Young people are showing the confidence to choose what they want to do after school, despite often feeling pushed into applying for university.

A survey of recent school leavers, carried out ahead of the deadline for UCAS applications on Tuesday 15 January, has revealed that two thirds of their teachers (66%) were most likely to urge them down the path of higher education, as well 59 per cent of their parents.

More than two thirds of school leavers (69%) said they had asked their parents what they thought they should do with their lives. However only around one in eight (12%) followed their parents advice when deciding what they were going to do next.

For the most part however, school leavers said their parents were supportive of whichever path they decided to follow, though one in five believe their parents pushed too hard to get them to make a specific decision.

Another one in five said they wish their parents had given them more in-depth advice and guidance about what to do after secondary school, but 10 per cent wish they had let them make up their own mind more. 

Thirty per cent said instead of a parent they asked their friends for advice, 24 per cent asked their favourite teacher, and 22 per cent asked a careers advisor.

Rob Alder, Head of Business Development for AAT, which commissioned the research, said:

“Many young people are about to submit their UCAS forms to apply for university, and that route will get a lot of attention.

 “Even with rising university fees adding a pressure on household finances, there is still only a minority of parents who are suggesting university alternatives to their children.

“It’s essential that each young person is given the right advice for their individual strengths, to give them the best chance of having a successful career, even if that means advising them that university might not be the best option for them. There are other options to explore, including apprenticeships and traineeships, advertised by sources such as the National Apprenticeship Service and Get My First Job.” 

Young people want to pursue their passions over money

When asked to consider what they thought was most important to them when deciding what to do after secondary school, 42 per cent of school leavers said they wanted to pursue a route which they were passionate about.

One in four (26%) prioritised making money above all else, and 21 per cent wanted to do their best to follow a path which would provide them with a stable future.

51 per cent of the school leavers went to university after finishing further education, and 11 per cent took part in an apprentice or trainee scheme. Fifteen per cent went straight into the world of work without doing any further training. 

Parents recommending university despite recognising drawbacks

The study also surveyed parents of school leavers to uncover how they assessed their own involvement in their child’s decision.

Sixty two per cent said their kids had come to them for advice on what they should do when they leave school. Fifty six per cent of those recommended that they continue on to university, but only one in seven said they thought they would benefit from taking part in an apprenticeship. One in eight thought their child would be served best by entering directly into the world of work. 

Although many parents recommended that their child should go on to university, fifty eight per cent thought university might cost more than it was worth to their child, and one in four didn’t think a university degree would ultimately help them to get into the career they wanted to. In addition, seventy two per cent of parents believe apprenticeship schemes and further training courses have become a more viable choice for school leavers in recent years.

Seven per cent of parents said they had a firm view on what they thought their child should do next after leaving school, while six per cent took a backseat and let their kids make up their own minds. One in 10 parents said they wish they had given their child better guidance with regards to their future, though 70 per cent were happy with their level of involvement in the decision.

Forty per cent said their main priority when advising their child on their future was that they did something that made them happy, and 29 per cent said that it was that their child followed their passion.

Rob Alder added: “For many school leavers university remains entirely the correct option.

“However, it’s not the only one available and many may not realise that there are alternatives, including high-quality apprenticeships and trainee schemes which can unlock the door to a long and successful career.

 “In the accounting industry, for example, we see thousands of people each year who left school at 18, got a job and qualified a year earlier without the student debt that graduates built up. In addition, it did not harm their long term career prospects.” 

 David Allison, CEO and Founder of said:

“In recent years we’ve seen more and more young people and parents question the value they get from a traditional degree.

“The fees and associated debt quickly rack up with a full time degree, and owing £50,000 before you get your first job should really encourage all young people to look at the options open to them.

“The good news is that there are now more alternatives than ever before to the ‘traditional’ university route with Accountancy and Professional Services leading the way.

“We managed over 25,000 applications for accountancy and finance related apprenticeship roles last year, many of them with very attractive starting salaries. These young people will end up with a great qualification, no debt and relevant experience – the one thing that money really can’t buy.”

“My college weren’t able to offer me much support in searching and applying for an apprenticeship”

Ryehan Amir left full time education in 2016, having completed his first year in sixth form college studying A-Levels. Instead, he took up an apprenticeship in the finance team at water treatment firm ESC Global Ltd, based in Doncaster, Yorkshire, studying AAT Accountancy Qualifications. He gets time off to study and his course fees are fully funded by his employer.

“Taking the AAT route meant that I could gain valuable experience from professional people in accountancy,” said Ryehan, now 20.

“The apprenticeship offered me a debt-free way to get qualified, as well as earning a salary whilst learning.

“At the end of my studies I will have a highly respected qualification behind me, teaching me all the qualities needed to be a successful accountant.”

While Ryehan, who lives in Scunthorpe, was at sixth form he was on the lookout for an apprenticeship position, but found that not everyone was so keen.

“My college weren’t able to offer me much support when it came to me searching and applying for an apprenticeship.

“I felt that, in some quarters, there was a belief that to succeed, you need to go to university.”

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