BTEC Vs A-Level – Which One to Take?

BTEC or A Level which one to choose

Whether you’re interested in following an educational path to university or a particular career, BTEC vs A-Level is often a choice that has to be taken by many students. There are many differences between A-Levels and BTEC, and the decision is worth taking some time over.

A BTEC is a ‘Business and Technology Education Council’ vocational qualification. BTECs are seen as less ‘academic’, and more practical in nature than A-Levels, offering a more hands-on way of working, with lots of work experience along the way.

A BTEC can be studied at school or college, while A-Levels are more classroom and theory-based, with students applying theory learned to situations, without having any practical experience with them. BTEC qualifications are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to A-Levels, mainly because they offer hands-on work experience which is valued by employers across 16 industries and sectors. There are more than 2,000 BTEC qualifications to choose from.

While BTECs and A-Levels can both be flexible as you change your learning goals, BTECs can have a specific focus, which can narrow down your options later down the line. If you have a particular career in mind and more of a focus on what you want to do, a BTEC could be the right route to take.

If you’re unsure of what you want to do, taking A-Levels keeps your options open, as you can study the subjects that interest you the most now, considering this could change at a later stage. Let’s take a look into the pros and cons of BTEC vs A-Level, what each qualification offers, and other alternatives.

What is the difference between BTECs and A-Levels?

If you’re unsure whether A-Levels are right for you, a BTEC might be the solution. But you should look into the courses you’re interested in very carefully so that you understand the options available. There are different kinds of BTECs available, in varying subjects and at different levels.

  • Level 3 BTECs are on the same level and equivalent to A-Levels
  • BTEC Extended Diplomas are equivalent to 3 A-Levels
  • A Diploma is equivalent to two A-Levels
  • An Extended Certificate is equivalent to one A-Level

The main difference between BTECs and A-Levels is that BTEC qualifications aim to better prepare you for the world of work in a specific career, by giving you direct work experience as well as academic and practical knowledge of the subject you are studying.

Depending on the subject though, BTEC qualifications can also lean towards an academic or classroom-based course. If you’re not so keen on exam halls and sitting exams under pressure, BTECs focus on coursework, while A-Levels are more focused on final exams.

If you get better scores on your coursework, BTECs may be for you. If you perform well in an exam setting and get your best marks in final tests, A-Levels may be more suited to you.

BTEC and A-Level grades

That said, a BTEC isn’t necessarily an easier option than A-Levels. The top grade you can achieve is D*, which is equivalent to an A* pass at A-Level. You have to pass practical assessments and complete coursework thoroughly and to a high standard to progress.

On the other hand, you may find that a particular subject you want to study will be easier at A-Level and more desirable to an employer or a university at A-Level, especially if you are taking a subject that is more theory-based like philosophy.

Consider how you like to learn

To figure out whether BTECs or A-Levels are for you, consider how you like to learn and be taught, and the assessment methods you prefer. Think about what motivates you best, so you can achieve the right outcomes.

Do you prefer work experience and real-life examples to refer to? Do you learn by doing and experiencing a practical environment? Or do you prefer to learn in a classroom-focused setting, with more abstract learning methods? Do you like to learn new skills that you can apply to the working world (which is the focus of a BTEC). Or do you love learning theory?

Also, think about your career and aspirational goals. BTEC qualifications can lead to an apprenticeship in a particular career path. A-Levels are the typical route to university and studying at degree level, or they can lead to work with an entry-level job.

The difference in subjects

Another difference between BTECs and A-Levels is that A-Levels are quite broad, while BTECs are more specific. If you are unsure of exactly what career you want to pursue in future, it is worth taking A-Levels that genuinely interest you, and going from there, as this could lead you in multiple directions.

If your heart is set on a particular industry or job, a BTEC is a great choice if you are ready to specialise. If you study for a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma, it’s likely that this will take up all of your time. If you take a BTEC Diploma, you may also be able to study an A-Level alongside it, to give you more options.

Before you commit to a BTEC, do some research into relevant jobs that are available locally in your area, even if you plan on attending university first. This will help you to see how easily you could seek employment after studying.

A-Level and BTEC entry requirements

To study A-Levels, you usually need at least five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4, or A* to C. Specific entry requirements will however depend on the college you want to attend. Good A-Level grades are always valuable to employers because they show a strong level of education, which can lead to work-based and higher-level qualifications.

Entry requirements for a BTEC vary depending on the school or college you are applying to. Generally speaking, you may need five GCSEs at grades 9-4 or A* to C. Some universities accept BTEC Level 3 qualifications for entry into undergraduate courses that are not exam focused.

Those that are more exam-focused may require A-Levels instead. BTEC National qualifications form part of the apprenticeship scheme, and can give you UCAS points if you are thinking of going into higher education at undergraduate level.

What can I do with an A-Level?

A-Levels are the most common route to university study. If you’re careful about the subjects you select, it can open up a wide range of opportunities in terms of the degrees you can study. If you take politics, economics or a language for example, this can mean that you can study for a joint honours degree with a language and humanities, economics or politics subject, etc.

A-Levels can also lead to a job, an apprenticeship, or an internship or voluntary work to gain experience. Some people also study A-Levels with the intention of going on to further study at postgraduate level, for qualifications such as a masters degree.

What can I do with a BTEC?

A BTEC is either studied full time in college, or jointly between a school and a college. You can take one instead of A-Levels, and they offer a route into a vocational sector that can give you directions into university, employment, or an apprenticeship.

What can i do with a btec qualification

A BTEC National qualification is prized by employers, universities and colleges, and you can choose a course from more than 25 sectors, with plenty of options. BTECs are made up of units that cover certain topics based on the industry and subject you are studying. There are core units that every student must study, alongside optional units to choose from depending on your interests.

You’ll be given assignments to do to check your progress, and depending on the type of course taken, this can be anything from creating video content and filming, to putting together a content strategy. BTECs also offer work experience, so you can take some time out of the classroom and apply theory to the workplace.

Can you study A-Levels and BTECs together?

The number of A-Levels and BTECs on offer gives students plenty of opportunities to study a range of subjects, but it can be difficult to decide on what to study if you are unsure of your career path. For many people, the main goal is to get enough UCAS points to get into university.

In college or sixth form, you can study for a BTEC alongside a couple of A-Levels if you want to keep your options open. This also provides you with a great combination of both academic and practical skills – which some may argue is the best of both worlds for both academic institutions and future employers. Some higher institutions in fact prefer BTEC students to have an additional A-Level qualification for their entry requirements.

There are many combination types available if you are mixing BTECs and A-Levels. The most common is taking one BTEC and two A-Levels, which covers the number of qualifications required by universities. However, if you’d prefer, you can take two BTECs and one A-Level. Taking a combination of both qualifications is generally seen as better than just taking one type, as the two offer a wider range of transferable skills covering both academic theory and hands-on experience.

As mentioned before, BTECs give you working experience, and A-Levels give you academic merit. A good way to mix up BTECs and A-Levels is by opting for courses that are not similar to one another, but complement each other. For instance, you could choose A-Levels in maths and chemistry, alongside a BTEC in an engineering subject.

But it wouldn’t be a good idea to take A-Levels in business studies, and a BTEC in business studies, as there is too much overlap, with similar content. Choose a range of topics that will still maintain your interest later down the line.

How to choose between an A-Level and a BTEC

Simply put, you need to think about what you’d like to do in the future in terms of career and study. Do you want to go to higher education and university? Or are you more interested in an apprenticeship? Or preparing for a career to go straight into work?

If you’re unsure, go for a mix of the two. More BTEC students are now applying to universities. According to a UCAS report, 10% of university students were admitted based on just having BTEC qualifications. 7.2% of students had a mix of A-Level and BTEC.[1]

If you’re looking into higher education, your chosen place of study may determine whether you study A-Levels or not. Some Russell Group universities such as Cambridge or Oxford still prefer A-Levels, but more are accepting BTECs as part of course requirements. If you are doing a 12-unit BTEC, some universities will want you to have an AS or A-Level qualification too, so this is worth keeping in mind.

Alternatives to A-Levels and BTECs

If BTECs or A-Levels aren’t for you, there are plenty of other options out there to consider. These include:


This is a work-based qualification that sets up a candidate for a certain job, giving them the skills and knowledge for that career path. An NVQ can be taken in many subjects such as social care, design, business and language skills. Five GCSEs of grades 1-4 are needed for NVQ Level 1, and five grades of 4-9 for Level 2.


If you’re thinking of heading straight into work rather than university, a traineeship helps you develop skills that are vital for the workplace, such as digital skills, CV writing, and skills that are necessary for careers in retail, engineering, marketing and so on. A minimum of four GCSEs at grades 1-4 is often required.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

The International Baccalaureate (IB) organisation offers a Diploma Programme that is equivalent to A-Levels. It is made up of six subjects, and is completed over two years. Students study three subjects such as literature, arts, sciences and maths to an advanced level, as well as a Theory of Knowledge course. A 4000-word research essay is also completed.

Other options include school leaver schemes, supported internships and advanced diplomas.


[1] UCAS Report –