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Choosing physics: Vocational qualifications

Love physics but don’t think A-levels are right for you? Don’t worry – you have options.

Choosing a vocational course in England, Wales and Northern Ireland doesn’t mean saying goodbye to physics. There are alternatives, like level 3 BTEC and OCR qualifications, that include some physics, are more hands on than A-levels – and still open doors into rewarding science and technology careers.

Vocational means directly related to jobs. These courses are designed in collaboration with industry and they can provide you with skills and knowledge that employers value. You put what you learn into practice through assignments set in real-life scenarios, offering a more direct route into the workplace.

But vocational qualifications can also be a pathway to university. Most universities are happy to consider candidates with a level 3 BTEC or OCR qualification, when combined with two A-levels. 

Connor, Extended Certificate student

Meet the student: Connor

"It was a choice between one science or studying a course that covered all three, and I just thought all three would be better in the long-term."

Meet Connor

Why science?

Physics-related vocational courses like the BTEC in Applied Science can be a great choice if you’re looking for a practical scientific qualification, or if you love science but prefer to learn by doing.

They’re designed to provide you with the practical knowledge, experience and confidence that today’s science and technology employers are looking for. They also enable you to continue studying aspects of all three sciences in a single course. 

Where and what will I study?

You can study for BTECs and other vocational qualifications at schools, colleges and universities. The qualifications offer a mix of theory and practice, incorporating lab work, coursework and exams, with a focus on employability and skills.

For the level 3 BTEC in Applied Science you study the basic building blocks of the three core science disciplines – physics, chemistry and biology – and develop your practical skills through multiple practical based units and independent research tasks.

The amount of physics involved in a science-focused vocational course can vary, depending on what your school or college offers – so read the prospectus carefully to see what options are available. 

Emily Martin, Technical Apprentice

Meet the apprentice: Emily

"I could gain qualifications and four years of work experience at a leading engineering company, while getting paid without building up any student debt."

Meet Emily

Where can it lead?

Science-focused vocational courses will prepare you for a career in many science- and physics-related industries. This could mean entering the workplace in a junior technician position with one of the employers you worked with during your studies, or it might mean earning while you learn through an apprenticeship.

If you want to further your education after you complete your course, you can use your vocational qualifications to gain access to university. Level 3 BTEC and OCR qualifications earn equal points on the UCAS tariff to AS and A-levels, meaning most universities will consider you for entry to the majority of their undergraduate courses.

What about T-levels? 

T-levels are a brand-new technical qualification launching in England, with the first science-related courses launching in 2021. So what are they all about?

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