Chapter 3 – How to find the best sixth form college to suit your needs

When choosing an independent sixth form college, there are many different factors to bear in mind.
This section gives you all the tips and tools you need on your hunt for the right college.

To start, here are the basics:

– Create a list of what you need from a sixth form college
– Research and draw up a shortlist of options
– Visit those colleges, and speak to people who have been there
– Narrow the options down according to your checklist
– Apply as early as possible once you’ve decided

The fact that there arent too many independent sixth form colleges is both a blessing and a curse, as it makes the decision-making process quicker – your shortlist may well write itself – but the lack of choice can lead to some practical concerns.

It is vitally important that you visit the colleges and meet the staff if you can, to get an idea about their ethos and whether that sits well with you. When you go, ask them as many questions as you need, no matter how trivial they may seem.


Pupil on when she went to open day, they were really helpful..


Whenever you get personal reviews from alumni, always corroborate their opinions with the views of others. You do not want one unhappy pupil to put you off your perfect college.

To help you with your checklist of what you need, heres our guide to the most important things to be aware of

The checklist for picking a sixth form college

– Location and accommodation

Arguably the biggest drawback of sixth form colleges at the moment is their geographic spread, or lack thereof.

Focused in and around London, Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge, there are few elsewhere, which makes life a little difficult if you are not from one of those areas.

Most pupils want to find a sixth form college which offers an easy commute, but there are plenty of other options if you cant. Given the demand from abroad, most colleges are well-equipped to deal with pupils who are not from the area.

Some offer college-run accommodation, and most colleges have a local network of host families who can put up a pupil – especially popular for international students who want to improve their English. Inevitably, there are costs to consider for these options.

– Results

Any good independent sixth form college will make their academic results very clear to see on their website.

It is also important to check if they have a particular academic speciality, or bias: one may boast particularly good grades in science subjects, another in the arts.

Remember though, believe it or not, good grades dont necessarily mean anything. For some pupils, going to a college which only has high-performing students might be too much pressure.

Having a better set of results may just mean a college is more selective, and many teenagers thrive on learning with peers of various abilities.

– Curriculum

As weve seen, colleges are generally much more flexible than schools in terms of the curriculum they offer. Around one in ten pupils at sixth form college actually join after spending their lower-sixth elsewhere, which makes this flexibility especially important.

However, you will need to make sure that your preferred subjects and exam boards can be catered for. You might want a college which offers IB or the Cambridge Pre-U, for example. Its also important to make yourself fully aware of their exam entry policy.

As a rule of thumb, bigger colleges are able to offer more subjects and options. Generally, though, it is in the interest of independent sixth form colleges to cater to your needs, so if a specific curriculum plan isnt available, contact them and see what you can work out.

– University guidance

As we discussed above, getting onto a university course is a big reason why young people choose independent sixth form colleges.

Whether it is through dedicated advisors, or tutors who are experienced in university guidance, there is usually a great deal of support for applying to uni.

Like all of these factors, it is important to ask the college about their university and careers advice service, especially if you are looking into a less common application, such as an American university or art school.

– Facilities

Independent sixth form colleges tend to be in and around cities, which mean they sometimes do not have the luxury of the space and amazing facilities that one would find in a school.

Whether youre a budding sports star, or want to make sure they have state-of-the-art equipment for a music technology course, it is important to know what facilities a college has to offer.

One would expect academic facilities like laboratories and computer rooms to be well-stocked, but extra-curricular facilities tend to differ more between colleges. Many make up for this by having arrangements with local sports clubs, art studios and so on.


– Pupil support

Pupil independence and an informal setting are important at college, but there is still a high standard of pastoral and academic support.

If you require any specific support it is vital to understand what the colleges have in place.

– International student?

There is an increasing demand for sixth form college places from international students, and if you are applying from elsewhere it is important to know what practical help is on hand to make the transition as easy as possible.

Many international students attend sixth form colleges to help secure sought-after places at top British universities.

Colleges can generally help with anything from visas to English language courses, such as the IELTS British Council examination.