Hi guys! This Wednesday was officially my last day of college (year 12)!! Honestly, it feels weird that don’t have to hop on a bus and go there again until September – college has become such a big part of my life, I don’t know what to do without it! However, i thought I’d write a bt about my experiences there for you all today.
Some of you may be at the stage of your education where you have to start thinking about what you want to do and where you want to go after finishing secondary school. In the UK, there are three main options – doing A Levels, a BTEC course or an apprenticeship. Sometimes it’s possible to do a combination – for example my friend is studying A Level Geography and English Literature alongside BTEC Science. Depending on what you want to do, there are a number of options as where you can go to continue your studying. As my secondary school didn’t have a sixth form centre I had to leave and go elsewhere, along with everyone else in my year. I could either have chosen to go to another school’s sixth form or go to a college. What’s the difference, you may ask? Well, basically the majority of sixth form centres attached to secondary schools only offer A Levels and not BTECs, where as colleges offer both.
As you can tell from the title, I chose to go to the local college (which happens to be a 1 hour bus ride away…local HA) so I’m going to tell you about my experiences of college. However it really depends on what you want to do and what sort of experience you want as to where is best for you, so by no means am I going to try to persuade you to go to college over sixth form!
When it came to decided what post-16 education I wanted to enter, I knew I wanted to do A Levels – I don’t know why I just sort of did?? It also wasn’t hard for me to choose which to study as I knew History, Geography and French where my favourite subjects and I couldn’t imagine myself carrying on with any sciences or English. There was a point where I was considering doing Law as well, as the college I was hoping to attend allowed some students to study 4 A Levels dependant on GCSE grades, but my passion wasn’t really there so I decided to stick with the three. Now, there are to actual sixth forms in my local area (again about an hour’s travelling away) but after going to the college open evening, I knew the sixth form environment wouldn’t be right for me.
Everything about college seemed so relaxed, the staff were friendly and I liked the degree of independence it would give me as opposed to going to sixth form and being in a school-like environment for another two years (not to mention a school where I wouldn’t know anyone and basically everyone at that sixth form would have gone to that school for the past 5 years).
I honestly feel like I’ve grown and matured so much as a young person over the past few years, and I honestly believe it’s due to all the amazing opportunities college has given me and the diverse range of people I’ve met. I think the nice thing about going to a college is the fact that it isn’t attached to a school, so you literally get people coming from all over to study there. I’ve met people from all the other local schools in the area, as well as those from surrounding towns and cities and even neighbouring counties. Not to mention the wonderful exchange students who came to study at my college for a year – I’ve been able to make friends with people from all over Europe because of this. Obviously there are large groups of students from nearby secondary schools, but because of the mix of people, there aren’t really any “cliques” which is what I was worried about – I thought I would struggle to make new friends as everyone would stick with their secondary school friends, but honestly from the first day at college everyone has been so friendly and it’s pretty easy to strike up a conversation with anyone. Now I’d say everyone in my year group pretty much knows each other through mutual friends, and there have been lunch and break times where literally everyone in the common room has just been chatting and joining in with other people’s conversations. We also have students here who are one, two or three or more years older as they are retaking years or changing courses, which I don’t think is something you really get at sixth forms.
The next thing that is great about colleges is timetables are more flexible. Most sixth forms require you to have a timetable that resembles a school timetable – so you’re pretty much in all day and if you have free periods you have to stay in sixth form (certainly true of sixth forms round here anyway) whereas at college, you only come in for your lessons and any free periods you can just stay at home. For example on a Monday and Thursday I have four lessons so I’m in from 9:00-4:30 but on Tuesday I only have one lesson from 1:15-2:45 so I get the morning off, and Wednesday and Friday I don’t have any lessons at all, meaning I’m only actually at college for two and a half days a week. Technically I’m still in full-time education (but it’s more like part-time because I only have 13.5 hours of lessons sssh) but I love how flexible my timetable is, and I simply wouldn’t have that if I went to a sixth form.
Then there’s the classroom environment – it feels so much friendly than school and the fact that we are treated like adults was weird at first, but now I love it because it’s so much less stressful. Plus the staff don’t talk down to you and treat you with respect as individuals, which I love and you can really get to know them on a personal level due to the small class sizes. My classes range from 6 people (French) to 20 people (history) and it’s so much easier to get to know people in small classes.
Of course the fact that we share our campus with BTEC students is great too, as it means we get to meet an even wider range of young people, and despite the diversity there is a great sense of community here.
Obviously there is a lot of independent work to do at home, but that’s pretty much standard with A Levels, however the staff are always available and willing to help you with any problems, so it’s a nice balance between being able to develop your independence but still having the support if you need it.
I’m not sure if this next point is specific to my college or if it’s a feature of other colleges/sixth forms too, but I have definitely benefitted from the links my college has with local universities. For example we’ve been able to use the geography labs at UWE to have lectures and analyse data for our coursework and we’ve attended French workshops at Bath Spa Uni, which have both really helped me gain an insight into university life and access to amazing facilities. Also I’ve been on loads of other trips – we visited the Senedd (Welsh Assembly) which made me realise I wanted to politics at uni, I’ve been on field trips for geography where I could put my skills into practice, the college offered international trips to Auschwitz with history and New York with creative subjects ands of course the French departments trip (of six students) to Marseille (which I’m going on tomorrow eeek!).
Overall, I’ve been really happy with my year at college. I think having a break from a school environment was exactly what I needed – I didn’t realise how unhappy I was at school untill I went to college and met people who actually wanted to take the time to get to know me and found friends that I fitted in with. I’ve also managed to escape all the people from my secondary school who I didn’t like, which is of course an added bonus. I think I’ve grown personally and culturally over the past year, and I’m really happy with person I’ve become. Me and my friends have al changed so much, but definitely for the better, and I feel like going to college has definitely been a stepping stone which will help me when I go off to uni, whereas I feel if I had gone to sixth form I wouldn’t have gained so much independence or developed so much personally, as here I feel like the atmosphere is so welcoming and I’m much more accepted for and comfortable with expressing myself freely and being me.
If you have any questions about college or A Levels in general, please do feel free to comment! Alternatively if you want to share your own experiences of sixth or college I’d love to hear it! I think the most important thing when it comes to post-16 education is doing what’s right for you. Don’t just go somewhere or do something because your friends are doing it – do what you want to do because I guarantee you will make friends and fit in much better if you’re happy where you are/what you’re doing – I’ve made friends who have been the only person from their school to go to my college but fit in perfectly, and I admire them so much for taking that leap. Also definitely visit the college/sixth form as well to get a feel for it and meet the teachers. 🙂