Apprenticeship vs university: which one is right for you?
So, you’ve finished school or college and are now thinking – what next? Whilst many school leavers will continue their education by going on to study at university; it’s not for everyone. An apprenticeship provides an excellent alternative to a university education, bringing valuable on-the-job experience, a strong skillset, and often good job security.
University has long been seen as the ‘more academic’ route; however, long gone are the days when apprenticeships solely covered hands-on trade jobs, such as bricklaying or plumbing. Of course, for those wanting to enter professions like law, or become a doctor or dentist, the best route to achieving this is via a degree. But it’s worth remembering that hundreds of apprenticeships have become available in some of the most exciting new job spaces. New opportunities in the tech industry range from cyber security to software development.
Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences between university and apprenticeships so that you can weigh up the options…
The most significant difference between university and an apprenticeship is the cost to the individual. With degrees averaging £9,250 per year as of 2023, the average UK university graduate leaves £44,000 in debt. However, it’s important to remember that you won’t be required to start paying this back until your income exceeds the threshold amount for your repayment plan.
With an apprenticeship, training is government-funded, so it costs you nothing!
Earn while you learn
Taking up an apprenticeship means you’ll earn while you learn – with all apprenticeships paying at least the minimum apprenticeship wage. Your wage will increase after your first 12 months and usually again once you have passed your EPA (End Point Assessment). An apprenticeship can't be beaten for those keen to get into the workplace and start earning while continuing their education.
University students do not get paid to complete their studies. However, they do have options for student loans to help with living costs. Many students choose to get part-time jobs to support their university years.
Options and qualifications
If you choose to study at university, you’ll be able to choose from various programmes. This variety can be helpful if you’re unsure what you want to do after graduation, as you can opt for a broader subject and keep your options open. University study is primarily focused on education and research. Following a theory-based approach, you’ll learn about your chosen subject through lectures, seminars and workshops and graduate with a bachelor’s degree. You’ll then head out into the world of work to test your knowledge and put into practice what you’ve learned.
Apprenticeships take a more practical approach to learning. With supervision and support, you’ll focus on training for a specific career and learn your trade by doing the job. You’ll gain hands-on experience and make valuable connections from day one. On completion, you may hold an NVQ, HNC or HND. Higher apprenticeships can lead to a foundation degree and degree apprenticeships can result in a full honours degree.
As we mentioned earlier, apprenticeships are no longer reserved for the construction and engineering trades. You can now study a wide range of industries, from marketing, media, business, IT and law. Many prestigious companies now offer higher and degree apprenticeships. Top brands include British Airways, Google and the BBC.
What job opportunities are available?
Both university and apprenticeships open up a wealth of job opportunities. A university education allows you to target a broad range of careers as the learning is not focused on one . However, if you’re confident in your career choice, an apprenticeship can launch you straight into a position where you can take advantage of any opportunities to progress. An apprenticeship may tie you to an employer for a certain amount of time. Then, you’re free to either continue progressing where you are or look for a different position elsewhere.
Few careers are now accessible solely through completing a university degree. In recent news, even people wanting to train as a doctor could achieve their degree by an apprenticeship route from September 2023. This is a huge step forward in the apprenticeship world, and we’re pretty sure many other professions will soon follow suit.
What can I expect day-to-day?
University student life is very different in routine and responsibilities from entering the workforce as an apprentice. A typical day at university will see you attend lectures, seminars and tutorials. A high level of self-directed study is expected from you, be that in the library, in your accommodation or with a study group. Often one of the biggest draws to university is the social life. Many students choose to move away from home for the first time and enjoy the vibrant social life of a new city. There are also many activities for students outside their academic studies. Examples include sports teams, performance groups and societies.
In contrast, apprentices take on full-time work within the business hours of their employer. Apprentices usually gather for group training (off-the-job training makes up 20% of your time in an apprenticeship). But primarily, an apprentice remains with their employer. This does not, however, mean that apprentices miss out on a good social life. There are your colleagues, fellow apprentices and chances to meet other young people at events.
To give you more of an idea of the reality of being an apprentice in 2023, we spoke to Ella Davies, a Digital Marketing Apprentice in Cheshire:
“I thought A-Levels and university was the only option for me. University is pushed heavily in school/college, so it can be difficult to know what other options there are. I started to research apprenticeships, which I originally thought were for people who were ‘less academic’ or wanted more practical/hands-on careers like hairdressing or bricklaying.
After some searching, I found the digital marketing apprenticeship. It instantly appealed to me – I’m creative and always fancied working in marketing. I started to build up my skills and complete some online courses for digital marketing to see if it would be something I enjoyed. After a month, I realised this was what I wanted to do, so I decided to take the leap and apply, and I got the job!
I am so glad I explored the apprenticeship route to my career rather than my original plan of A-levels and then university. I am now ten months into my apprenticeship and will start my degree apprenticeship (Level 6) next year. Once I have finished my apprenticeships, I will have over four years of experience, no debt, and a level 3 (A-level) and a degree qualification, as well as savings to progress with my personal goals.
The stigma around apprenticeships is really outdated, and I wish I was made more aware of the actual benefits of apprenticeships, even if you are a high achiever!”
Take a look at our Top 5 Reasons to become a Tech Apprentice.
is an award-winning IT and digital marketing apprenticeship provider based in the North-West of England and London. We’re committed to serving our apprentices well and investing in their journeys. This has led us to become one of the top providers of student wellbeing. Our focused approach means we can dedicate expertise and resources to these areas so that our training always meets the highest standards!
Our Level 3 Apprenticeships are great for anyone who wants to start or make a new change in their career. These include Information Communication Technician | Digital Marketer | Digital Support Technician.
Our level 4 Cyber Security, Software Developer and Marketing Executive Apprenticeships are great options for those with some background in these industries. What’s also great about a level 4 is that it is equivalent to a foundation degree, providing the perfect springboard to a level 6 or 7 apprenticeship, which is equivalent to a degree, respectively.
For more information, reach out to us today to start your journey as an apprentice. What are you waiting for?