12 September 2023

Apprenticeships vs University: Which Option is Best For You?

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The chances are you’re reading this because you might also be unsure of which path to take after you leave school or college. That’s okay!

Whether you’ve already applied for university or you’re thinking about an apprenticeship – we’re here to help break it down and compare the two.

Read on to find out more. Or skip ahead using the below…

Do you even know what an apprenticeship really is?

I didn’t…

It seemed as if the path was already laid out: GCSEs, A-Levels, and then on to university.

The truth is, I never considered doing an apprenticeship because I knew nothing about them.

Apprenticeships were traditionally seen as something for plumbers, builders and electricians.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Apprenticeships have changed.

So just how much have apprenticeships changed?

The government has introduced apprenticeships in collaboration with UK employers.

Schemes are divided into four tiers:

After you’ve completed your A-Levels, you can apply for a higher or degree-level apprenticeship.

Are apprenticeships real jobs?

An apprenticeship is a real job. Apprentices work for a company full-time and study towards nationally-recognised qualifications on the side. Each scheme is designed to prepare you for a job role or work in a particular sector.

There are thousands of roles across a wide range of sectors offering anyone age 16+ a paid, full-time career immediately after leaving school or college – with roles available in sales, marketing, business, IT and so much more.


Apprentices are treated like regular employees, receiving a salary for the duration of their scheme. If you’re aged 16-18, you’re eligible for the National Minimum Wage which is currently £5.28 an hour.

Want to know more? Read our complete guides to the two types of apprenticeship available after completing your A-Levels.

Higher apprenticeships

Degree apprenticeships

Do you need a degree for your dream career?

You’d be shocked by how many people don’t even consider this question…

With all these high quality apprenticeships now available, you don’t even have to go to university to pursue your dream career.

That said, certain careers do require degree-level qualifications. If you want to become a dentist or psychiatrist, you should go to university. However, if you’re considering a career in finance, accounting or engineering, you’re much better doing an apprenticeship.

If you have a clear idea of what career you’re going to pursue after school or college, ask yourself the following questions:

1) Does your preferred career require a university degree?

If not…

2) Are there apprenticeships available in the sector I’m interested in?

If there are, you have two options.

Your task is to decide whether an apprenticeship or a university degree will give you the best preparation for a chance at kick-starting a career.

Did you know it’s possible to go to university without paying tuition fees?

‘I can go to university without paying £9,250 a year?’

Absolutely. It’s possible to get a tuition-free degree.

In 2015, the government introduced a new tier of apprenticeships – degree apprenticeships.

Degree apprenticeships

Degree apprenticeships are very similar to level 2-5 schemes. Candidates are employed by a company where they work full-time and get on-the-job training. When a degree apprentice isn’t working, they attend university and work towards a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

These schemes are classified as Level 6/7 and can last anywhere between 3-5 years. Apprentices are also paid a bloody brilliant salary, which can rise as high as £30,000.

Degree apprenticeships are a fantastic opportunity for you to get degree-level qualifications, with all the benefits of a regular, professional apprenticeship.

Are you a parent? Head over to our ParentsHub, a dedicated space full of comprehensive resources to support your child.

Apprenticeships vs University


  • Undergraduate degrees last between 3-4 years
  • Tend to focus on individual, academic study
  • Over 130 universities in the UK and thousands of courses on offer
  • Courses vary from the vocational, such as Nursing or Architecture, to more general subjects like English and Geography
  • Opportunity to do a placement (or year in industry) to get professional experience
  • Campus life: living in halls, student unions, career fairs, and freshers week
  • Tuition fees, up to £9,250 (p.a) in England


  • Duration depends on the level of the scheme, lasting anywhere between 1-5 years.
  • Specific focus on on-the-job training
  • Apprentices develop practical skills, alongside qualifications
  • Schemes available in thousands of job roles
  • No tuition fees. Costs are covered by the employer (with government funding)
  • Salary paid for the duration of the programme

University student vs Apprentice

Perhaps the decision between an apprenticeship or university would be easier if you actually met an apprentice and a university student.

Meet Mark – A student at Dartmouth University

Mark studies Business. He is also a member of the Music Society, where he plays the clarinet in a band called The Yardies. Mark’s life at university consists of lectures, individual study and research projects.

He only has twelve contact hours a week, so he spends the majority of his time working independently. When Mark graduates, he hopes to find a graduate job and practice what he has learned at university.

Meet Jez – A higher apprentice in accountancy

Jeremy works for a large accounting firm while studying towards professional qualifications with six other apprentices.

Jeremy attends a freestyle dance class with his fellow apprentices on weekends.

He’s halfway through his four-year apprenticeship. He receives a salary of £18,000 and plans to stay with his employer as a fully chartered accountant after the scheme has ended.

Who would you like to be like? Mark or Jez?

Find out why Johnny and Joanne decided the apprenticeship route was right for them! 

Student debt

The average debt of a university graduate in the UK is £50,000, which sounds like a frightening amount.

However, it’s important to remember that you won’t have to start paying back your student loan until you’re working and earning more than £25,000 a year (from September 2023).

So not that frightening. If you want to avoid student debt altogether, consider doing an apprenticeship as an alternative to going to university.

Ultimately, it’s about the right fit for you

After you leave school, any decisions you make will define how you spend the next three to four years and will seriously influence your future career.

Apprentices and university graduates are highly employable in a wide range of sectors. There are two separate, distinctive and rewarding paths for career-conscious young people to take after leaving school. Both paths sound inviting. So how to choose between them?

When the time for career planning arrives, it’s essential that you do your research!

  • Research the courses on offer, the entry requirements for those courses and the employer who runs them. Do they value experience or qualifications? Are there any reviews of the programme?
  • Visit a wide range of universities and attend their open days. This is an excellent opportunity to meet students and learn more about university life.
  • Read articles like this 😉
  • And thousands of reviews from real-life apprentices
  • Use our interactive career tool, The ‘Next Step’ Explorer.
  • Seek out the advice of teachers, careers advisers, industry insiders, or former university students and apprentices. Find out as much as you can!

Put yourself in a position to make a confident and informed decision about your future that works for you.

That way, you might just avoid being stood atop a graduation stage in three years, wondering if you had made the right decision all those years ago.