Haven’t applied? 16-18 qualifications explained…

We meet many students who know they’d like to study at Truro and Penwith College, but are not sure which qualification type is right for them, and the differences between each option.

Careers Advisors Katarina Berge and Tracey Johnson have recently joined the Student Services Team at Truro and Penwith College and we asked them for a bit of help! 

Katrina said: “Choosing what to study at college can be dependent on so many things. For example, what GCSE grades you are likely to achieve, your aspirations in life and even your style of learning”. 

Tracey commented: “Everybody is different, some people are more academic than others and not everyone has the desire to continue with education in the same way. But we feel sure that at the College, we have an option that will suit everyone’s future ambitions, whatever they may be”. 

Katarina and Tracey have put together this handy FE qualification guide, covering all the different qualifications types available here at Truro and Penwith College. If you have any questions, or need help there is also an option to get in touch using our contact details

FE Qualification Types (16-18)

Whether you are academic or prefer to learn practically with a vocational course, with a bit of understanding it’s easy to find the right qualification type to suit your interests, university goals and career aspirations. 

A Levels

This is often considered a traditional route for students to take at college. If you aren’t certain of the career you’d like to pursue, A Levels could be a great option as they allow you to study multiple subjects and keep your options open. 

A Level students choose three subjects to study over two years. Most subjects are assessed by exams but some also include coursework assessments.  

To study A Level programmes you will need five GCSE’s at Grade 4 or above in appropriate subjects. These must include English language or Literature and Maths at Grade 5 or above. You may also be asked to achieve a Grade 6 or above in other subjects at GCSE that relate to your A Level choices.  

For example if you wanted to study Geography at A Level, you may be asked to achieve a Geography GCSE at Grade 6 or above in addition to English and/or Maths at Grade 5. College advisors will use your predicted grades to discuss your course choices and entry requirements at your interview.  

Lara Read is from Redruth and studied Art and Design: Fine Art, Illustration/Graphics and Classical Civilisation A levels at Truro College. She said: “The A Level teaching was really good, staff were really supportive and all so enthusiastic about their subjects.” Since doing A Level’s at Truro College she decided to stay at the College to study the Foundation Diploma in Art, Design and Media. 

Find out more about A Levels here

IB Diploma

Truro College is the only provider of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma in Cornwall. This programme of study is an excellent alternative to A Levels and offers an even broader range of study with students studying six subjects; three at ‘Higher Level’ and three at ‘Standard Level’.  

The IB is perfect for academic all-rounders who have enjoyed studying a variety of subjects at GCSE and want to continue doing so when they progress to College. Students develop their understanding, respect and compassion alongside their studies with the programme actively promoting international mindedness, with many students developing an interest in the wider world and experiencing international travel.  

This qualification is a highly regarded route into university and while students study six subjects, they will achieve one International Baccalaureate Diploma qualification, with the final grade based on a number of points out of 45.  

Truro College students achieved an average point score of 36 in 2020, which is equivalent to four A Levels; three at A* and one at A, with nearly a third of students scoring 40 points or more. 

The IB is assessed through exams and other forms of specialised assessment appropriate to the student’s chosen subject. 

In addition to their six chosen subjects, students study Theory of Knowledge (TOK), produce an extended essay, and take part in a Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) activity, which in recent years has included fundraising work and a trip to Eswatini to complete charity work for schools for orphans of AIDS victims.  

The IB is studied over two years with students needing five GCSEs at Grade 4 or above in a broad range of subjects, including English and/or Maths at Grade 5. Students also require GCSEs at Grade 6 in subjects related to their ‘Higher Level’ choices.  

Anna West achieved 44 points in her IB which is equivalent to four A*s and an A at A Level. Anna said: “I have been very privileged to have access to the outstanding support that is available through the staff on the IB and resources at the College. 

“I have really enjoyed being part of the IB, especially because of the sense of community which has been created through the residential and trips. I was very excited to find that I had achieved 44 points. Through this, the IB has opened up so many doors to me for the future. Thank you to the tutors and the College for the support during the past two years.” 

Find out more about the IB Diploma here.

Extended Certificate

An Extended Certificate is a two-year course that is equivalent to one A Level.  

Students can choose to study an Extended Certificate alongside A Levels to add breadth and vocational (practical) study to their programme. It is possible to study an Extended Certificate alongside an Extended Diploma, although this is less typical.  

For example; some students may choose to study three A levels in Maths, English and Biology with the addition of an Extended Certificate in Sports and Exercise Science to enhance their programme.  

Entry requirements include four GCSEs at Grade 4 or above, or a Level 2 Diploma in appropriate subjects. 

Assessment is completed through coursework and evaluation of practical skills, including a final project. College tutors help students assess the feasibility of taking on this additional work through conversations at interview.  

Isaac Tinley is an example of a student who studies two A Levels in Business Studies and Photography alongside his Level 3 National Extended Certificate in Music Performance at Penwith College. Isaac feels studying an Extended Certificate instead of a third A Level has benefitted him: “I enjoy doing the Music Performance certificate as it gives me the opportunity to pursue music and access all the equipment that the College provides, while still taking two A Levels and keeping my options open.” 

Find out more about Extended Certificates here.

Extended Diploma

An Extended Diploma is a two year course that covers one subject and is equivalent to three A Levels. 

Extended Diplomas are a great option for students who have decided on the career they’d like to pursue as it provides a very in-depth level of study. 

Students will cover both theory and practical elements, giving you occupational knowledge ready to progress straight into your chosen career, University Level Education or an Apprenticeship. 

In the first year you will gain a Level 3 Foundation Diploma before you begin the second year where you will study towards the full Extended Diploma. Assessment is through a blend of coursework, exams and evaluation of practical skills. 

Entry requirements include four GCSEs at Grade 4 or above including either English Language or Literature and/or Maths. A Merit on a Level 2 Diploma in an appropriate subject can also be considered (in addition to GCSEs in English and/or Maths).  

Amma Mensah studies the BTEC Extended Diploma in Business at Penwith College and said: “I chose the Extended Diploma because it is coursework based. We do have a couple of exams but I feel that it’s easier to keep on top of coursework and be graded as you go rather than holding out for the final exams like you do in A Levels.  

“I enjoy the marketing and finance aspects the most and I plan to continue studying these subjects in my degree at Queen Mary University, London where I plan to study Management and Marketing. I hope to become a Management Consultant one day.” 

Find out more about Extended Diplomas here.

Progression Courses

Progression courses are studied over one year and are focused on progression to a Level 3 course or employment. 

There are no entry requirements for a Level 1 Progression course while students studying a Level 2 need to have achieved a minimum of three GCSEs at Grade 3, including English Language/Literature and/or Maths. 

Students who don’t achieve the grades needed at GCSE can join the College on a Progression Course. 

Marcus Evans started studying for the Level 1 Introductory Diploma in Health and Social Care before progressing onto his Level 3 Extended Diploma in Health and Social care at Penwith College. 

Marcus commented: “I've had so many opportunities having done this course and my tutors have been a huge help. I am now going to go onto Plymouth Marjon University to study Psychotherapy and Counselling, which is something I discovered from doing this course."

I had a lot of support from the lecturers for my transition from Level 1 to 3. The workload increased noticeably but it was nothing too stressful

Marcus Evans, Health and Social Care Progression Student

Find out more about Progression courses here.

Technical Courses

Technical courses combine the study of practical skills and theoretical knowledge of a career-based subject and enable students to progress into employment in their chosen industry such as Hair, Beauty, Catering, Construction and Motor Vehicle.  

Technical Courses are available at Level 1, 2 and 3 with students starting at either Level 1 or 2.  

Entry requirements differ by course and level, but all grades will be considered following a successful interview with the College. Desired entry requirements can be as follows: 

Level 1: Two GCSEs at Grade 2 including English Language or Literature and/or Maths 

Level 2: Three GCSEs at Grade 3 plus either English Language or Literature and/or Maths at Grade 4 

Each Level of qualification takes one year to complete, so a student entering at Level 1 will study for three years to achieve a Level 3 qualification. 

Ricki Holden studies the Light Vehicle Maintenance and Repair Level 3 Diploma at Penwith College. Ricki said: “I really like that it is a hands-on course where you pick up a lot of skills that can be used throughout your life.” 

Find out more about Technical Courses in the College’s prospectus.

T Levels

T Levels are new two year technical and vocational qualifications that were introduced in September 2020, they come after GCSEs and are equivalent to three A Levels.  

Truro and Penwith College is the only provider in Cornwall to be selected by the Department for Education to deliver the first T Levels. 

Students choose one subject in a similar fashion to an Extended Diploma. T Levels combine classroom theory and practical learning with an extended industry work placement of 45-days. This means students spend around 80% of their time learning at College and 20% gaining industry relevant work experience.  

This qualification will be of particular interest to students who’d like to go into employment or a Higher-Level Apprenticeship once the course is completed.  

Entry requirements include four GCSEs at Grade 4 or above, to include either English Language or Literature and/or Maths. A Merit graded Level 2 Diploma in an appropriate subject can also be considered (in addition to the English and/or Maths grade). 

Ethan Allen is studying the T Level in Construction: Design, Surveying and Planning and finds the course is supporting his career ambitions: “I get to choose what I want to do. In the future I want to be an architect and this course teaches me what it is like to be an architect. 

Right now, I’m designing buildings. I get to learn about building regulations, how to draw blueprints and what makes buildings work. I find that area of the course very interesting

Ethan Allen, T Level Student

Find out more about T Levels here.


A Truro and Penwith College Apprenticeship is a great way to earn while you learn and start a quality career with one of Cornwall’s top employers.  

Apprenticeship programmes last anywhere from 12-months to four years depending on the level and programme and include a contract of employment with an employer. Students are awarded an industry-recognised qualification on completion and are ready to enter their chosen career on a full-time basis. 

Apprenticeships differ from T Levels with students typically spending 80% of their time at work and 20% at College. Paid employment hours will be at least 30-hours per week, which includes time spent at College. Apprenticeships start at various points throughout the year and unlike other learning options, are not limited to September starts.  

Apprentices are entitled to the same benefits as any full-time employee. Information on the national minimum wage for Apprenticeships can be found online, with many employers offering more than this to attract the best candidates and pay a fair wage to reflect the responsibilities of the role. 

Students are paid for the days they spend at College taking part in a mixture of taught lessons, workshops, work-based assessments and e-learning.

The College allocates a Training Advisor (TA) to each Apprentice who regularly visits learners and their employer to offer plenty of support throughout the Apprenticeship.  

Apprenticeships are available to anyone over the age of 16, with students usually starting at level 2 or 3 depending on their previous experience. Apprentices can continue their learning up to degree level with the College currently offers programmes up to level 5. 

There are no formal entry requirements for Apprenticeships as they are based on a blend of previous academic achievement, experience, attitude, motivation and commitment to the Apprenticeship job role the student is applying for. 

The College advertises a range of Apprenticeship jobs online all year round and invites students to register their interest to help them find out more and find the best Apprenticeship job to match their career ambitions. 

The application process includes an interview with the College and the employer in a similar fashion to any full-time job. The College supports students with their application and to prepare for interviews.  

National achievement rates put the College in the top 10 of all College providers of Apprenticeships in the UK.  

Luke Hardaker is studying a Level 3 Marketing Assistant Apprenticeship at the College and said: “Being an Apprentice has been a really rewarding experience. 

“I work with a team who have a wealth of knowledge in their fields, and I have gained a significant amount of skills and knowledge that I wouldn't have ever had otherwise. The support I receive from the College is very good. It has been a great start to my future in the exciting world of Marketing”. 

Find out more information online. For help, complete our contact form or contact the Apprenticeship team directly: apprenticeships@truro-penwith.ac.uk or 01872 305500.  

How to Apply

Once you have all the information you need and have a better idea of what you might want to study at the College, you can start completing your application online or download and print an application form at home

Remember, there is no deadline for applications but they should be completed as soon as possible for September 2021. 

Apply now

Apprenticeships are subject to a different application process. You can get your application started by registering your interest here.  

Once you have submitted your application you will be invited to attend a short interview. This is a chance to talk to a member of staff to discuss your chosen course(s) and make sure they are the right option for you. 

If you have already handed in your application, you might find it helpful to read our ‘I’ve applied... What happens next’ blog. 

Visit us Virtually

We can’t wait to be able to welcome you into the College as soon as circumstances allow us to.  

In the meantime, you can Visit Us Virtually, watch Subject Spotlight videos from our tutors, take virtual 3D tours of both college campuses, explore your learning options, download course information and apply online.  

If you have any questions or you need support with your application, you can get in touch via our contact details or you can email us at enquiries@truro-penwith.ac.uk. Whatever you need, we are here and happy to help. 

Truro and Penwith College are each opening their doors to host a Come and See event for applicants and those who are interested in applying to start in September 2021. 

Come and See Truro College - Wednesday 7 July 2021
Come and see Penwith College - Thursday 24 June 2021