Career Options

School Leaver Programmes

The Hannah Montana of apprenticeships, you get the best of both worlds.

School leaver programmes are apprenticeships where paid employment and education meet. Mainly aimed at year 13 students, companies sponsor students to gain qualifications relevant to their business or industry. They’ll also work for the company, earning a wage on top. It’s all about a balance between work and study.

School Leaver Programmes

Have you just finished school? Yes… no? We’ll go with yes. It’s easier that way. School leaver programmes have been designed for, well, school leavers.

So if you hadn’t left school, or finished so long ago that it is a distant memory, we wouldn’t have much to talk about. It might get awkward.

But luckily, you are a school leaver. Did you know, university isn’t the only option for you to continue your education once you have finished school? School leaver programmes were created to provide an alternative route for A-level students, who otherwise may have ventured down the purely academic path of university.

So put on your fur coat and hiking boots, and read on for a step-by-step guide to programmes for school leavers.

It’s going to be like the fourth Harry Potter film – absolutely magical.

What is a school leaver programme

What is a school leaver programme?

A fine question. The answer is equally gripping.

School leaver programmes are apprenticeships that are aimed at students in year 13, but some cater for 16-year olds who have finished their GCSEs. The courses for students who leave school at GCSE level are intermediate or advanced apprenticeships, and higher apprenticeships for those with A-levels.

These programmes are a middle ground between full-time employment and higher education.

Schemes like this offer a healthy balance between work and study. Companies sponsor, or part-sponsor students to study towards qualifications that are relevant to the business or industry they work within. These fortunate folks will work for the company that is sponsoring them, on a full or part time basis.

Did we mention that they also receive a salary? No? Oh fiddlesticks.

Well, they get a salary.

How much, you ask? Keep reading to find out. A bit of suspense is healthy.

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How do school leaver programmes work?

School leaver programmes are offered in a variety of industries, and the structure of each of these programmes is dependent on the company that organises it. However, every programme has three defining features:

  • Candidates are employed on a part-time or full-time basis.
  • Candidates will work towards a nationally recognised qualification – bachelors or foundation degree, a Higher National Certificate or Higher National Diploma
  • All candidates earn a salary, and are paid for both work and study periods.

The structure of these programmes are similar to sponsored degree programmes. You can read our overview of sponsored degrees here. The structure is similar in the way in which blocks of study are combined with work placements in a company.

Again, the arrangements for study blocks and work placements are dependent on each company. BDO’s school leaver programme use external tutor firms to train their accountancy students. KPMG school leavers spend an entire year at university before returning for work placements.

This is why school leaver programmes are so exciting. The variety. The mystery.

For specific insight into how different courses are structured, you could wander over to company websites.

We also have school leaver programme vacancies on RateMyApprenticeship. The job descriptions of each vacancy can provide an understanding of how specific courses are structured.

View school leaver programmes →

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of school leaver programmes, here is a little teaser for what’s to come. A day in the life of a KPMG school leaver, beware of the paper cut-out people.

KPMG School Leaver Programme

Why Should I Do a School Leaver Programme?

Why should you do a school leaver programme? Well, how about we give you five reasons.


Students who complete a school leaver programme will be paid for the duration of their course. Different courses offer different salaries, so do some investigating, and look at the information on job vacancy pages.

You can also check out through our reviews pages, written by students who are doing school leaver programmes. The reviews provide salary information. The reviews are just one click around the corner...


Not only will you earn a competitive salary; at the end of a school leaver programme you will gain a valuable qualification. Dependent on your course, you could finish with a Higher National Certificate and even a degree!


All school leaver programmes are funded by the company you will work for, or part-funded, with the rest covered by the government.

BBC News have reported that students that graduated last year accumulated a debt of over £44, 000. That’s the highest student debt in any English-speaking country in the world! A school leaver programme is an opportunity to earn great career-starting qualifications (even a degree), while avoiding towering student debt.


School leaver programmes are designed by employers, to ensure that apprentices are trained to have the skills they need to perform a specific role within the company. The studying and on-the-job training that define school leavers programmes make candidates work-ready.

“The Telegraph surveyed almost 50 of Britain’s biggest companies and found “almost all now had some form of recruitment programme for school-leavers, typically those gaining at least two A-level grades." (Graeme Paton, The Telegraph, 2013)

That’s four smashing reasons for why you should do an school leaver programme. We promised you five, so we’ll give you one more reason. Like Fireman Sam, we deliver on all of our promises.


School leaver programmes make you more employable – it’s that simple. Most programmes have a guaranteed job at the end, and give you an opportunity to get on the career ladder early.

However, if you complete a programme that does not guarantee employment, or you are not interested in the role offered, you are still highly employable. You will finish your programme with sought-after industry experience and qualifications. Employers will fight off a pack of hungry bears to get hold of you.

Why do a school leaver programme

We know what you’re thinking. It all sounds too good to be true.

It’s like a Justin Bieber music video. Everything seems too perfect. He’s in his giant mansion with all of his friends, all dancing, jumping into the pool, just frolicking in general, there is a chimp serving tea, random llamas walking around, there’s even a guy in the background on a BBQ - and then, out of nowhere, confetti!

All you can think is – this isn’t real. This can’t be real. Where did the confetti come from?

But you know what folks, school leaver programmes are real. They are a fantastic opportunity for you to get on the career ladder early, in a wide-range of jobs and industries. This is the place to find one.

Find a school leaver programme →

Keep reading to find which industries are offering school leaver programmes.

School Leaver Salary

You can earn a fearsome salary if you do a school leaver programme. While each programme has a different pay structure, it is clear that industry leading companies across the UK are investing in careers for school leavers.

Students on the KPMG360˚ school leaver scheme are offered a starting salary of £15, 600-£18, 000, depending on work location, with pay-rises over the duration of the course.

KPMG also run an Audit School and College Leaver Programme that has a starting salary of £16, 000-£21, 500, also depending on office location.

The salaries for KPMG school leaver programmes mirror the average salaries of other programmes, but we advise you to look at company websites for specific figures.

The Best School Leaver Programmes

So now you know… school leaver programmes are an opportunity for you to get on the career ladder, earn a salary and gain great qualifications. It is the winning formula.

With this in mind, how do you find the best school leaver programmes? Or, to put it better, how do you find the school leaver programme that is best for you. Well, you don’t have to look far, RateMyApprenticeship knows a thing or two about rating school leaver schemes.

We have over seven-hundred reviews of school leaver programmes, written by students that have completed their course, or are currently studying.

“School leaver programmes offer a fantastic career entry point once you finish school, so there’s no better place to promote it. 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)

In each review, current and former employees give an insight into school leaver programmes run by some of the UK’s biggest companies. The reviews reveal secrets about the structure of different courses, the support networks put in place, information about salary and social opportunities outside of work.

Each review ends with the question, What tips or advice would you give to others applying to (your company)? The answers to this question offer valuable information to potential applicants. Our reviews are hip, they’re handy and can help you find the best school leaver programme.

The reviews are so hip; Andrew Lloyd Webber is considering making a musical about them.

Click here to start reading our reviews.

Which industries are involved?

As each year passes, and we edge ever closer to the inevitable war against the robots, more and more companies are investing in school leaver programmes. There are now school leaver programmes on offer in a wide-range of industries.

Rather than a sole focus on the graduate market, recruiters are putting their time and money into devising ways of attracting talent at an earlier age.

Companies have realised that they can use school leaver programmes to assemble their future workforce. A programme can be designed to prepare a school leaver for a specific role in the company. These schemes are as beneficial to employers as they are for school leavers.

There has never been a better time to be a school leaver in the UK.

Below is a list of industries that offer opportunities for school leavers.

  • Accounting & Finance
  • Banking
  • Business
  • Engineering
  • Events
  • FMCG and Retail
  • Health, Science and Pharmaceuticals
  • IT, Technology and Telecommunications
  • Legal and Law
  • Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality
  • Social Care

Scott joined the EY school leaver scheme after his A-levels. Notice how bright and breezy he is. In this little video, he explains how a school leaver programme launched his career in accountancy.

EY School Leaver Programme

How Do I Apply for a School Leaver Programme?

You can apply for a school leaver programme on RateMyApprenticeship. How fortunate, it’s like you’ve just woken up and it's Christmas.

We have vacancies for school leaver programmes with some of the UK’s best employers, in locations across the country.

You can click on the link below to leap over to our vacancies page. Isn’t the internet just marvellous?

Find a school leaver programme →

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 do some research about what's expected from you when you do put yourself forward for a role.

Some jobs have application forms to fill out or a series of questions to respond to, others just ask for a CV and cover letter.

The application process may differ slightly depending on which company you're applying for a role with, but the typical structure may be as follows:


Fill out a form with your details. You will normally be asked to outline your experience, academic achievements, predicted grades, extra-curricular activities and positions of responsibility (essentially everything that should be on your CV already, but make sure you tailor it to the specific school leaver programme you are applying for).


After reviewing your application, employers may ask you to complete some tests to, well, test you. These could be anything from strengths and weaknesses tests, numerical, verbal reasoning and logic tests. It’s frightfully good fun.


After all the fun of applying and completing tests, you will finally reach the interview stage! These can be quite full on, so make sure you're ready for them and have done your research. You could be asked to complete an analytical test or answer questions designed to work out whether you have the right skills for the job.


Often the final part of the process, these assessment days will generally ask you to complete group exercises, tasks and a second interview.


If you waltz through the previous stages and live up to the company's expectations, you should be (deservedly) offered a place on the school leaver scheme. It is at this point you buy balloons and lemonade.

If you are considering applying for a school leaver programme, we commend you. Hurrah, bravo and way to go. Check out our blog, School Leaver CV: Your Guide & Template. If the title didn’t give it away, it’s a guide and template for writing a school leaver CV.

Entry Requirements

The entry requirements for each scheme are different. We’ve put together a few examples of the standard entry requirements for programmes that are currently on offer.

KPMG Audit Programme

Standard entry requirements: A minimum of ABB at A-level + grade 7 (B) in GCSE English and maths.


Applicants for PwC’s school leaver jobs require a minimum of 112 UCAS points, and grade 4 (C) or above in GCSE English and maths.

PwC school leaver programme


Standard entry requirements: 112 UCAS points from 3 A-levels (obtained or predicted) + grade 7 (B) in English and maths at GCSE/Scottish standards.

BDO also have key competency requirements for their school leaver programme, they are:

  • client service
  • commercial and market focus
  • accountability for results
  • communication
  • teamwork


Nestlé are looking for ‘ambitious’ and ‘innovative’ school leavers for their scheme. They require applicants to have completed their A-levels within the last two years, and 120 UCAS points.

These are just a few examples of the entry requirements set by industry leaders in the UK. Check company websites for the full story!

School Leaver Programmes in 2022

With each passing year, the reputations of schemes that offer alternatives to university continue to grow. This year promises to be no different.

For example, if you were to get involved in a school leaver programme, you could find yourself working for a major company like:

  • KPMG
  • BDO
  • Ernst & Young (EY)
  • Mazars
  • Nestlé
  • Marks & Spencer (M&S)
  • RBS
  • Grant Thornton
  • Deloitte (school leavers)
  • PwC (school leavers)
  • ACCA

These businesses operate in key economic industries like finance, banking, investment, retail, law, consultancy, FMCG and accountancy.

If you are interested in applying for a school leaver programme, you should be aware that some organisations will place you into specific departments.

For instance, KPMG school leavers will be asked to work in the audit department, Marks & Spencer runs a management scheme for school leavers and ACCA operates accounting school leaver programmes.

Make sure that if you apply for a school leaver program, it's offering work in a field that you're interested in!

School Leaver Programmes in London

Some of the world’s biggest companies have headquarters in London. There are countless opportunities for school leavers to find schemes in the capital.

On our jobs board, you can set filters to search for school leaver programmes that are based in London. If you click here, you’ll be teleported to our pages for London vacancies.

You can set filters for locations across the UK, to discover which companies offer school leaver programmes near you.

Benefits of School Leaver Programmes

We’re near the end now. It’s like the last song at a Beyoncé concert. The big finish.

So we thought we’d have a little recap of the benefits of school leaver programmes... just for the fun of it.

To start with, if you choose a school leaver programme ahead of going to university, you will avoid hefty student debt. These schemes give you an opportunity to gain the qualifications to start a career, without financial burden.

Not only can you save money, you will be bringing home a pay cheque. Some companies offer a salary that exceeds £20, 000, along with perks and benefits! Imagine what you can do with that sort of coinage, the world is your oyster.

On top of this, as the study periods of school leaver initiatives often take place at university, companies will PAY for your tuition fees! You will be receiving, for free, the education that other people are paying thousands for.

The graduate market is also still very competitive. The school leaver market is less so. You might find that it's actually easier to find employment with the top companies as a school leaver than as a graduate.

Furthermore, starting work with a top company at such a young age will allow you to develop practical work skills at an alarming speed. Employers crave candidates that have these practical work skills.

As if it couldn’t get any better, the chance to work with keen business minds and seasoned professionals will establish a network of influential contacts. These contacts could be influential in your future career development.

The good news is endless. Companies that offer these schemes that position them as clear alternatives to university, often offer you the chance to gain cracking qualifications.

It could be a bachelor's degree, foundation degree or professional accredited qualifications. Essentially, you have the main benefit of going to university, without the financial drawbacks.

Isn’t that just grand?

benefits of school leaver programmes

The end has come. If you haven’t already, wander over to our vacancy pages for school leaver programmes. They are the best opportunity for school leavers since the X-Factor opened up auditions to 16-year-olds.

View jobs →

You can hear more about school leaver programmes, and have new job opportunities sent straight to your inbox by signing up to RateMyApprenticeship. It’s free!

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