University vs apprenticeships: head to head comparison

The choice between university and apprenticeships is a tough decision for your future with so much on the line. Both camps pack a serious punch; so grab a ringside seat, watch them go head-to-head, and score your winner round by round.

Round one: job opportunities

Even if you get excellent exam results, don’t assume that university is your only next move. A lot of businesses want to recruit students who are looking to enter the working world immediately.
University: You can target a wider range of careers through the university route than you can through apprenticeships. And if you don’t yet know the career you want to pursue, studying at university gives you the flexibility and time to keep your options open.
Apprenticeships: A significant number of employers rate apprentices as the most employable – ahead of university graduates. Spencer Mehlman, founder of information website, says: "Most employers, bar a few sectors, do not see university as the success indicator it once was."

Round two: range of courses
University: A vast range of courses is offered at university covering every discipline, from law to the dramatic arts. Even Harry Potter courses are available.
Apprenticeships: They used to be dominated by the engineering sector but you might be surprised to hear that companies in media, arts, and publishing receive the most apprenticeship applications today. The National Apprenticeship Service reveals there are around 20,000 apprenticeships on offer today, from law and accountancy to IT and journalism.

“With more vacancies than ever before, apprenticeships are fast becoming the norm for young people who want to achieve their career goals through an alternative route to university”, says Skills Minister, Matthew Hancock

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Round three: how much will it cost?
University: For a three year degree, it would cost each student around  £44,000 for tuition fees, accommodation, and other expenses according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Apprenticeships: These are free – if you’re under 25, your employer and the government will pay for your training. You can also earn while you learn as with many apprenticeships, like those at British Gas, an apprentice starts their first day as a permanent employee with a guaranteed job.

As Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, notes: “If you’re paying £9,000 a year for university (fees), people are going to ask what they’re getting out of it.”

Round four: how much will you earn?
University: A degree will net you around £1.6 million over the course of your career.
Apprenticeships: Will allow you to command a combined salary of up to £1.5 million during your working life.

With a competitive apprenticeship, you could earn up to £15,000 each year working and studying. Land a place on British Gas’s much sought-after engineering apprenticeship scheme and you will start to earn around £10,250, rising to £34,314 when fully qualified.

In a survey of British Gas apprentices, 94% said they are financially better off and more prepared for the world of work than those who went to university.

So who is the winner?
It’s up to you.

It’s a big decision, so take your time. University isn’t necessarily the best place to get on to the career ladder – apprenticeships are fast becoming a credible way to kick-start your career too. Talk to people who have done degrees or apprenticeships – compare and contrast, and then make the right move for yourself.

Around the web
Advice from the National Careers Service
The financial benefits of apprenticeships
Apprentices tell their stories

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