3 min read

Sixth form or college?

Sixth form or 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.



  1. What is the difference between sixth form vs. college?

  2. What is sixth form like?

  3. What is college like?

  4. Sixth form or college: the final verdict


What is the difference between sixth form vs. college?

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

  • Sixth forms - these offer both A Level and BTEC qualifications and in some cases, International Baccalaureates (IB). They 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 - these usually offer vocational courses. These courses are very hands-on and practical 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 forms and sixth form colleges, because these are 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, but 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, feel very familiar to you, particularly if you’ve stayed 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 form colleges provide a different learning environment to that of 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 a school sixth form, you’ve got more chance of meeting new 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 interested in, and guide you towards the degree and career path of your dreams.

Probably the biggest incentive for students to go to college is 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 give you a huge boost of confidence before you experience the real thing at university.


Sixth form or college: the final verdict

There is no straight answer about which is better: when it comes to sixth form vs. college, it's up to you what environment you think you will learn best in.

The stability and comfort of staying with the teachers and surroundings you know might be the best setting for you. 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.

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. 

Get more advice for your journey to university HERE