixth Form Colleges, there are no students below the age of 16, and because they’re open to the community, there might be students who are older than 16-19 studying there. 

The environment at a Sixth Form College is generally more adult, and students are expected to take more responsibility for themselves and their learning. Sixth Form Colleges tend to be slightly more relaxed when comparing them with School Sixth Forms, and students usually address their teachers on a first name basis.

If you’re looking to switch things up a bit, College could be for you. With hundreds more students per year than at Sixth Form, you’ve got more chance of meeting ‘your kind of people’ and expanding your circle.

There could also be a wider range of courses available at College, allowing you to further explore what you’re into, and guide you towards the degree and career path of your dreams.

Probably the biggest incentive for students to go to College is for the experience of being part of a place that functions a little more like a university. Coming out of your comfort zone and meeting loads of new people can be life changing, and a huge boost of confidence before you experience the real thing at university.


The Final Verdict

There is no straight answer about which is better, because when it comes to Sixth Form or College, it's up to you and what environment you will best learn in. The stability and comfort of staying with the teachers and surroundings you know might be the best setting for you to learn. Or, if you fancy a change of pace, College will introduce you to a mix of new people and perhaps push you out of your comfort zone.

Universities don't prefer one or the other. In fact, both can lead to university as long as you put in the hard work and get the grades you need. For more advice on the road to university, why not read our blog on the difference between AS and A Levels?