David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the national awarding organisation

A-Level results day – the countdown is on and nerves are running high. This week, thousands of young people across the country will either be celebrating or commiserating as they open that all-important envelope. Eyes awash with tears of relief, of joy, of disappointment. But what happens if the results that they're clutching aren't quite what they're expecting? What next?

A recent piece of research conducted by Which? University revealed that more than half of students in England and Wales have no back-up plan if they fail to get the grades they need to get to their university of choice. What's more, almost three-quarters of applicants (70%) have not researched the clearing process for unfilled degree places (as reported by the BBC).

So what are the options for these learners? Is there life beyond not getting into university? Well, Nick Davy, Higher Education Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges, has commented that there are a multitude of possibilities open to these young people including higher education offered by colleges, a range of professional certificates and diplomas or the option of an apprenticeship or higher apprenticeship in a range of occupations.

At NCFE, we couldn't agree more. Whilst university is the perfect route for many learners, others flourish through alternative training or a real work environment. Learners also need to think about the debt that they will accrue through going to university and consider their employment prospects at the end of their course.

It's clear that through careers guidance (or lack of it), many young people are surmising that university is their best passport to success. Despite evidence that apprenticeships can lead to top jobs and the government's ongoing work in promoting the value of work based training, it is still sadly viewed as a second rate option. The media hype surrounding A-Level results this week will likely be focused on university entrants, largely ignoring those who are going on to different things.

Young learners still take a big steer from their parents when choosing which path to tread and with this in mind, it's interesting to see that nearly two-thirds (63%) of parents don't understand apprenticeships well enough to explain them to their children (according to a survey carried out by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT)). Many parents believe that apprenticeships are mainly geared towards boys and are only suitable for the less able.

In actuality, there are now 250 different types of apprenticeships available covering a huge variety of sectors. These apprenticeships are offered at a variety of levels and are designed to challenge and develop skills – they involve a lot of commitment and are certainly not the easy way out.

I'd like to finish by wishing good luck to all those learners who worked diligently for their exams and are feeling the pressure this week. My hope is that they don't feel limited by the grades which appear on that slip of paper. There's no doubt about it – university is fantastic, a life altering experience. However, there is a world of opportunity out there and I'd like to see more young people broadening their horizons and thinking differently about their future.

For more information on Apprenticeships versus Higher Education, you can take a look at NCFE's infographic available here.

David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the national awarding organisation

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