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Continuing your education

As an adult, it can be tough taking the first step back into education, especially if you struggle with a long-term health problem or disability or if you're looking after someone else. But learning something new is a great way to get out of the house, boost your self-esteem and meet new people. There are a number of different routes back into education specifically tailored to suit adult learners.

Maybe you didn't finish school or sixth form, or you didn't get the qualifications you wanted first time around. Either way, it's never too late to go back and get the qualifications you want.

GCSEs and A-levels

There will be plenty of GCSE and A-level courses in your area. These include evening, day-time, part-time, full-time and fast-track courses - whatever suits your schedule. Kensington and Chelsea College and City of Westminster College provide a range of courses including GCSE and A-level courses

Going to college on regular basis may not be practical for you, but you can still study for GCSEs and A-levels without going to college, by doing distance learning. This means you can study in your own home, at your own pace. You will be given materials to work through and will have the support of online tutorials and forums. 
ICS offer a range of courses including GCSEs and A-levels for you to do from home.

Access to Higher Education Diplomas

If you don't have A-Levels but would like to take a university course, you could consider doing an Access to Higher Education Diploma (sometimes called an 'access course'). These provide specific qualifications that help you prepare for a university degree if you haven't done A-levels. These courses usually last around a year and can be in a range of different subject areas.

Many further education colleges offer Access to Higher Education Diplomas. These qualifications are recognised by most universities for many different undergraduate courses. You can find a number of Access to Higher Education Diplomas available at Kensington and Chelsea College and City of Westminster College.

Adult education courses

You could try one of the wide range of adult education classes run by your local Adult Education College. Courses range from one day 'taster' sessions to 36 week courses. Classes are held at different times of the day or evening and most are open to all adults. 

Courses on offer include:-

  • GCSEs, A-Levels, and Access to Higher Education Diplomas
  • 'Vocational' courses to allow you to gain professional qualifications and plan for a new career - whether you want to go into computing, welding, or hairdressing, or start your own business, this could be the place to start
  • A wide range of practical courses to help you with day-to-day challenges - maybe you are from another country and want speak better English, or want to learn how to look after your bicycle
  • Courses for fun - perhaps you want improve your cooking or take up yoga - this could be your chance

See what adult education courses are on offer in your area:-

If you have the right qualifications, you can apply for university (also known as 'higher' education'). University degrees offer a more in-depth understanding of a particular subject at a higher level. There are a number of different degrees on offer at different universities and many offer the option of studying part-time. The UCAS website is the best place to start your search for the university course which suits you.

You may find that distance learning would suit you better. The Open University offer a range of different undergraduate degrees, foundation degrees, diplomas and certificates that you can do from home.
And their Open Learn scheme offers a wide variety of free courses which can help you prepare for higher education or a career - many of these courses are available on-line.

Furthering your education and doing a new course don't just have to be about gaining a qualification and increasing your job prospects. Maybe you just want to learn a skill, develop a new hobby, get out a bit more, or meet new people.

The Floodlight website is the main source of information on all courses available across London, part-time and full-time, daytime or evening. Whether you want to learn to salsa dance or take the first steps towards becoming a qualified nurse, take better photographs on holiday or train to be a plumber, there will be a course there for you.

The University of the Third Age provides opportunities across the country for retired and semi-retired people to "come together and learn together".
Find out what is available in your area.

Age UK offer information and advice on accessing education and training in later life.

Most courses, either at further education colleges (for GCSEs, A-Levels and Higher Education Diplomas) or universities, will charge fees. For further education you may not have to pay fees if you receive Employment and Support Allowance and are in the 'work-related activity' group. You may also be able to study for free if you are studying basic numeracy or literacy or GCSE maths or English, but only if you have passed at grade C or above previously.

For Access to Higher Education Diplomas, there are loans available to people over 24 years old. These are called 24+ Advance Learning Loans. This means you won't have to pay any fees up front when you start studying. You don't have to pay back this loan until you are earning at least £21,000 a year. When you pay it back, you only have to pay it back in small monthly instalments. If you then go on to complete a higher education degree, Student Finance England (who supply student loans) will write off your 24+ Advance Learning Loan.

For university degrees many students will take out student loans to cover the fees. You usually won't have to pay anything while you're learning, and you won't have to pay back the loan unless you're earning over £21,000 a year.

The government's website lists the many options available for those wanting help to pay for the next stage of their education.

Other information and advice

The Hotcourses website allows you to search a huge range of courses, including courses for fun, courses offering vocational training, and degree and postgraduate courses.