University vs. Apprenticeship

Published on: Fri, 27 Nov 2020
By: Elliott, redwigwam

More and more people are attending university…but uni isn’t for everyone.

So many of us (myself included) reach the age of 16 and don’t know what the next step is. I decided to attend sixth form but it wasn’t until a year later than I definitively decided that university was for me. While some people are, you could say fortunate, in the sense that they have a clear talent and goal that they wish to pursue, the rest of us face the struggle in deciding which path to take post-A-levels and school; University or Apprenticeship.

A cousin of mine went to university and now has a career as a veterinarian – a career that you wouldn’t get through an apprenticeship. Other occupations such as plumber and electrician are well suited, though not necessarily exclusive to apprenticeships. These are the sort of factors that you must consider when making the choice.

Where do you see yourself in a couple of years time? If you don’t know the answer to that question then university may be your best bet, as you can gain further education while deciding which career path you wish to take.

I think there’s always been a little snobbery about choosing university over an apprenticeship. There’s a notion that attending university is somehow better. In times gone by, the elite went to university whilst the rest of us went into industry. Thankfully, as more and more people of a working-class background are encouraged into university, the choice is becoming more about which is appropriate, and that’s exactly as it should be.

University is also a great attraction due to the whole ‘university experience’ – something that obviously an apprenticeship doesn’t offer. Some people, however, are more concerned about getting into the workplace as soon as they can, and therefore the prospect of further education in the form of a university degree isn’t too appealing.

Apprenticeships are vocational – focusing on the individual, and maybe preferred to those who aren’t seeking a more active social life and wince at the prospect of exams.

But in a way, it’s disrespectful to apprenticeships to suggest they’re an easier option. Many apprenticeships include an element of further or higher education in the form of evening classes or day release to college. Also, many apprenticeships are as intellectually challenging as the university degree, so it certainly isn’t fair to presume apprenticeships are solely for those who don’t have good enough qualifications to go to university.

The financial consequences of the decision, both now and in the future, can be critical. Unlike with an apprenticeship, university is not free. Course and accommodation fees can see the student leaving university with considerable debt, and force students the live a frugal lifestyle. If the student does not qualify for a grant, then other arrangements need to be made to cover living expenses (usually the need for a part-time job, or a trip to the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’, or both).

An apprenticeship does not incur these debts. Furthermore, the apprentice will earn a wage whilst learning. The wage might not be fabulous – the minimum wage for a new starter apprentice is currently £4.15 per hour, way below the general national minimum wage of £6.45 per hour for eighteen to twenty-year-olds. But it’s better than nothing. The apprentice will most likely be living at home and therefore expenses will be lower.

The advice I would offer would be that you do what you want to do yourself, rather than what other people are doing or tell you to do. If you have your heart set on a career that’s accessible through an apprenticeship then go for it. If you have your heart set on a becoming a doctor for instance, then give everything you have to get that degree.

Although, as already mentioned, university isn’t free, you don’t have to start paying back your debts until you earn over £20,000 annually. Furthermore, if you put the hours into your degree then the financial rewards can be substantial.

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