The decision of what to do when leaving sixth form/college is a tough one. For some people it feels like there are too many paths to choose from while others might not be sure what options they have. Wherever you find yourself it’s common to consider 1 of the 2 main choices: an apprenticeship or a degree. There are of course other options such as going straight into work but this article will just be comparing the merits and drawbacks of degrees and apprenticeships.
What are the benefits of going to university?
Variety of courses
One of the main benefits of university comes from the fact that there are so many courses to choose from. This means that not only can you specialise into almost any subject area you please but a degree demonstrates an ability to learn and is evidence of transferable skills. This gives you the ability to move into fields other than the one your degree is in. The flexibility of potential career paths is a major benefit of going to university. There’s less pressure to make the correct decision about what you want to do as a career straight away after leaving school. According to this survey, half of UK graduates work in a field unrelated to their degree.
Life skills & socialising
Another benefit is moving away from home and socialising. University is a time in many people’s lives where they change a lot and quickly grow up; finding out who they like to hang out with, the hobbies they truly enjoy and generally picking up important life skills. A degree is at the same time a partially sheltered environment somewhere between school and being fully self-sufficient. This gives many students a much needed in-between stage where they can dip their toe into living independently and managing their own time with just enough structure and support to not feel isolated or lost. For any students this is an important factor to consider when choosing a degree or apprenticeship.
One other benefit worth mentioning here is also that for some careers a degree is a necessity. For example, it’s almost impossible to become an architect, psychologist or doctor without a degree. In these cases, and others like it, a degree isn’t so much a benefit as an essential stepping stone. Worth considering when choosing between an apprenticeship or degree if you are interested in a career which places strong emphasis on having a degree.
What about the drawbacks of uni?
University isn’t perfect. The first and most obvious drawback of going to university is the debt (if tuition fees are on your mind this article has a few options you could think about instead).Being a student is very expensive and this debt accrues interest and will be required to be paid back when you earn over the threshold. If you are looking to go into a career that’s vocational and/or not notoriously well paid it might be worth having a real assessment of whether a degree is a worthwhile investment.
The pressure to make it the ‘time of your life’ can lead some students to start a degree with really high expectations of how fun and enriching a degree should be. Of course, most students do have a brilliant time at university but for some it’s just not the right place for them and getting stuck into their favoured career sooner would suit them better. Just something to think about.
Now, what are the benefits of apprenticeships?
Earn while you learn
Apprenticeships are a way to immediately enter the world of work. You’ll gain hands-on experience right from the start and be able to earn while you learn. Not only will you avoid paying tuition fees like you would at university but you’ll actually be earning. In the time that many of your friends will be accruing debt pursuing a degree you can kickstart your career and get earning right from the off. If you’re keen to start earning as soon as possible this is a major factor in picking between an apprenticeship or a degree.
Hands on learning
Quite often getting stuck into a career is the best way to learn about the role. This is especially true for jobs whose qualifications would typically be described as ‘vocational’. Where the learning relates directly to the day-to-day practical side of the job. This includes physical jobs such as construction and carpentry but could arguably include careers in fields such as business or journalism where you may find you learn faster by getting stuck into real tasks.
Additionally, by going straight into a real company or organisation you can begin building industry contacts right from the off.This also ties into the fact that by the time many students are finishing their degree you’ll already have several years of work experience that others in the job market will be lacking. So, if you did end up wanting to change roles after your apprenticeship is over you can put together an appealing CV. This does however link into the first drawback of apprenticeships...
What about the drawbacks?
One of the drawbacks of an apprenticeship compared to a degree is that it typically constrains your career options a bit more than a degree. If you know for sure what you want to do then it’s not much of a problem, but many people either don’t know exactly what they’d like to do for a career or change after further study or starting their first job. If you’ve done an apprenticeship, whilst you will have work experience which is valuable, it will often be specialised in one particular area and could be less transferable in most cases than a degree.
The social side of an apprenticeship takes more work on your part to keep it alive whereas at university it’s pretty much a constant feature. That’s not to say you can’t have a good time on an apprenticeship, not at all, but you aren’t going to be surrounded by as many people your own age looking to make friends and expand their horizons. Whilst there may be other apprentices or employees with similar interests and values there simply won’t be as many as on a university campus.
Sometimes a degree is required
One final drawback of apprenticeships is of course that in certain job roles a degree is required and so an apprenticeship simply won’t get you where you want to be if it’s one of these jobs that you’re after. Make sure before committing to an apprenticeship that you won’t run into trouble in that field because you don’t have a degree.
Weighing up the options…
Whether you place emphasis on the socialising, debt, living away from or at home, the ability to earn or any other factor that affects your decision we hope this article has been able to facilitate the discussion for you about what path you might look to take in order to shape your future. You might even decide that neither a degree nor an apprenticeship are for you and that’s fine too!
Don’t forget Springpod exists to help you take control of your career, and our completely free virtual experiences can help you decide whether work, university or apprenticeships is right for you.