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Apprenticeships vs University: Everything You Need To Know

With rising uni fees, school leavers are looking for alternative career routes. Let's look at apprenticeships vs university, to help you make the right choice.

Nowadays, with universities costing up to a whopping £9,250 per year, it comes as no surprise that an increasing number of people are looking for alternative options. University may be the most common path to take, but there are countless opportunities available to you as a school leaver.

One of the most popular alternatives to university is apprenticeships - but what’s better: an apprenticeship or university? We’ll explore the benefits of both apprenticeships and university to help you decide which route is best for you.

Should I go to university or do an apprenticeship?

We’ll run you through the pros and cons of going to university and starting an apprenticeship, looking at the following factors…

  • Qualifications
  • Skills
  • Finance
  • Lifestyle
  • Earning potential
  • Employer attitudes
  • Job outcomes
  • What works best for you
ApprenticeshipUniversity
Obtain industry-recognised qualificationsObtain industry-recognised qualifications
Lasts 1-5 yearsLasts 3-4 years
On-the-job trainingAcademic study
Thousands of job roles availableThousands of courses available
Opportunity to develop practical skillsLimited opportunities to develop practical skills
No tuition feesTuitions fees cost up to £9,250 per year
Paid salary with employee benefitsEntitled to student loans
High earning potentialHigh earning potential

Qualifications

At the end of a university qualification, you will have gained a Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree or PhD, which could take you anywhere between 3 and 8 years to achieve, or even more if you study part-time.

On the other hand, an apprenticeship combines on-the-job training in addition to one day of study per week, which all contributes to obtaining an industry-recognised qualification at the end. There are various apprenticeship levels available that equate to different qualification levels, ranging from level 1 (GCSE Pass) to level 5/7 (Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree). So, at the end of your apprenticeship, you will be equipped with valuable skills and transferable qualifications to demonstrate your expertise to future employers. An apprenticeship takes between 1-5 years to complete depending on your chosen level of education.

In 2015, the government introduced degree apprenticeships, which involve workplace training in addition to university attendance to work towards a full Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

Skills

Apart from industry-recognised qualifications, there is so much more to gain from an apprenticeship. You will have the opportunity to work alongside experts in the industry and play a valuable role in functioning internal teams. Working and learning on the job, you will gain a wider understanding of how the business operates and what is expected of you, while dealing with real responsibility and working under pressure to deliver results for the company.

However, it’s important to remember that the training and skills you gain as an apprentice are focused on one role or specific industry. Whereas, a university degree can lend itself to a broader range of careers by teaching you more general skills.

That’s not to say that an apprenticeship won’t equip you with transferable skills you can bring into other roles. For example, depending on your chosen placement, apprentices can expect to brush up on their teamwork, verbal and written communication, presentation skills, and much more.

Finance

What if we told you that you could go to university without ending up in tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt? In fact, what if we told you that you could actually make money while earning your degree? A degree apprenticeship offers a more financially-viable option to university, which enables you to earn a salary and make the most of employee benefits, such as paid annual leave, all while gaining accredited qualifications.

Meanwhile, a university degree will cost £9,250 per year in tuition fees in addition to learning materials, rent and living expenses. Thankfully, there are a number of student loans available to help you and loan repayments will only begin after you have landed yourself a job and your income is over a certain threshold amount.

Lifestyle

Often, students will choose to live in student accommodation or ‘uni halls’ for the full university experience. This, in itself, offers a wealth of additional life skills and learning experiences, from cooking and cleaning to cohabitation, tolerance and delegation. Yet, in addition to important life lessons, living in university halls gives students the chance to let loose away from their parents and have some fun.

Most apprenticeship programmes do not include accommodation options, however, there are many options available for solo renters moving away from home for the first time. One of the most popular choices includes a house or flat share with fellow apprentices or students, which gives you the opportunity to live with like-minded people, and make new friends and lifelong memories. The ‘university lifestyle’ may seem glamorous on the outside, but when it comes to waking up early for work every morning, you’ll be glad you don’t live in halls!

Earning potential

Signing up for an apprenticeship enables you to start earning a salary from the get-go, whereas you need to wait until you have completed your degree if you choose to go to university. This means you’ll have a few more years of earnings under your belt as an apprentice - and no student debt, of course. Additionally, some employers even choose to pay apprentices more than the National Minimum Wage.

The Sutton Trust carried out an in-depth study to examine the average lifetime earnings for degrees vs apprenticeships in the UK. The findings concluded that apprenticeships had significantly higher earning potential than having no qualifications or only A-levels, amounting to almost £1.3 million, and a level-5 apprenticeship resulted in higher earnings than a degree from a non-Russell Group university. However, an Oxbridge or Russell Group degree resulted in the highest average lifetime earnings, reaching nearly £2 million over a lifetime.

Earning Potential RankDegree Type
1Oxbridge Degree
2Russell Group Degree
3Level-5 Apprenticeship
4Non-Russell Group Degree
5A-Levels
6No Qualifications

This study was carried out in 2015 and since, the National Minimum Wage has increased, which means these figures are likely to be much higher now than before. Likewise, apprenticeships are becoming more widely recognised and respected by employers.

Employer attitudes

Despite there being many misconceptions surrounding apprenticeships, apprentices are highly regarded by employers and valued for their practical skills and years of real-life industry experience. Making a comeback post-COVID, there is now a record number of apprenticeship programmes available, offered by some of the biggest names in the world, including the likes of Coca Cola, Royal Mail, Microsoft, Google and the NHS. Moreover, the government is investing more money than ever in apprenticeships and businesses are emerging from the pandemic ready to take on fresh talent, so there’s never been a better time to start an apprenticeship!

The same goes for graduates. Employers are on the lookout for talented individuals with university degrees to join their teams. According to reports by the Institute of Student Employers, graduate job vacancies are expected to rise by 22% since pre-pandemic. Some of the largest sectors include the built environment, energy and engineering and health and pharmaceuticals.

However, reports by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) reveal that employers prefer graduates with sandwich degrees since this provides real-world working experience and the additional skills that come with this - something that you also gain from completing an apprenticeship!

Job outcomes

Data reveals that in 2021, 80% of UK graduates were in employment, with a small percentage also enrolled in further education. Some of the degrees with the highest graduate employment rate include the sciences, IT, education, mining, health and social work, manufacturing and real estate.

Similarly, studies reveal that 85% of apprentices remain in employment after completion of their apprenticeship programme, with 64% of apprentices continuing work with their existing employers.

According to the National Apprenticeship Service, 92% of businesses that have adopted apprenticeship programmes believe they have a more motivated and satisfied workforce. Better yet, 80% of these businesses have seen an increase in employee retention. Both of these statistics are indicative of high job satisfaction and happy employees.

What works best for you

According to the CIPD, around 52% of graduates say they would have considered doing an apprenticeship instead of undertaking a university degree. Similarly, just 66% of graduates felt their qualifications were necessary to obtain their current job and only 41% felt it was necessary in order to do their job effectively. So, when choosing between university or apprenticeships, it’s important to remember that a higher education degree isn’t the only way to succeed in your career.

We recommend taking your time to consider your options and find out what works best for you.

If you’re thinking about joining an apprenticeship programme or are in need of more information, get in touch with our team who will be happy to help you.

About Preeta Ghoshal

Preeta is a content writer with over 10 years’ experience across print, digital and broadcast media. She has worked extensively in multi-media content creation. Her work reflects a mix of subject matter research and storytelling to produce content that is both informative and easily digestible. She is presently providing content support to each of the FDM programmes and the wider marketing team.


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