March 25, 2019

How to: Return to further education

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There sometimes comes a point in our lives where we take stock and think about how our professional lives have progressed, and where our careers might take us in the future. For some, however, the conclusions drawn aren’t all that positive.

If you’re a person who wants to make a professional transformation, improving your career options by learning via a foundation degree or a further education course, this guide will give you all of the information you need in order to ascend up the career ladder of your choosing.

Find the right course

Much like when applying for a higher education course, you should put a lot of thought into what you want from your career and what you’ll need to study in order to enter a particular profession or role. If you’re starting from square one, then click here  to take a look at our guide to evaluating your current circumstances, or click here to understand how to properly think about what which role or industry you’d like to enter.

Which qualification?

If you know what you’d like to do, you need to work out what qualifications you’ll need in order to get there. To do this, conduct research into the role, poring over online job profiles, contacting people involved within the role or sector, and talking to educators who work in the relevant industry.

If you contact these individuals politely, explaining your predicament and asking for their professional opinion, chances are they’ll get back to you with some useful information. If you’re wanting to rise up within your current organisation or industry, don’t be afraid to talk to your colleagues and superiors – you may even be able to get the qualifications you need for free through your company.

You can also get free course advice from the National Careers Service, if you’re not too sure which course will suit your needs best.

Where do you want to study?

Further education covers a very wide range of course types. At one end of the spectrum are short-term courses that, for instance, focus on a specific skill that’s needed within a profession. This moves through to A-levels and other courses that are around a year in duration, all the way to foundation courses that can last a number of years.

All of these courses are taught at a variety of institutions – schools, colleges, universities, adult education organisations such as the Worker’s Educational Association, and distance learning providers such as the Open University.

You can find a further education institution near you with FindFE, visit UCAS to search for courses, or use the National Careers Service course search – on this site you can also check how certain institutions are performing.

Fund your studies

There are a number of ways that you can pay for your studies, although the need to pay depends on your particular situation and the nature of the course itself. Basic literacy and numeracy courses are always free; if you’re under 24 and you’re training for your first Level 2 qualification (equivalent to five A*-C GCSEs, you won’t have to pay; and you also won’t have to fund your first Level 3 qualification (the equivalent of two A Level passes) if you’re under 25 years old at the start of the course.

Some other courses may also be free, but this is usually decided by the educational provider itself.

If you don’t qualify for the above, there are still ways you can get help with funding if you’re unable to pay upfront. If you’re on Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, or are enrolled on Universal Credit, then you will probably be able to access free training.

You could also apply for a 24+ Advanced Learning Loan if you’re looking to enrol on a Level 3 or 4 course and meet the eligibility criteria. You’ll only have to pay back your loan after you’ve finished the course and are earning more than £21,000 per year, and you could also get help from the 24+ Advanced Learning Loan Bursary Fund if you need an extra bit of financial help.

There are also Professional and Career Development Loans – a riskier option than the above – yet still an option for older students. Interest rates are a lot higher than 24+ loans, and you may only have a limited time period to pay back the money. Click here for more information, provided by the National Union of Students.

If you’re still unsure what forms of finance you can access, then get in touch with the further education institution you’re thinking of applying for – they may run grant and bursary programmes you could take care of, or offer forms of assistance such as hardship funds.

Open your mind

Learning a new skill in order to further or divert your career is a great process, and a truly gratifying one at that. If you’re returning to education after a long time, or starting further education for the first time, don’t delay – your new profession is just around the corner.


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