Apprenticeship vs University: Which route is right for you?

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For many people leaving school or college, it can be quite a tough decision to make about what to do next. Some people might be determined to head to university and get a degree, but others might want to get workplace experience, begin their career, and start earning money straight away. But how do you know what’s right for you?

It used to be the case that apprenticeships were considered the route of choice if you wanted to be a tradesperson, but not for any other type of career. The reality now could not be further from the truth. Whilst there are many great apprenticeships that can help set you up for a career in a traditional trade, there are also hundreds of other apprenticeship standards across many different industries that can help train and prepare you for any number of future careers.

University qualifications vs apprenticeship qualifications

For some careers, such as becoming a doctor or a dentist, going to university is a must, but the equivalent level of qualification for many other careers is also available with a higher or degree-level apprenticeship, and more employers than ever before understand and value the benefits that apprenticeships of all levels have for existing and potential new employees.

With everything from engineering to forestry management and landscaping, admin roles or a first step on the ladder as a heating engineer, there are a huge range of different apprenticeship opportunities available that might surprise you.

The different levels of apprenticeship are:

  • Intermediate (Level 2) – equivalent to GCSE
  • Advanced (Level 3) – equivalent to A-level
  • Higher (Levels 4,5,6 and 7) – equivalent to a foundation degree and above
  • Degree (Levels 6 and 7) – equivalent to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree

There can also be some apprenticeships that offer additional diploma qualifications.

University finances vs apprenticeship finances

Whilst different degrees and universities might have different tuition fees, it’s a reality that going to Uni can cost a great deal of money, which most people take out student loans to cover and will start to repay when they start earning a certain level of money in their career afterwards. There are often living costs to factor in above the cost of tuition too, which can also be substantial. The average debt for students graduating in 2020 was £45,000.

Apprenticeships, on the other hand, mean that you are paid to work and for the training time you undergo as part of the course for the duration, which costs the apprentice nothing, and there is no student loan to repay once you complete the apprenticeship.

Work experience gained from an apprenticeship vs university

Many students take on a part-time job whilst studying to help with finances, which can be a good way to pick up some work experience while attending university too. This often takes the form of casual work or working in the hospitality or seasonal industries, as the hours and flexibility in these kinds of roles often fit well with student life. Many students also have work placements as part of their university course, depending on the degree.

Full-time apprentices are paid a full-time wage, which covers the hours they work as well as the training time they receive as part of the scheme, which is at least 20% of their overall hours. Aside from the financial considerations, an apprenticeship also means you get real and sustained hands-on experience of working in an environment that could well be typical for your chosen career. This is in addition to learning all about what it means to be an employee, often working as part of a team with people from all walks of life, which can help develop invaluable skills for life and your future career.

These different types of experience can often be an advantage if you look for jobs in the future, as former apprentices often have several more years of real-world work experience than others of the same age or career stage who attended university instead of doing an apprenticeship. This can be true even if you end up choosing a different career area to the one you did your apprenticeship in as many work skills are transferable.

Many of those who do an apprenticeship also stay with the same employer after they have completed the scheme as a permanent employee, whereas most graduating students will most likely need to start from scratch in the job market to apply for and successfully be appointed in their first ‘career’ role.

Finding the right fit for you

If you’re considering either apprenticeships and university as the path forward for you after leaving school or college, it’s important to find the right fit for you.

As a young person, the decision you make at this stage isn’t life-defining and it’s worth noting that you can do either an apprenticeship or a university degree at any age. This means that while your choices will have an influence on your daily life and career over the next few years, you’re not necessarily committing to a specific career or path that is set in stone for life if you find out down the line that you want to do something else instead.

An apprenticeship can be a great option for someone who has an idea about the kind of career they want to go into, which doesn’t require a specific degree to get into. It means you can learn on the job and get paid to work and train from the very start in a career that you’re interested in, without building up lots of student debt in the process. University could be well-suited to you if you have a specific career in mind that needs a certain degree course for you to get into.

It’s a great idea to take a look into the apprenticeship opportunities with employers near you as well as looking into university courses to evaluate what each path will look like. Doing your research into both options can put you in a great place to make an informed decision into what will work best for you.


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