Should I go to University or do an Apprenticeship?

Deciding what to do after you finish your A-levels is a big decision. You might be asking yourself, ‘do I enter the world of work with an apprenticeship, or should I go to university?’ Find out which is the best route for you.

The degree versus apprenticeship debate is long-running and choosing your next educational move requires careful consideration. Higher education continues to be a popular option despite the rise in tuition fees.

However, attitudes to apprenticeships have also evolved and they are now recognised as an equal alternative to university. Since 2014, 56,200 workers have enrolled on higher and degree apprenticeships, studying a range of qualifications from foundation degree level to full Masters.

The main benefits of each option can be summarised as follows:

  • Going to university – you’ll be able to pick from thousands of courses, a degree will leave your career more open-ended in terms of future opportunities and you’ll acquire a whole range of soft skills, transferrable to any job role.
  • Doing an apprenticeship – you’ll be gaining valuable on-the-job experience and earning money as you study. You’ll also be exempt from paying tuition fees.

What subjects are on offer?

If you choose to study at university, you’ll be able to pick from thousands of courses. This variety can be useful if you’re unsure of what to do after graduation as you can opt for a broader subject and keep your options open.

You might also be surprised at the scope of apprenticeships on offer. They are no longer dominated by the manual trades and the engineering sector, and instead span a range of industries including accountancy, IT, law, media, publishing and journalism. Soon you’ll have even more choice, as the government has pledged to create a further three million apprenticeships by 2020.

What will I learn?

Although vocational degrees are on the rise, university study is primarily focused on education and research. Following a theory-based approach you’ll learn about your subject through lectures, seminars and workshops, and graduate with a Bachelors degree. You’ll then head out into the world of work to test your knowledge and put into practice what you’ve learned.

Apprenticeships appeal to those looking for alternatives to university as they take a more practical approach to learning. You’ll focus on training for a specific career and learn your trade by doing the job.

You’ll gain hands-on experience and can apply your skills immediately. On completion you could hold an NVQ, HNC or HND, while higher apprenticeships can lead to a foundation degree and degree apprenticeships can result in a full honours degree.

How much will it cost?

Apprenticeships undoubtedly win this round. If you’re under 25 the government and your employer fund your training, so you don’t have to pay a penny.

On the other hand studying for a degree will cost you £9,000 per year in tuition fees, plus additional living expenses. It’s estimated that an undergraduate could leave university with up to £50,000 worth of debt. However you won’t start repayments until you earn a minimum of £21,000 a year.

What will I earn?

If you opt for university, you’ll have to wait until after graduation to start earning a full-time wage. As an apprentice you’ll earn while you learn and receive the national minimum wage for apprentices.

What do employers think?

Both methods of study are highly regarded by employers. University is respected for the depth of knowledge and transferrable skills it provides, while apprenticeships are valued for their practical nature and real-life work experience opportunities.

More organisations than ever before are offering apprenticeship schemes as employers come to view this method of training as an alternative  to a university degree.

If you have ambitions to work for a particular company it might be helpful to find out what they look for in a candidate, which do they value most, qualifications or experience? This could help when making your decision.

It’s a tough choice to make and one option isn’t necessarily better than the other. Look at your current situation – consider what qualifications you already hold, what you’d like to study, your finances and what you’d like to do in the future. Do some research and choose the best option for you.