17th April, 2018

How To Get Into University (If You Have No GCSEs)

By Rachael S

Did you know that receiving private tuition has a dramatic impact on your ability to get into university for a certain subject? Universities love that despite your lack of GCSEs, you have been proactive in your learning and highlights your drive to excel. 

Obtaining a solid selection of GCSEs is like having a key that opens countless doors. It can lead to various jobs, apprenticeships, college, sixth form and, of course, university.

Each university course will have its own specific set of requirements. Often, universities will specify the minimum grades they expect at GCSE maths and English alongside the more requirements for more advanced qualifications, such as A-levels. Usually, to be eligible to apply, you would need at least a C in both of these subjects.

Without the required GCSEs, even if you have the necessary A-Levels, the institutions will likely reject you as a candidate.

So, what should you do if you didn’t make the grades? And what if you don’t have any GCSEs at all?

Well don’t give up on uni just yet. There are an array of options out there for people without GCSEs. Luckily, it just so happens that we’ve got the low-down on them for you. See what the score is below!

Functional Skills: The GCSE Equivalent

Functional skills are a great qualification for those that are looking to secure the equivalent of a GCSE grade C in English, mathematics or ICT – the three most common subjects needed for university entry.

Each course provides learners with a broad understanding of the topics and equips them with the skills they’ll need to obtain the GCSE equivalents. To get your GCSE grade C equivalent, you’ll need to successfully complete a Level 2 functional skills course. What’s great about these courses is that they can usually be completed in a matter of weeks!

The way the courses work is simple:

Learners go through enrolment, initial assessments and diagnostic assessments. Next, students undertake training, either online or in the classroom, complete practice tests and finally, once they’re ready, they take their final exams. To help guide them through the process, each student has an assessor that will mark their work along the way and give them feedback to ensure they can achieve the best possible results.

Whilst it’s possible to work through the courses yourself, learners who are doing several courses at once in preparation for university could really benefit and hire a private tutor to provide additional support. These tutors can also provide you with additional guidance for university admissions and give you pointers on your transition to higher education.

For those students needing to secure those all important English, maths and ICT grades before applying to university, taking Functional Skills could be the perfect option. With such a quick turnaround time it could be exactly what you’re looking for!

Whilst Functional Skills can be a great start for more vocational university courses, you should bear in mind that these qualifications are only useful for students who are seeking the equivalent of a C grade. If a student needs an A or B, they would need to look into GCSE retakes instead.

Looking Beyond The Traditional:

There are many routes into university beyond securing the more established GCSEs and A levels. Of course, every university is different, but providing you choose the course that’s right for you, there’s almost always a way to prove you’re capable enough to secure a place.

The BTEC Option

Whilst Functional Skills are an alternative to GCSEs, there are a growing number of students also opting to take a BTEC over the more traditional A-levels.

Each year, over a million learners take on BTEC courses to acquire some hands-on qualifications. These are far more vocational in nature than A-levels but are still accepted by many top universities.

There are over 2,000 BTEC qualifications across the following areas:

  • Applied Science
  • Art and Design
  • Business
  • Childcare
  • Construction
  • Engineering
  • Media
  • Health and Social Care
  • Hospitality
  • ICT
  • Performing Arts
  • Public Services
  • Sport
  • Travel and Tourism

So, students are not limited in their academic options. These courses will certainly meet the vast majority of university requirements, but they also have the added value of providing students with the vocational knowledge and skills they’d need to go straight into full-time work.

An Educational Shake-Up

If BTECs, Functional Skills and GCSEs weren’t enough, the UK government also recently announced that they’re planning to expand their repertoire of available qualifications to include T-Levels.

T-levels: What are they?

Described as ‘the same quality as A levels’, T-levels are an option for 16-19 year olds hoping to focus on a more technical form of education

These courses will be developed and implemented over the next 4 years, eventually acting to simplify the manner in which the nation delivers vocational training, providing greater clarity on the value of this type of qualification in comparison to the A-level.

Similar to BTEC courses, T-levels will give young people a chance to study across 15 sectors, in subjects ranging from construction to beauty. These courses will replace thousands of others to create a much more transparent job market.

Take a look at the list of some of the proposed courses below. They will be released gradually over the next 4 years.

  • Childcare and Education
  • Digital
  • Construction
  • Legal, Finance and Accounting
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Health and Science
  • Hair and Beauty
  • Agriculture, Environment and Animal Care
  • Business and Administration
  • Catering and Hospitality
  • Creative Design

But will universities accept T-levels as an A level equivalent? Well, as the courses are still being developed, it’s too early to say for sure.

What we do know is that so far a number of institutions including Sheffield Hallam, Nottingham trent and Liverpool University have all gone on the record as holding a positive inclination towards the proposed T-levels. And whilst many of the more prestigious universities aren’t committing to the T-levels just yet, it is likely that with time, the value of the new qualifications will become more obvious.


And there you have it, proof that you can get to university without GCSEs! What’s more is that with a growing focus on technical skills and experience in the job market, taking the path less-travelled may well give you the competitive edge on your fellow university graduates!

Have you got a story about taking an alternative route into higher education? Tell us about it in the comments below!



Written by Nicole B from The Learning Station. The Learning Station provides educational training for young adults who need qualifications for further education as well as those hoping to grow a career in social care, child care and construction. 

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