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Quick guide to BTECs

While A-levels may have long been considered the most conventional qualification path to university, BTECs could be a viable alternative...

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What are BTECs?

A BTEC, or 'Business and Technology Education Council' (the name of the body which originally oversaw it) is a practical-based, vocational qualification. It can be studied at a college or school.

BTECs provide the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a field or subject, and are a viable alternative to the more theory-focused, classroom-based ways of learning which you might be put off by.

BTECs are becoming a more popular path to both university and particular jobs in place of, or in addition to, A-levels. In 2015, 26% of students accepted on to a university course held at least one BTEC, according to Ucas.

While they are commonly known as an alternative to A-levels, BTEC qualifications can actually be studied at a number of levels including GCSEs and even degrees.

Can you get into university if you're studying a BTEC? 

What can you study at BTEC?

A wide range of subjects can be studied at BTEC level – 2,000 qualifications across 16 sectors, to be exact. Some of these lend themselves to the BTEC-way of learning due to their practical nature. However, you might be surprised by a few of the subjects available at BTEC level, such as computing or engineering.

Other subjects you can study at BTEC include childcare, construction, media, performing arts, sports science and travel and tourism.

What are the different types of BTEC?

BTECs are very flexible. They can be studied at various levels, each of which equates to a different qualification:
  • BTEC Level 1 and 2 = equivalent to a GCSE 
  • BTEC Level 3 = equivalent to an A-level
  • BTEC Level 4-5 = equivalent to 1st and 2nd year of an undergraduate degree

How are BTECs assessed? What’s their equivalent in Ucas points?

For each BTEC, you complete a series of units – some core, others optional – which are assessed. For each unit, you receive either a Pass, a Merit or a Distinction (Distinction being the highest).

The assessments you complete can be written assignments, such as essays, or more engaging – dare we say, even fun – projects. Depending on your subject, this could be anything from building an amplifier to performing a dramatic piece, and even making a film!

Ucas have a points tariff system so they can compare different qualifications as a means of calculating whether students satisfy the grade requirements to get onto a particular university course.

Here’s the equivalent Ucas points for the BTEC qualification.

To find out more, visit our Ucas points guide.

What's the difference between BTECs and A-levels?

Teaching style: if you study A-levels, you'll be taught in a similar manner to how you've been used to throughout your secondary education. BTECs are slightly different in that theory is combined with regular practical work so you can directly apply what you learn.

For example, those studying a BTEC in business will still learn the key concepts as they would at A-level; however the assessments to test this knowledge may be different.

Assessments: whereas A-levels are assessed mainly through exams at the end of Year 13, BTECs are assessed via regular coursework and projects throughout the course. If you know you don't excel in exam conditions, BTECs can relieve this pressure, spreading out the work that dictates your final grade.

Practical experience: when applying to university, you'll need to demonstrate your passion for the field you wish to study. The benefit of BTECs is that you automatically gain the practical experience to show this, as part of your course.

Subjects you can study: although we've pointed out above that you may be surprised by the range of subjects on offer at BTEC level, there is still a strong understanding that BTECs lend themselves more to subjects with a practical nature. Therefore subjects which are firmly rooted in theory and concepts, such as English or maths, will only be available at A-levels.

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    What universities accept BTECS?

    In previous years, BTECs have attracted jibes for being an easier option, because of their vocational, less academic nature. However, this criticism is quickly disappearing as more students take this path to university and beyond.

    As a result, universities have adapted their entry requirements and will widely communicate BTEC requirements alongside those for A-levels. According to Ucas, the number of successful university applicants applying with at least one BTEC has increased a whole 12% to 26% from 2008 to 2015 (that's less than two-thirds now applying with the traditional three A-levels). In fact, 30% of successful Oxford applicants apply with qualifications other than A-levels.

    Which BTEC should you take?

    BTECs can be studied across a range of levels and equate to different qualifications, with BTECs at level 3 equating to A-levels. At level 3 BTEC, you can study diplomas, certificates, awards and BTEC nationals. These aim to give you the ability to gain and apply knowledge at a detailed enough level to continue on to university to study this area further.

    BTECs come in different sizes and can equate to one, two or even three A-levels. This flexibility means you can study them alongside A-levels if you wish, rather than feel like you have to choose one over the other.

    Anything else to consider?

    Entry requirements: usually you'll need at least five GCSEs at grade A to C to get on to a level 3 BTEC course. 

    Future-proofing: if university is in your sights post-BTECs, think about what you may want to study at degree level, as this will impact what you choose at the BTEC stage. Because BTECs are so focused towards one particular area and teach specific skills, you can't really diverge too much from this field later on.

    Skills: because BTECs are more practical, you don't necessarily get the opportunity to sharpen those more academic skills, such as essay-writing, as you would at A-level. This is where you should promote your practical experience to give you an advantage over your A-level counterparts. It might be worth combining BTECs with A-levels so you get the best of both worlds.



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