University or an Apprenticeship: Choosing the Right Career Path

Posted by: Mia Lewis

Finishing school is tough – you’ll miss your friends, those funny free periods, and maybe even some teachers. But one of the toughest things about finishing school is facing uncertainty about your future.

If you’re having difficulty choosing between university and an apprenticeship, we’ve put them up against each other to try and make the differences between them clear, and help you choose what may be the right career path for you.

What you will learn

At university I chose to study English literature. And although I feel this taught me a lot about humanity, organisation, and certainly (a lot of) writing, this was not something that came up all the time in interviews. The work experience I did afterwards, the events I helped run in between essays, and the little self-improvements I made strengthened my career prospects. However, degrees such as chemistry or culinary arts come with a clear career path, and may get you using your practical skills more than your theoretical knowledge. In a career, there is a growing importance in showing you are able to do something, rather than simply knowing about it.

There are obviously no apprenticeships in topics like English literature. But if you want a career that relies on experience and practical knowledge, an apprenticeship will immerse you quickly into the role. Accounting and law firms are approaching apprenticeships as a great way to hire new talent to get them immersed in the practical knowledge they need straight away, and in fast-moving sectors like IT or digital marketing, what you learn in the first year of university can quickly become outdated by the time you start working.

Every day, we get ex-students contacting us who struggle to find jobs due to a lack of practical knowledge. Unfortunately, it’s much harder to get an apprenticeship after a degree, as graduates are excluded from government funding. However, you can still move on from an apprenticeship through to a degree if you prefer gaining the best of both worlds.


There are always fears about low employment numbers after graduates get their degree, but let’s take a look at the statistics. The most recent statistics show that 93.2% of university graduates were in employment and/or further study six months after graduating. This is definitely a very healthy figure, but what are those 93% actually doing? A study by Accenture found out that 60% of 2015 graduates said they were underemployed – and weren’t doing the job that their degree had set them up for.

You will hear plenty of different stories about employment from university – some people who struggled, some that didn’t, and some that went into an unpaid internship, which gives a good (but short) insight into a career. A lot of the time, that’s what university learning can lack – an experience of the real working world, and what’s expected of you.

According to stats gathered by the national apprenticeship service, after finishing, 90% of apprentices stayed in employment, with 2% self-employed. 71% also stayed with the same employer after their apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships are also not just for students who didn’t get the grades to go to university. There are many apprenticeships at huge companies, which have strong competition for places but look amazing on your CV, such as Jaguar, IBM, and Microsoft.

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    Costs and earnings

    The minimum apprenticeship wage of £3.40 may seem low, but many employers are willing to pay more to ensure they’re getting the right learner. Also, bear in mind that your foot in the door will mean pay rises over time, especially if you impress in the role enough to get a full time position. Continuing onto a higher level apprenticeship could also mean you score £50,000 more than many graduates.

    However, stats show that university graduates can earn as much as £100,000 more than non-graduates over an average working life. Of course, that largely depends on where you graduated, and what degree you gained.

    A degree comes with a lot of prestige, but you also have to consider the debt at the end of it – up to £35,000 on tuition fees alone, and maintenance fees to pay your bills and rent on top of that, could put you in around £70,000 in debt.

    With an apprenticeship, you aren’t paying to get an education – instead, you are getting paid to get an education.

    Fun and Social life

    I had plenty of fun at university, with an abundance of free time and only 8 hours of lectures and workshops a week. You can be socialising at events and societies, and meeting like-minded people your age who could be friends for life. You could also spend the majority of your free time being lazy and nursing a hangover. I will always cherish some of my university memories, but I’m also aware that I could have pushed myself a little further to meet people who could have maximised my opportunities in the future.

    An apprenticeship will still give you plenty of social opportunities, but you will be interacting with colleagues of all different ages, backgrounds, and levels of experience. Just because you’re at work, doesn’t mean you won’t have plenty of fun around the office and social events too. You also have a great chance to make contacts from different companies at events, as well as often interactions over phone and email. Besides, the next time you’re meeting up with your uni friends, you’ll be the one who has the money to buy drinks!

    In conclusion…

    Of course, your decision will count on multiple factors, including how good the degree is and how good the apprenticeship is, and secondly, how both match your learning style and the career you want to go into.

    In the end, the decision is completely up to you – but don’t forget to explore your options first.

    If you’re looking to start your career through an apprenticeship, click the button below.

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