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Should I opt to go to university or do an apprenticeship?

A few years ago it was almost second nature to opt go to university – most people did it because they thought it would lead to a better paid job, a wider choice of careers, or a better social life.

Now though, it is not so clear cut. Whether an apprenticeship or university is the best option will depend on a number of things, and will be very much a matter of personal choice. 

What about university?

For some careers a university degree is essential. So if you want to be a teacher, a doctor or a lawyer, you will need to go to university. While studying a traditional degree at university, you could do a number of jobs alongside to try and earn an income, but you will struggle to gain the same amount of work experience that you gain on an apprenticeship. Therefore, university is best suited for those who prefer classroom learning.

You will have more free time at university around your studies, which is often regarded as one of the great perks of being a full-time student. University also provides the opportunity to experience life in a different area of the country, and to perhaps live away from home for the first time. University has a reputation for being ‘the best years of your life’ because of the social life you are able to enjoy – but it isn’t for everybody.

By the time you leave university you will have sizeable debts – universities in the UK can charge tuition fees of up to £9,250 per year, amounting to nearly £30,000 over a three-year course.

Don’t graduates get all the best jobs?

Not anymore. Record numbers of people are going to university . In 2021, nearly 40% of the entire UK population aged 18 started a full-time undergraduate course. In 1990 this figure was 25%, and in 1980 only 15% stayed in any type of full-time education. This shows that there is a huge amount of competition for anyone with a degree applying for jobs. Having a degree used to make a candidate stand out from the crowd, but increasingly it has become a minimum criteria for some employers.

What about an apprenticeship?

If you really know what work you want to do, then an apprenticeship offers targeted vocational learning combined with a real paid job. Whilst university students incur debts, apprentices will earn a salary instead. If you were still living at home you may even be able to start saving for a deposit for a house – something students can only dream of!

At the end of your apprenticeship (advanced apprenticeship programmes usually take 2-4 years), you would be qualified for a specific job role. You would have transferable skills and a wealth of work experience. This would give you a significant advantage over someone who has done a university degree in a subject that can’t be immediately applied to any industry.

Can apprentices earn more than graduates?

Apprentices have considerable earning potential. Research has shown that apprentices can earn up to 270% more over their lifetime than university graduates. Apprentices may start out by earning the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage, and the average starting salary for graduates is £24,000-£30,000, but salaries for skilled apprentices increase substantially the more qualified they become. Experienced wind turbine engineers can earn up to £80,000, for example.

Degree apprenticeships – the best of both worlds

Degree apprenticeships are an alternative to traditional degrees. They allow apprentices to combine full-time work with studying for a bachelor’s or master’s degree at university or college. They are designed to fill skills gaps in the workforce, but are increasingly available in wider job roles. Degree apprenticeships are most commonly made available to people already working for employers or by applying to a specific employer.

This means that you are effectively being paid to work and study at university. There are degree apprenticeship opportunities available within a wide variety of roles in England, Scotland and Wales.

It's a personal choice



  • Targeted vocational training
  •  Earn while you learn
  •  Nationally recognised qualification


  • More restrictive range of jobs
  • Lower pay to start with



  •  Wider subject range
  • Freedom and independence
  • Diverse career opportunities


  • Debt
  • No guarantee of a well-paid job

Finding an apprenticeship

There are lots of ways to search and apply for apprenticeships. You could look on websites like Talentview, TotalJobs, Indeed or the government’s apprenticeship service. You will be able to apply for apprenticeships by uploading your CV or applying directly to the employer.

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