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Alternatives to university: there’s more to life than a degree | Education

Finishing your A-levels and marching straight into university isn’t for everyone. For those looking to further their education or join the workforce, there’s a vast number of paths to explore.

“University is good but it’s not the be-all and end-all,” says Jez Booker, marketing manager at online guide Not Going to Uni. “A fair chunk of young people have a very clear idea of what they want to achieve and what professional role they want to follow in their lives. Others have the self-knowledge that they are more practical types – they want to get their hands dirty, so to speak.”

Choosing to work as an apprentice is an increasingly popular choice, with 509,400 people starting an apprenticeship in 2015-16, up 1.9% on the previous year, according to the Department for Education.

“Apprenticeships give you the opportunity to earn while you learn without the need to move away to university or get into debt – and you also get your foot on the first rung of the career ladder,” says Kirstie Donnelly, managing director at City & Guilds. Recently, the government launched degree apprenticeships – work-based learning allowing apprentices to gain on-the-job experience while studying for academic qualifications. “These redesigned programmes of study combine 80% on-the-job training with 20% off-the-job learning,” explains Donnelly. “They can offer you the opportunity to become qualified in a specific area, gain higher-level qualifications, management qualifications and even degrees.”

Another alternative path is to study for a technical or professional qualification at an FE college, where students combine theory with practical skills.

But if this is still too theoretical, a work placement may be the answer. “Work placements give the employer a chance to scope out a potential employee, while the student can assess whether it’s the job for them,” says Catherine Sezen, senior policy manager for 14-19 and curriculum at the Association of Colleges.

When Ana Sofia Pinto de Oliveira, 19, missed her predicted A-level grades, she was advised by her sixth-form teachers to resit her A-levels or do a foundation year. “I didn’t know what a foundation year was, so I did some research. It seemed a foundation year would suit my needs to move on from A-levels but also cover what I needed before beginning the first year of uni. I didn’t want to be back in sixth form relearning a syllabus I had just been taught.” She chose to study biomedical science with a foundation year at Middlesex University, and will start her degree in October 2017. “It will fill in any holes in my knowledge,” she says. “I feel much more hopeful now I will get a good degree in the long run.”

Samuel Imie, 19, is a technology consulting analyst on Deloitte’s BrightStart higher apprenticeship scheme

My plan was to go to university but I changed my mind after I did work experience at Deloitte during my A-levels. During those five days I shadowed one of their colleagues in finance, was taught a range of interview techniques, and basically received a brilliant introduction to what a work environment is like. It was a big turning point for me. I found out that Deloitte ran an apprenticeship called BrightStart higher apprenticeship, and I was just swayed by the idea of it – I was really excited to get a head-start on my career.

I know the cost of uni puts some students off, but I chose to do an apprenticeship knowing it would be an investment. I asked to work in Deloitte’s technology department as I really enjoyed my computing A-level. I’m now eight months into the apprenticeship and I love my job – I work within a team to test software and websites for clients. It’s also given me the opportunity to study for a certified tester foundation-level qualification from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and International Software Testing Qualifications Board. I’m really happy I took this route. I’ve been able to progress my career and improve my confidence while receiving a competitive salary. I have no regrets.

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