After completing her GCSEs, Ella Hughes from Coalisland decided that traditional A-levels were not the right choice for her. Instead, she opted to pursue Level 3 education at South West College, where she studied a BTEC extended diploma in Construction and Built Environment.

Equivalent to three A-levels, this qualification allowed her to seamlessly progress to the Ulster University Foundation degree in Construction Engineering with Surveying Higher Level Apprenticeship (HLA) at the Dungannon campus. This debt-free journey has not only led to academic success for Ella but has also opened up valuable career opportunities. With a few years of industry experience already under her belt from working with a local construction firm, Ella is well on her way to achieving her goal of becoming a qualified health and safety officer.

Reflecting on her educational journey, Ella said:

"Leaving school after my GCSEs, I knew that I wanted to further my education, but going back to a traditional school setting was not the right fit for me. I found the flexibility and practical nature of the course to be exactly what I needed. It meant that I could work more hours at my part-time job and even leave my weekends free. I also didn't feel like I was buried in schoolwork and stressed all the time, like my peers had felt at that time. I have never felt the stress of a school environment since going to college, and I put that down to the support of the tutors and the structure of the course. The hands-on experience and real-world application of the subjects have allowed me to succeed in ways that a traditional school environment could not."

By choosing to pursue a BTEC Level 3 qualification, Ella found she was well ahead of her peers, which not only prepared her for higher education but also gave her a competitive edge in the workforce.

“Completing the Level 3 BTEC, before progressing on to the foundation degree set me up much better, as you have already touched on some of the subjects that you cover on the foundation degree, such as Cad, u-values, setting out, and quantity surveying. As I had already covered these, I understood these subjects, while anyone who had done their A-Levels was coming in blankly to this and had very little to no understanding of it.”

Due to the practical experience, she gained on the BTEC course, Ella gained employment in the industry, which has been hugely beneficial.

"I am grateful for the opportunities and support I have received at SWC. The vocational education I have received has set me up for success in my future career, and I am excited about the possibilities that lie ahead and am thankful that I am able to pursue my goals without the burden of debt. SWC has played a massive part in setting me up for when I finish my education, and I am happy to be leaving with no debt hanging over my head.”

Ella now has one year left on her foundation degree, and with the support of her employer, she is currently pursuing additional qualifications in health and safety and feels she is well on track to becoming a fully qualified health and safety advisor. Looking to the future, Ella is considering further education options or would like to go to Australia and start full-time work as a health and safety advisor.

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