how to prepare for sixth formLooking for tips about how to prepare for sixth form?

This past year, our family life has really revolved around Flea sitting her GCSEs and getting into the right sixth form to study her A-Levels.

Our summer has included LOTS of fun and some great times spent with friends, but it’s also been about getting ready for sixth form. If you’re currently in Year 10 and looking to apply to sixth form in September, then here are some tips for how to prepare for sixth form.

Sixth Form Applications

Schools will tell you that you need to start applying for sixth form as soon as you enter Year 11 at school. That’s not necessarily true. We found that most sixth forms will accept applications up until January, and there’s plenty of time to visit sixth forms and open days, although in some cases these might still be virtual.

That said, we were considering moving to Sussex at the start of the year and found sixth forms that weren’t over-subscribed were happy to accept applications at the end of March and early April. So if your circumstances change, don’t worry about missing official deadlines – the chances are most sixth form colleges will take late applications.

Choosing a Sixth Form

Flea attended virtual open days for the sixth forms she attended and they’re important if you’re wondering how to prepare for sixth form. It was a good chance to get a feel for the lessons, ask questions of key staff members, and many hours were spent on virtual tours of each campus.

tips starting sixth form

My advice? If your young person is worried about how to prepare for sixth form, go to the open days. This applies to whether they’re virtual or real-life and consider things like:

  • resources: does the school or college have the right kit, teacher numbers and facilities for you to really make the most of the sixth form.
  • courses: even if you’re looking at a specific BTEC or A-Level course, the topics, exam board and focus can vary from school to school. Ask teachers which exam boards and options they’re likely to teach
  • extra-curricular: Lots of teens these days have slightly skimpy CVs because it’s been hard to do much volunteering or sport or employment since Covid. So look for opportunities to join clubs, teams and activities that you’ll enjoy and which will help ’round out’ your university applications.
  • results: One of the most important things for Flea was to look up the stats showing where students went after completing courses at the colleges she applied for.  Flea has a university and course in mind, so this helped her to see which institution would be most likely to help her get there.

Alongside all of this, though, I advised Flea to think about where she would have fun, and be happy.

Doing A-Levels can be intense and hard work, and that’s a lot easier if you know you’re around like-minded people, and have enough free time to do other things you enjoy. Part of knowing how to prepare for sixth form is knowing what you really WANT these two years of college to be like.

Flea was really happy to have a fresh start at a school that only two other students from her school will be attending, but if you have a close group of friends at school, there’s a lot to be said for ‘sticking together’ and arriving at sixth-form with a ready-made group of friends.

tips starting college

What is Bridging Work?

Bridging Work was definitely NOT a thing when I went off to college, but it seems to be standard for today’s students. Part of me thinks it’s just mean, but I can see how it’s helped Flea feel more confident about moving to A-Levels.

Most sixth forms will set work for each subject that might include:

  • Background reading to help you understand a subject more widely
  • Completing online learning modules to help reinforce key concepts
  • Creating reports or presentations for your new classes
  • Writing essays designed to help you research new topics

My heartfelt advice is to complete the bridging work as early as possible. Nobody wants to be on their long-awaited summer holiday in the middle of August trying to read Dickens or complete some online science experiment.

Doing the bridging work helps you feel more prepared and ‘hit the ground running’ in September so you can focus on settling in and making friends at college, NOT catching up on work you haven’t done.

What to Wear for Sixth Form

Depending on the sixth form you attend, you might have no dress code, a school uniform or a dress code that requires you to wear a suit or smart business wear.

In our case, Flea’s sixth form asks students to wear a suit or business wear, which Flea took to mean wearing smart tops with trousers, and a blazer or suit jacket over the top.

It’s easy to spend hundreds on these types of outfits but we managed to find suit jackets and tailored trousers that were very affordable in Next and Marks & Spencer, and there were also some great options in Mango and Zara, but unfortunately they seemed to be made for people with shorter arms than my teen! We also checked out New Look and TK Maxx for knitted tops and classic shirts to go under jackets.

We probably spent around £300 on three jackets, three pairs of trousers and 5 tops, plus another £150 on sports kit. Flea’s sixth form requires all students to take part in games one afternoon a week, and Flea is also hoping to help start a hockey team at the school. Most of what Flea chose is machine washable, so hopefully this will be enough kit to see her through the week.

a-level stationery list

Sixth Form Stationery & Work Area

You may already know there are literally hundreds of videos on YouTube telling you what stationery you’ll need for sixth form, but many of these will encourage you to spend WAY more than necessary.

The most important things to have are pens, pencils and coloured pens, plus lots of highlighters and sticky notes for annotation. Alongside that, most sixth formers told me to get a lever-arch A4 folder for each subject PLUS one spare that you take to college every day.

At the end of each week, take your notes from your ‘day folder’ and put them in your subject folders. If you’re super keen this is the time to make your flash cards, while the content is still fresh in your mind.

Alongside stationery, we did buy Flea (used) copies of most of her text books, since the school requested that we do so, to avoid them needing to use precious budgets providing everyone with a book for every subject. I imagine we’ll sell them back on after Flea has completed her studies.

We’ve also given Flea her own desk and office chair in her bedroom with plenty of shelf space, so she can study in peace when she needs to. Crucially we’ve also bought a really good desk light, so she can see when she’s studying in the evenings and it’s dark.

Last but not least…

My last tip on how to prepare for sixth form is to make sure you know the journey. Flea will be taking 2 trains to get to her sixth form, and it’s important she is confident finding her platform, knowing what to do is a train is delayed, or a platform changes.

Flea is the youngest in her year so it’s going to be 12 months before she can get a driving license, but we are planning to start off-road lessons next year, so that hopefully Flea can get her license and drive to school for Year 13. But until then she’s at the mercy of Avanti!

We’ve done a couple of practice runs to sixth form over the summer, where Flea has taken the train to sixth form with her Dad. We’ve also talked about what problems can occur with British public transport, what do to if there’s an issue, and even telephone numbers of friends who live close to the college who can help out if she gets stuck.


If you’ve got kids who are starting or have attended sixth form and you have tips on how to prepare for sixth form, I’d love to hear them!