What are the alternatives to university?
Not sure whether you want to go to university? There are plenty of other options out there, from apprenticeships to entry-level jobs – we’ll take you through what you could do instead
There’s one big question everyone is obsessed with right now: is university worth it?
Although we could go around in circles debating this for hours, our simple answer would be yes for some people, and no for others.
Studying for a degree is a fantastic experience that can open so many doors for students, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone – there are plenty of alternatives to university.
We’ll run through the pros and cons of going to university, why you shouldn’t let student debt put you off and what to do instead of uni if you don’t think it’s the right choice for you.
Do you have to go to university?
Going to university is an amazing opportunity, and many students and graduates will tell you it’s the best decision they’ve ever made.
But that doesn’t mean that university is for everyone, and since it’s such a big commitment of time and money, it’s worth taking the time to figure out whether it’s right for you.
If you’re thinking about not going to university
Many students feel pressured into going to university by their parents, teachers, or even society as a whole because it’s often still considered ‘the norm’ after A Levels. So, try asking yourself these questions first:
- Where do you want to be in 10 years?
- Do you need a degree to reach this goal?
- Are there any alternatives you could consider?
- Have you found a suitable course and university?
Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to make a decision straight away. Writing down the answers to these questions on a piece of paper and then reading them a few days later might help you gain some perspective if you’re struggling to decide if uni is the right choice.
How to decide if you should go to university
If you’re still on the fence about whether university is right for you, here are some reasons to go to university and how going to uni can help you in the future.
5 reasons you should go to university
Here are the best things about going to university and being a student:
- Study a subject you love – Become an expert and follow your interests
- Pursue a specific career path – You can’t become a doctor without a degree in Medicine, for instance
- Gain independence – The uni lifestyle prepares students for adult life
- Higher earning potential – Graduates tend to earn more money over their careers
- Gain high-level transferable skills – Things like research, analysis, and team management.
We’ve also listed some reasons why going to university might not be the right choice for you.
5 reasons you shouldn’t go to university
Here are the worst things about going to university and being a student:
- It can be expensive – The Maintenance Loan isn’t always enough to cover your rent and other living costs
- It takes time – You’ll usually have to give up at least three years to get a degree
- You’re not guaranteed a graduate job – Some industries are very competitive
- Student debt takes years to pay off – Although it’s not as bad as you think
- Employers often expect more than a degree – Internships and extracurricular activities are often essential too.
5 alternatives to university
If you decide that university isn’t for you, don’t panic! There are plenty more options out there, it’s just that many students don’t know they exist.
We’ll take you through some of the common university alternatives:
- Degree ApprenticeshipsQualifications needed: A Levels or other Level 3 qualifications such as a BTEC Level 3 diploma, but this may vary from employer to employer
Length: Three to six years
Best for: Those who want a degree, while also gaining workplace skills and graduating without debt. Degree apprenticeships combine the academic study of a university degree, with the hands-on, practical experience of an apprenticeship. Courses vary but you’ll typically be working for three or four days a week and studying at university for one or two days, with extra time off from work around exams to revise. You’ll graduate with a full university bachelor’s degree (Level 6), the same as a standard student, but you’ll have a huge amount of work experience under your belt too. In some cases, you can even go up to the master’s level (Level 7). The best part is that, although you’ll have to cover your living costs, your training and tuition fees will be paid for by your employer and the government (so no debt!), and you’ll be paid a salary for your work. You’ll also receive typical full-time employee benefits such as a pension. Degree apprenticeships are usually for STEM subjects like Engineering and Electronics, but can also be a gateway to accountancy, the police force, financial services, sales and marketing, and even environmental health. The qualification was only launched in 2015, so degree apprenticeships are not as widespread or well-known as other levels of apprenticeship and at the moment the scheme is only available in England and Wales, although applications may be made from all parts of the UK.
- Foundation DegreesQualifications needed: No set entry requirements, but work experience may be deemed helpful in some cases
Length: Two years (or three to four years if studying part-time)
Best for: Those who want to continue working in an industry they’re passionate about while studying for a qualification or are unable to commit to a full three-year degree. A foundation degree is essentially two-thirds of a full honors degree. An apprenticeship, it’s a qualification designed to prepare you for a specific area of work by combining academic study and work experience, and they’re usually organized by universities in partnership with colleges. Students can move on to full-time employment after graduating, but many students choose to ‘top up a foundation degree with a further year of study to turn it into a full honors degree. If you want to do a full-time foundation degree, you apply through UCAS, much like you would with a standard degree, and you’ll also be eligible for the same Student Finance support (foundation degrees cost around £2,600 a year). If you want to do a part-time foundation degree, you should apply directly to the university or college offering the qualification.
- Higher apprenticeshipsQualifications needed: Usually five GCSEs grades A*–C (9–4 on the new grading system) including English and Maths subjects, and level 3 qualifications such as A Levels, NVQs or a BTEC
Length: One to five years
Best for: Gaining practical workplace skills, and becoming qualified for a role that doesn’t require a degree. Higher apprenticeships are often referred to interchangeably with degree apprenticeships, but they are two different qualifications. While a degree apprenticeship provides students with a full bachelor’s degree (a Level 6 qualification), a higher apprenticeship will get you a Level 4 or above (equivalent to a foundation degree or the first year of an undergraduate degree). Some offer the opportunity to progress to Level 7, which is the Masters’s level. You’ll be working full-time (and getting paid a wage) to gain the practical skills needed for the role, but also carrying out part-time study at a college, university, or training provider. The costs of this are fully funded by the government and your employer. Although you aren’t guaranteed a job at the end of it, government figures state that 90% of apprentices stay on in employment after their apprenticeship, and 71% stay with the same employer.
- TraineeshipsQualifications needed: No set entry requirements, but you do need to be aged between 16 and 24
Length: Six weeks to one year
Best for: Those lacking the qualifications or experience needed for an apprenticeship. Traineeships are short courses with work experience designed to prepare students for a full apprenticeship or full-time work. Students typically complete a traineeship if they don’t yet have the necessary qualifications to be accepted onto an apprenticeship. Unlike apprenticeships, you don’t get paid – but you will likely get travel and food expenses reimbursed. While gaining vital workplace skills and securing valuable work experience, you’ll also get Maths and English support to boost your job prospects and earning potential. Use the official government website to find traineeships near you.
- Entry-level JobsQualifications needed: Varies and in some cases none
Best for: Those who want to go straight into the work field. Entry-level jobs are just what they say on the tin – jobs designed for school leavers without the need for higher education qualifications. Some might require certain grades or work experience, while others will just want to see the enthusiasm and a good work ethic. Some roles will be full-time and permanent, while others might be part-time or temporary. There’s no set way of going about getting an entry-level job – hunt on job boards for openings, use your contacts or hand out your CV to local businesses. Once you’ve got your foot in the door it’s all about working your way up.