Tuition fees on your mind? Here are 6 alternatives to University

7 min
February 23, 2021
Making choices can be tough. Especially when they involve potential life-changing ones, such as deciding what to do after completing your A-levels (or equivalent). It’s normal and it’s something we all go through.

Here’s a thing to consider though. University tuition fees have been rising every year. Which means unless you get a scholarship or have someone to co-fund it, going to university is likely to leave you with student debt. Research has shown that on average, a UK university student accumulates about £45,000 in debt by the time they graduate. That’s quite a staggering figure if you ask us.

There’s often a myth that gets propagated when we are faced with this dilemma of deciding our next steps. Traditionally, most of us have been told that university is the natural option – the supposedly fail-safe way to a better and more promising future. We aren’t disagreeing entirely – a university degree is a pathway to a future career. However, it is not the ONLY way.

But we’re here to dispel that myth. What if we said that there were alternatives to what seems like your only choice? Alternatives that not only, in our opinion, gets you into the workplace earlier, but also could help you pursue a university degree alongside it. Sounds a bit like Christmas came early, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not magic. And it most certainly not a myth. It’s what we like to call, a win-win situation.

Welcome to the world of School Leaver Programmes.

School Leaver Programmes (yes, they could do with a slightly smarter name), are great pathways for smart and bright Year 13 students to enter the workforce after their A-levels (or equivalent). Like you reading this post, for instance. These programmes are generally split into two categories – higher apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships.

Before delving into this realm, it’s important to clarify a fact about apprenticeships. Often under-utilised and overlooked, apprenticeships generally get a bad reputation due to a lack of understanding about what they are and what they offer. We believe a lot of it is down to conditioning – like how we’re told that apprenticeships are best suited when you can’t get into university.

Once again, we disagree. With over 200+ programmes available across a variety of industries from leading employers, apprenticeships are in fact the superheroes of the world today.

Okay, I’m curious. What are higher and degree apprenticeships?

Higher Apprenticeships are rapidly gaining recognition as the go-to option for anyone who is looking for the best of both worlds. They typically enable you to gain suitable work experience while continuing to learn. As the name suggests, these programmes often lead you to a Level 4 (or above) qualification, which is the equivalent of a higher education qualification.

Degree Apprenticeships (also sometimes known a Sponsored Degree Programme) are perfect if you want to get a recognised academic degree alongside a practical hands-on-the-job experience. They pave the way for you to obtain a Level 6 or 7 qualification – which is the equivalent of a full bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Oh, and you get a pretty decent wage regardless of whichever option you go for!

If we had to sum them up with our superhero analogy, think of apprenticeships like the Marvel Universe. While higher apprenticeships are like the Guardians of the Galaxy, degree apprenticeships are like The Avengers – both very much a part of the Marvel family, but still uniquely different.

Sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?

There’s no catch – it really is a great alternative. And we haven’t even told you the best part. Whether you choose to go for a higher apprenticeship or a degree apprenticeship, the employer and the government pays your tuition fee. Which means you’ll be graduating with either a higher education qualification or even a university degree, no student debt, considerable work experience and of course, savings from your salary. We did tell you it’s like Christmas came early. (Oh, yes! We see that wide smile)

I’m in. What else do I need to know?

As you’d imagine, higher and degree apprenticeship programmes are in high demand. Since each employer has a different set of requirements for entry, it’s best to check them individually. But as a general rule of thumb (and please use this only as a guide), here are some details.

Minimum requirement: Five GCSEs grades A-C (9-4), and a level 3 qualification such as A-levels, NVQ/SVQ Level 3 or a BTEC National

Duration: They range from one to six years, with most of them being on average about four years.

Work/Study block: This is employer dependent, but you’ll possibly work at the employer’s location between three and four days a week while attending university for one or two days.

Subjects offered: Because of their technical nature, most higher and degree apprenticeships are STEM subject based such as engineering and IT. However, a lot of leading organisations do offer alternatives such as business services, management and financial services.

Fantastic! Where can I find these programmes?

We love it that you’re excited about it. Most of our top employer partners offer higher and degree apprenticeship programmes, and we thought it only fair to talk to you about some of them.


A brand that needs no introduction, Airbus is a global leader in aeronautics, space and related services. With a number of entry choices ranging from Aerosystems to Business Support, their apprenticeship programmes are highly sought after. And true to the Airbus brand, you can be assured that you’ll receive exceptional training on the go and along with all the necessary skills that can pave the route to make your career fly.

Jaguar Land Rover

Just like their iconic vehicles, Jaguar Land Rover’s award-winning apprenticeship programmes are unlike any other. A pioneer of the automobile industry, Jaguar Land Rover is always keen to engage with the next generation of innovators who can help them keep delivering cutting-edge products. Their inspiring apprenticeship programmes are offered across Engineering, Digital and Finance to name a few. And as you’d expect, they offer an outstanding range of rewards and benefits to help drive you forward.


Quintessentially British, Dyson is now a global enterprise that believes in the power of technology to make a difference. Although engineering is their core focus, Dyson retains a passion for problem-solving across different disciplines and their latest endeavour, The Dyson Institute is a testament to that. A new kid on the block, we think it’s worth calling it a university with a difference. You’ll pursue a BEng degree in General Engineering while working with state-of-the-art technology and a team of dedicated Dyson technology experts three days of the week.


A world-leading professional services organisation, EY’s goal is to help businesses navigate the ever-changing markets and technology to be ready for a better tomorrow. As an EY apprentice, you have the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in the business and their programmes offer an unrivalled breadth of opportunities for smart, curious school leavers. Whether it’s finding solutions to high-impact challenges or developing your entrepreneurial spirit, you’ll find an apprenticeship programme that suits your interest.


From digitalisation to automation, Siemens believes in changing the future every day. A forward-thinking enterprise that is constantly thinking about what’s next, apprenticeships at Siemens include opportunities across Engineering and Finance. The fact that a large portion of Siemens apprentices go on to secure permanent roles once they complete their programme is a huge validation of how good their work culture is.


As one of the world’s leading design, engineering and project management consultancies, Atkins believes in driving innovation that enhances the lives of communities and protects the environment. As an Atkins apprentice, you’ll jump right into projects that make a difference from day one. From Engineering to Cyber Security, there ’s a range of higher and degree apprenticeships on offer. And some amazing perks to go with it.

These are just a few of the top employers that we have on Springpod who offer you career pathways in the form of higher and degree apprenticeships. We understand that choosing a different path isn’t always going to be easy, especially when it’s something new. But it needn’t be complicated either.

So why not create your free Springpod account today and discover a world of amazing alternatives for your future career?

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