Updated: May 31
With the introduction of degree apprenticeships in 2015, apprenticeships now provide a viable alternative to university in gaining a full degree qualification. Degree apprenticeships are a relatively new addition to the range of options available for school leavers and it’s important to understand the pros and cons of opting for one route over another. We recommend you consider the following:
With over 1,500 different degree titles, traditional degrees offer far greater variety in the choice of courses, subjects and modules available. Traditional degrees enable students to study subject areas that interest them and to tailor their degree during their study by opting for certain modules as their interests evolve. In contrast, degree apprenticeships are far more focused and industry-specific and the university and location of study is limited to the universities working with the employer.
The student experience
‘Student life’ will be different for an apprentice compared to a full-time student. Whilst degree apprentices will experience some aspects of campus life, it will be different to those students fully immersed / living on campus. Most university degrees offer plenty of flexibility with how students manage their study time, but times for study will be limited when also working. Holiday periods are a significant differentiator. University students will have around 14 weeks’ holiday per year, but apprentices will have only four or five. Some university apprenticeships offer the opportunity of full-time academic study during university term time, and full time work during the holiday periods.
Degree apprenticeships enable students to develop the skills and knowledge needed for specific jobs and careers. They are an excellent choice for school leavers who have a clear idea of the type of job role and career they would like to do. In contrast, university degree courses remain relatively open and provide a springboard to a range of career prospects after graduation.
One of the biggest advantages apprentices achieve over their peers who have similar level qualifications obtained through university is that they will have developed many commercially desirable soft skills. First-hand experience of meeting work deadlines, forming professional relationships with colleagues at many different levels, building rapport and trust with external stakeholders, and corresponding (whether by email, phone call or in meetings) in a work environment is highly valuable for future employers.
Style of learning
Although largely dependent on the type of university and the chosen course, full time students are likely to be better suited to classroom and teacher led learning. Degree apprenticeships offer a more vocational and applied learning environment where much of the learning and training is done on the job.
Degree apprenticeships are fully funded by the government and the employer and apprentices are paid a wage for their time. Apprentices usually complete their apprenticeship debt free. A traditional degree will cost students around £9,000 a year excluding their living (“maintenance”) expenses. Low interest loans, scholarships and bursaries are provided by the government, but it is likely that a full time student will graduate with a sizeable debt.
Is your child considering a degree apprenticeship, but is not sure whether it's the right decision?
For more information on apprenticeships and how you can support your child in making an informed decision on what they do after school, check out our parent guides on apprenticeships and university.
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