Studying Travel and Tourism at College: What You Should Know

travel and tourism at college

The time has come, you’ve finished your GCSE’s and you need to enrol on a course at sixth form or college, but which course should you choose? There are many courses out there, academic and vocational in nature. You can stay on at school or you can move to a new educational institution. You can start on an entry level course or you can start at level 3. This post is aimed at helping those of you who are wracking your brains trying to decide which is the best option for you and how this might shape your career and your life.

Why study travel and tourism?

The plus is that travel and tourism is the world’s largest industry and so there are LOTS of career options. The negative however is that most of these jobs are relatively poorly paid. Some jobs involve travel, but in reality most do not. Many jobs in the industry involve customer service-don’t like working with people? Shy? Maybe it’s not the industry for you then. There are a range of different courses available (see below), but almost all are focussed on working in the industry as opposed to being academic. Whilst many people who study travel and tourism at college do go on to study at university, they are not normally very well prepared as the courses are not designed to be preparatory for academia, but instead are designed to prepare you for the work place.

What courses are available?

There are different awarding bodies that schools or colleges choose to work with. It is these awarding bodies that write the curriculum. Some are more recognised, particularly at universities, than others. Below is a summary of the main awarding bodies offering travel and tourism qualifications in the UK-

Edexcel- You can do an A level (which is less vocational and more academic in nature), but most educational institutions run BTEC courses. These start at entry level and run through to level 5. Here is a summary of the levels-

Entry level- year 7 equivalent, generally no formal qualifications required. Often undertaken by those for who English is not their first language or for those with learning disabilities.

Level 1- year 9 equivalent, generally for GCSE E grade students

Level 2- GCSE equivalent, generally for GCSE D grade students

Level 3- A level equivalent, generally for those with C grades or above at GCSE

Level 4 (Higher National Certificate)- university year 1 equivalent, varying entry requirements

Level 5 (Higher National Diploma)- university year 2 equivalent, varying entry requirements

BTEC and other vocational courses tend to be frowned upon by academics as being less worthy. Many could argue that historically this might have been the case (and still is with some qualifications), however BTEC have tightened up their regulations and assessments and made them much more difficult. For this reason BTEC is probably the most regarded vocational qualification, but because of low pass rates at many schools and colleges many institutions have stopped offering BTEC programmes in exchange for ones below. If you’re considering university a BTEC is probably your best option as it includes some units that are more closely aligned with academia.

City and Guilds- This is probably most widely recognised by industry as City and Guilds offer a broad variety is work-based qualifications. If you want to go to university this might be problematic as many universities do not recognise it. It also has next to no preparatory content, academic skills such as critical thinking and analysis will barely be developed and you certainly won’t be required to reference your work. If you don’t like written work however, this might be the best option for you. It has a lot of practical elements including things such as role-plays and presentations. City and Guilds write the assessments for you, so unlike BTEC the lecturers will not have the option to amend as they see fit. This means the qualification will be almost identical in which ever educational institution you choose.

NCFE- This is pretty similar to City and Guilds but less well recognsied. It has a lot of practical elements and will prepare you for the workplace better than university.

Should I study travel and tourism at school or at a college?

Recent years have seen Further Education budgets severely pinched. As a result many schools have now tried to prevent their students from leaving them and going to a college and have started offering a wider variety of courses to retain their students. This has caused several problems:

Schools rarely have appropriately qualified teachers. You will usually be taught by a geography teacher who has never worked in the travel and tourism industry.

Schools rarely have the best facilities. Most colleges will have comprehensive systems in place for you to gain work experience with industry employers and have guest lectures- geography specialists are unlikely to have these contacts. Most colleges will also have things such as a mock aircraft or a travel agency for you to work in and take you on residential trips. Again, schools often don’t have the budget or time for these.

Students who study T&T at school tend to get lower grades. Less qualified teachers and less time=lower grades.

Despite these arguments however, many students are staying on at school and this has had a negative impact on many colleges. Colleges have struggled to fill classes and have had to accept students with lower grades than previously along with those who have bad references. That brings with it its own problems in terms of student abilities, behaviour and classroom management.

What exactly will I study?

You will study a wide range of subjects depending on the awarding body. This will likely be most closely aligned with business studies and geography. There will likely be some units where you will be required to research destinations and tourist attractions, some where you will study industry practices such as customer service or hospitality and some that are work-based such as working as a resort representative or working in the cruise industry.

Overall, studying travel and tourism is great fun and provides you with lots of transferrable skills BUT it is not the only way to get a job in the industry, so don’t feel that you are forced to take this route (this is more important once you reach university level). It is predominantly vocational based so many students who are more academically inclined often choose to take traditional A-levels instead. In summary, you can get many jobs but most are not particularly highly paid, if you’re considering university choose A-levels or a BTEC qualification and check the credentials of your lecturers- not all have degrees themselves so won’t be the best to prepare you for university! The most credible qualification tends to be BTEC, but this has recently been made more difficult. Facilities and staff are likely to be much better at a college as opposed to a school.

Do you have a question about studying travel and tourism at school or college? Post it below!