From education to employment

How to choose between Apprenticeships and University, according to early career experts

students walking through gate

It can be challenging to choose between attending university and pursuing a professional qualification through an apprenticeship. We find that more and more students are interested in learning about apprenticeship options to advance their careers.

As this week marks National Careers Week (6th – 11th March), experts at RateMyApprenticeship have shared their top advice for making the right decision and why apprenticeships should be seen as a clear alternative to higher education.

At university, you’ll have the opportunity to specialise in a specific subject which is chosen by you from a huge range of different choices. Whereas, apprenticeships are work-based learning programmes that allow students to learn practical skills, and gain a qualification, in a working environment. 

Several professions do call for degree-level qualifications so you will likely go to university if you wish to work as a doctor or a dentist. However, you should think about pursuing an apprenticeship as there are a wide range of professions such as finance, accounting, media or engineering available.

This table below summarises the main differences between university and apprenticeships. 

University Apprenticeships 
Undergraduate degrees last between 3-4 yearsDuration depends on the level of the scheme, lasting anywhere between 1-5 years.
Tend to focus on individual, academic studySpecific focus on on-the-job training
Over 130 universities in the UK and thousands of courses on offerApprentices develop practical skills, alongside qualifications such as GSCEs, A-Levels and even a Bachelors or Masters degree
Courses vary from the vocational, such as Nursing or Architecture, to more general subjects like English and GeographySchemes available in thousands of job roles such as the Premier League, Medicine, and Media and Communications
Opportunity to do a placement (or year in industry) to get professional experienceNo tuition fees. Costs are covered by the employer (with government funding)
Campus life: living in halls, student unions, career fairs, and freshers weekSalary paid for the duration of the programme
Tuition fees, up to £9,250 (p.a) in England 

Any decisions you make after finishing school will determine how you spend the next three to four years and have a significant impact on your future career.

Both university graduates and apprentices are very employable in a variety of industries so there are two unique, rewarding pathways to choose from. How is it possible to make a decision between two options that both sound appealing?

Do your research! Here’s some of our top tips: 

  • Research the available courses, the requirements for those courses, and the company that administers them. Do they place more weight on education or experience? Does the programme have any reviews?
  • Attend open days at various universities you are interested in. This is a great chance to get to know other people and find out more about student life.
  • Take your time reading through testimonials of actual apprentices. 
  • Ask for the opinions of teachers, career counsellors, businesspeople, former university students, and apprentices. Find out everything you can!

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