School Leaver Apprenticeships

Did you know that university isn’t your only option once you finish your GCSEs or A Levels?

School leaver apprenticeships are apprenticeships where paid employment and education meet. They are the Hannah Montana of apprenticeships; you get the best of both worlds.

Also known as school leaver programmes, they were created to provide an alternative route for A-Level students, who otherwise may have ventured down the purely academic path of going to uni.

Read on to know more about all the wonders school leaver apprenticeships offer. Or use the below to skip through sections.

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What is a school leaver apprenticeship?

School leaver apprenticeships are the middle ground between full-time employment and higher education. Companies sponsor apprentices to work towards qualifications that are relevant to their business or industry.

This means there are zero fees to pay AND zero loans to take out. You’ll be saving a hefty £45,000 worth of student loan debt. On top of that, school leaver apprenticeships also pay a wage. Yep, you heard right. You get paid. We’ll get onto that later.

The level of school lever programme you do will depend on which qualification you received when you finished school or sixth form...

"When I turned 18 I went to university but dropped out after one term because it wasn’t right for me. After starting my school leaver programme, I can confidently say it is the best decision I made."(Accounts Assistant at Tilney Smith & Williamson)

How do school leaver apprenticeships work?

School leaver apprenticeships typically last anywhere between one and five years, and the structure will depend on the company that organises them.

However, every programme has THREE defining features:

  • You’re employed on a part-time or full-time basis.

  • You’ll work towards a nationally recognised qualification – a Bachelor's or Foundation Degree, a Higher National Certificate or Higher National Diploma.

  • You’ll earn a salary and get paid for study periods.

School leaver apprenticeships combine work placements with study blocks, allowing you to alternate between working for your employer and studying for your qualification. This can be either at a training provider, college or university.

Some employers will allow you to remote-learn from home or the office once a week. You’ll also be with the same employer for the scheme's duration. Loyalty, we love to see it.

KPMG school leavers, for example, spend an entire year at university before returning for their work placement. Watch this video to find out more about life as a KPMG apprentice:

They are indeed! The wage itself will depend on your employer, with the minimum pay matching the National Minimum Wage.

You’ll be delighted to hear that many employers pay well above this though. School leaver programme salaries can go up to at least £22,000 a year.

Want to know more about how much you could earn? Read our blog on the Highest Paid Apprenticeships to learn more.

When can a school leaver start an apprenticeship?

Although you probably won’t develop any powers like in the films, you can start an apprenticeship as soon as you turn 16.

There are loads of apprenticeships for 16 year olds available. And although apprenticeships are normally aimed at people aged between 16 and 24, anyone above 16 can do one.

You can start applying for apprenticeships during, or after finishing, your GCSEs. Even if you decide to do your A Levels or go to college, you can still do an apprenticeships after you’ve finished.

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What are the minimum requirements for a school leaver apprenticeship?

The entry requirements for each scheme are different and can often be a little confusing, so we’ve put together a few examples of the standard entry requirements for current programmes.


  • Minimum 5 GCSEs Grades 4-9 or A*–C (including Maths at minimum 5 or B grade, and English Language)

  • Minimum of 112 UCAS points (e.g. grades BBC at A Level or equivalent qualifications)


  • Grade 4 or above in GCSE English Language and Mathematics (or equivalent)

  • Minimum 112 UCAS tariff from up to 3 full A-Levels (or equivalent qualifications)


  • Minimum of grade 4 or C grade GCSE (or equivalent) in English Language and Maths

  • Minimum three A levels/Five Highers (or equivalent)

If you’ve left school without the above grades, that’s no problem either! You can still do an apprenticeship without GCSEs.

There are loads of apprenticeships that don’t have entry requirements but want potential apprentices that have a genuine passion for the job and are willing to work hard.

For example, Pret a Manger offers a wide range of apprenticeships that don’t require you to have any formal qualifications. Instead they’re looking for candidates who can show the following skills and qualities...

  • Passion

  • Great Execution

  • Team Working

  • Retail Savvy

  • Clear Talking

  • Open to change

What kinds of school leaver apprenticeships are available?

Luckily for you, a wide range of schemes are available in various industries. Some of these include:

You could also work for super exciting employers such as MI5, Marks & Spencers and Harrods. Below we’ve picked out some real-life examples of school leaver apprenticeships...

Supply Chain apprenticeship

Apprenticeship type: Level 4 higher apprenticeship
Programme length: 4 years
Avg. Salary: £22,000

  • Learning the regulations and internal policies linked to the Supply Chain team

  • Managing supplier relationships post contract

  • Enhancing the Environmental and Sustainability agenda

Digital and Technology apprenticeship

Apprenticeship type: Level 6/7 degree apprenticeship
Programme length: 4 years
Avg. Salary: Up to £22,000

  • Analysing data sets

  • Designing, prototyping and building new tech solutions for clients

  • Helping clients find new ways of using data and the latest technologies to enhance performance

Entry-level trainee accountant

Apprenticeship type: Level 2 intermediate apprenticeship
Programme length: 12-18 months
Avg. Salary: Up to £18,000

  • Complete bookkeeping and VAT assignments

  • Prepare statutory accounts and tax returns

  • Processing client records accurately using Xero, QuickBooks and other accountancy software

"School leaver apprenticeships offer a fantastic career entry point once you finish school... It gives access to exactly the same career trajectory as graduates. You’re earning good money and don’t have to repay loans of 40 grand or more that the average university leaver comes away with."(Maggie Stilwell, Managing Partner UK & Ireland, EY)

How do I apply for a school leaver programme?

So you’ve decided to join the ranks of school leaver apprentices. Congrats, we couldn’t be more excited for you!

Most organisations that run these initiatives will outline the application process on their websites to give you an idea of what to expect when you apply. Make sure you research what's expected from you when you put yourself forward for a role.

The application process may differ slightly depending on which company you're applying to. Some jobs have online application forms to fill out or questions to respond to; others just ask for a CV and cover letter.

Read our blog on the Application Apprenticeship Journey to learn more. There’s some top-tier application advice, including how to write a stellar CV/cover letter, and the kinds of assessments you might have to do.

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"Make sure to do your research. Always show your willingness to try new things and during your interviews and time at your company always be honest - if you don't understand something or need help, no one is going to be mad or expect you to know everything."(IT Specialist at IBM)

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