University vs Apprenticeships

Which is right for you – university study or an apprenticeship? They are very different routes, so here are some essential things to think about.


University – Fees at UK institutions are £9,250 for full-time study and £4,625 for part-time study, and on top of that, there’s food, accommodation, equipment and having a nice time to pay for. You can get loans to cover a lot of this, but they contribute to an average debt for graduates of over £35,000.

Apprenticeships – Apprentices are paid a minimum of £4.15 per hour. Some earn more than this – it varies according to the employer. An Apprenticeship doesn’t have any tuition fees as the Government and the employer covers this. However, you may have some costs: transport to work, for example, or rent and bills if you relocate for your job (or if you contribute at home). 


University – A university degree is valued by many employers all over the world, and for some careers – like doctors – it’s pretty much essential. The value of uni isn’t just in the high-level subject knowledge you gain either: you learn how to think critically, how to communicate well, how to research and how to present arguments. They’re all pretty handy skills to have in life, and at work.

Apprenticeships – Apprenticeships are very employer-focused which helps in preparing you for a specific career, so they offer relevant, practical training and lots of workplace experience. At higher levels you get the same in-depth subject knowledge as university students, particularly on Degree Apprenticeships; the clue’s in the name.


University – A good degree programme will equip you with subject knowhow, but should also give you what employers call transferable skills: writing well, analysing problems and working independently. They make you an appealing employee, whatever your degree was in.

Apprenticeships – Apprentices train to be able to do the job and also gain a qualification. They start working on the specific skills they need for their role right away, alongside learning about work. It’s a much more practical, hands-on approach to developing skills for the workplace.

Learning and Assessments

University – Students have lectures, seminars, workshops, lab sessions and so on (depending on their course), but they’re also expected to do a lot of independent studying. An assessment could be by coursework, dissertation or exam – or some combination of the three – and there will often be other assignments throughout the course. Plus, many universities will help you study abroad for a year if you fancy it.

Apprenticeships – Apprentices are assessed on their skills, knowledge and behaviours, which are evaluated at the end of their apprenticeship by taking an end-point assessment (EPA).

Getting a place

University – Students apply through UCAS and submit an application form and personal statement. They may be interviewed, asked to sit additional tests or (for performance courses) audition. Usually, universities look for qualifications including A-Levels, BTECs, IB or Scottish Highers, so they look at students’ predicted grades for their exams as part of the application process.

Apprenticeships – Similar to university, candidates submit an application form or a CV listing their work experience and relevant skills. There’s more likely to be an interview. Depending on the level of Apprenticeship they’re applying for, they may need a Traineeship, GCSEs, A-Levels or other relevant qualifications/experience.

Earnings by education level

The data from Emsi below highlights the average earnings by education level in the UK. Although those educated to degree level earn more, it’s important to remember, that an apprenticeship can also pave the way for a degree. In fact, many young people are surprised to learn that you can actually do a degree apprenticeship, meaning you can gain a debt-free degree qualification!

Source: Emsi UK

Life: University vs Apprenticeships Differences

University – Students may live on campus, in halls of residence, or in private accommodation near their university. Time in lectures etc. varies between courses – anything from a few hours a week to more than 40. Outside of studying, institutions offer a range of social and sporting clubs and the ‘student life’ really is a big part of the experience, in whatever form it takes.

Apprenticeships – Apprentices are working, which means regular work hours and taking responsibility for their schedule. They also study alongside their day job, often at night. Everything else – socialising with colleagues, hobbies, travel – is up to them, just as it is for anyone else at work. The experience varies with the employer – a company might have a single apprentice or a team of 50.

The power is in your hands

University study is a chance to dig deep into a subject you love and immerse yourself in student life for a few years. It’s an opportunity to explore, experiment, challenge yourself and perhaps discover a direction or passion that you never expected in an environment where that sort of thing is actively encouraged. That might just mean doing weird stuff with your hair for a while, or it might mean totally altering the course of your professional and personal life.

An Apprenticeship gives you the chance to take your first steps out of school/college and into the working world with a solid foundation beneath you. It’s an opportunity to learn about a particular job, sure – whether that’s plastering, accountancy, healthcare, teaching or hairdressing – and earn some money, but you never know what you might learn about yourself. 

You might discover skills and abilities you never expected, meet new people and expand your horizons, and set out on a path that surprises you.

Whatever you decide, remember that there is no right or wrong path, it’s all about doing what is best for you.  

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