mind the career gap

Didn’t get the GCSE grades you wanted?

If you didn’t get the high grades you’d hoped for it’s not the end of the world. Many of the world’s most successful people have failed one exam or another at some time.

Depending on your results you might be considering a number of different options. The thing to remember is that a different kind of qualification might be far better for you! Many students who I first met several years ago with really low GCSEs are now in good universities and good jobs.

BTECs (and other vocational qualifications).

BTEC is a vocational qualification that is coursework based. BTECs have different entry levels so whether you have five C grades, 5 D grades or 5 G grades there is a BTEC level for you.

If you start at BTEC level 1 it is possible to progress onto level 2 (equivalent to 5 GCSEs A*-C) and Level 3 (equivalent to ‘A’ levels).

Every year I speak to parents and students who are worried that a BTEC is a weak qualification and won’t lead to university.  This is not the case. A full level 3 BTEC is equivalent to 3 A levels. If you perform well, you can achieve 360 UCAS points. It is true that a top university (such as Oxford or Cambridge) won’t accept a BTEC but equally top universities will accept nothing less than AAA at ‘A’ level. There are plenty of very good universities that accept BTECs!


Are you ready for work? An apprenticeship could be a way to gain skills, work experience, earn money and get a qualification all at the same time. Often there’s a job waiting for you at the end too.

Apprenticeships have different levels and can provide qualifications at level 2, level 3 and even levels 4 and 5 which are equivalent to university.

If you have five C grades including English, Maths and Science you could find yourself working for a leading company being trained for a highly skilled position.

To get an apprenticeship you need an employer. A good start is to register with www.apprenticeships.org.uk and to apply to local companies. You may not find something straight away so enrol at college as a back-up and you can usually transfer easily when you find a trainee role.


An NVQ is a professional work based qualification.  NVQs are aimed at people who want to learn a trade and do not want necessarily plan to go to university.  If you have low GCSE grades then many colleges will start you on an NVQ Level 1 and progress you to Level 2 and Level 3.  If you have four GCSEs at C including Maths, English and a Science you would start at Level 2. NVQs are a mixture of practical skills and theory.  You will be training to become a professional.

Colleges will often have fully functioning restaurants, garages and beauty salons to give students real life skills and experience.  If university is not your thing then an NVQ might well be for you.

NVQs don’t stop at level 3.  I’m currently studying a Level 6 NVQ with the Open University.


You might want to retake all your GCSEs. This may be the best option for if you were predicted high grades and performed well in your mock examinations. It is always a good idea to know where you went wrong. Remember, it’s your decision. Don’t let anyone else dissuade you from taking a vocational course or BTEC.

GCSE Maths and English

It is worth mentioning that if you didn’t get Cs in maths and English you can continue studying for these exams if you choose BTEC or NVQ.

Final Note

I’ve seen hundreds of students thrive by switching from GCSEs to vocational qualifications. If you have any questions about this blog then please contact me and I’ll try my best to help.

daniel walkerDaniel Walker
07907 582898
T: @MindCareerGap
w: www.mindthecareergap.com

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