Through year 12 students will start thinking about what their post A-level choices are and what they would like to do after sixth form. Three of the main opportunities open to students are: going to university to complete an undergraduate degree, applying for a degree apprenticeship, or starting a higher-level apprenticeship, often for specific professional qualifications. But what are the differences between these post A-level choices, and how do you pick the best option for you?
This is probably the option you know and have heard most about. At the beginning of year 13, many students will complete a UCAS application form to apply to university. This may be for a traditional academic course, like English literature or archaeology, or a more vocational course like speech and language therapy or veterinary science. You pay your tuition fees and living costs, usually via taking out a student loan. To find out more about different universities and courses, you can look on UCAS.com or The Uni Guide website.
With degree apprenticeships, you will be in paid employment whilst also studying towards a degree. Employers cover the tuition fees; not you. They recruit apprentices and work with a university who awards the degree. Some courses may see you spending one day a week at the university studying, whereas for others you may attend university in blocks of time, e.g. for a full week each month. Consider how you will manage your time when dealing with conflicting work and study deadlines.
Degree apprenticeships can also be highly competitive, as they are still relatively new and vacancies can often be filled by current employees at the company, so start looking early for opportunities. To find out more information about degree apprenticeships, you can look at the UCAS website: Degree apprenticeships.
There are other apprenticeship schemes available which lead to vocational or professional qualifications, rather than a degree. Higher-level apprenticeships are qualifications above A levels. For example, many accountancy firms offer post-A level opportunities where employees gain their professional accountancy qualifications. You will be a full-time employee, earning a salary, and will complete your qualifications alongside working. For more information and to search for higher-level apprenticeships (including degree apprenticeships) vacancies, The Apprenticeship Guide is a great resource.
How to decide?
It can be really tricky deciding which post A-Level choices may be the best for you and there are pros and cons to choosing either a degree, a degree apprenticeship or another type of apprenticeship. Here are some things you might want to consider:
- Check the closing dates on the different opportunities, as some degree apprenticeships follow the same cycle as degree applications, so you could start application processes for both options in the autumn of year 13 and decide which one to pursue further down the line if you get offers for both. Degree apprenticeships may also start at other points in the year (e.g. February), so be mindful of this when doing your research.
- Think about the different financial commitments for each option: for a degree there will be student fees and student loans, as well as living costs if you move away, and you may need to get a part-time job to help fund your studies. For apprenticeships, course fees are covered and you earn while studying.
- Think about the journey, as well as the destination. Do you enjoy studying and want to learn about a subject at a deeper level by doing a degree? Do you want to experience ‘student life’ surrounded by peers your own age and in student accommodation? Do you want to start your working career straight away and have that structure and income? Can you envisage full time work, as well as studying and revising for professional exams or university assignments alongside this?
- Will one option close off future opportunities for you? For example, if you don’t do a degree and follow a vocational route, will this prevent you from changing career path further down the line, or would you be open to further study at a later point in your career if necessary?
- Think of your career plans as a research project and spend some time in year 12 looking up different opportunities online, visiting university open days and UCAS exhibitions. See if you can arrange some work experience related to careers you are interested in and speak to your school or college careers advisor to ask if they are aware of any relevant opportunities in your local area.