From education to employment

Higher and Degree Apprenticeships versus the Traditional Degree

Sonia Riyait

The Careers team at Leicester College are often asked about the differences between higher and degree apprenticeships, and a traditional degree.

Many students also seek guidance about which option is ‘better’ for them and of course, this depends on their career goals, their skills set and work experience, and their qualifications.

Ultimately, the path you choose needs to be your own decision, but it is also important to consider and research the following factors so that you can make an informed choice:

  • Are there apprenticeship vacancies available in your field and can they lead to your chosen career, or would starting a degree be a more realistic option?
  • Are the apprenticeships/degrees local to you or will you need to travel/relocate?
  • Are there any gaps in your own qualifications and work experience which you will need to address in order to meet the published entry requirements?
  • Do you need to be working in a relevant role before you start an apprenticeship, or can you just apply?
  • What is the recruitment process for an apprenticeship/degree? Interview; psychometric assessment; literacy and numeracy test; role play; presentation or video CV?

So, what are the differences?

A higher apprenticeship is a Level 4/5 qualification and is equivalent to the first two years of a degree programme. A degree apprenticeship is a Level 6 qualification and is academically comparable to a traditional degree.

An undergraduate degree at university comprises of Level 4 (first year), Level 5 (second year) and Level 6 (third or final year).

These are the main differences between them:

Higher and Degree Apprenticeships

Traditional Degree

You are usually at work Monday to Friday with a day allocated to attend theory training

The days you spend at University are variable and will depend on your subject area

You will work and study all year round

You can have long holidays

Requires extremely good time management and a high level of commitment

Requires good time management and commitment, but there is often more time available to pursue other interests

Gain important work-based skills from day one

You need to have a proactive approach to finding work and gaining work experience

Earn money from the first day of working

You can be awarded a maintenance loan from Student Finance England to cover your living costs

Individual application process

Apply through UCAS

Often performance related which can be recognised though increased pay

Performance related which is recognised through grades achieved

The tuition fees could be paid for by the Employer

Tuition fees can be paid for by Student Finance England

Increasingly, more students are interested in higher and degree apprenticeships because they are attracted to the ‘earn whilst you learn’ nature of the training programmes, and some people are better suited to the working environment than a traditional college or University.

Nevertheless, apprenticeships at any level are highly competitive and will depend on you having a successful interview with the Employer, so it is wise to have a back-up option. Similarly, a degree can also involve having a successful interview and achieving good grades to secure a place.

It is useful to conduct some research into both options and then draw your own conclusions.

The following websites are a good source of information:


Sonia Riyait

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