As autumn rolls around, many prospective school leavers will be thinking about their futures, and for some, that will involve deciding what form of further education is right for them. Over the past two decades, people have flocked to university as the number of courses and places have increased dramatically. 

However, owing to rising costs and shifting perceptions, more school leavers are opting alternatives to university. One such option is an apprenticeship, which offers a fantastic means of preparing them for a career instead of a three-year slog, especially for jobs that don’t require a degree. 

While both avenues have advantages and drawbacks, the rationale for choosing university or an apprenticeship will ultimately come down to what you’re looking to get out of the experience. Breaking down some of the critical factors, here we pit apprenticeships against the more traditional route of university study. 


University courses cost up to £9,250 per year in England before you consider living costs, which can run up to an average of £450 per month in Manchester. By contrast, apprentices in the same city will earn a salary of at least £16,500, and the cost of any course taken as a part of the apprenticeship will usually be covered by your employer.

Contact Hours

Universities are often criticised for having relatively few hours of lectures. Part of the reason that the courses are structured like this is that the learning style places emphasis on the student to take the time to conduct their own research and read around the subject. However, when considering the costly nature of university, certain students feel a little short-changed when considering how much each lecture is costing them, with 44% of students complaining about the lack of contact hours.

Conversely, an apprenticeship will usually follow the same hours as a typical working day, with training providers such as Code Nation also offering additional support to anyone who wants to learn more.

Learning Style

As apprenticeships essentially ask you to fulfil the role of an employee, your learning experience will generally be much more hands-on than in university. At uni, the focus tends to be on the theory rather than the application for most courses, meaning that some students come away feeling that they lack relevant, real-world experience upon landing their first job.


One of the major differences between an apprenticeship and a university degree is the expectations away from work. An apprenticeship is none too dissimilar from a job, meaning many people carry on living at home, whereas university will place you in a hall of residence for your first year, allowing you to meet some of your peers. 

Additionally, university offers a greater holistic experience, with students able to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports and politics. For those preferring a total lifestyle change rather than a route to getting a job faster, university tends to be the better option.  

Job Prospects

Understandably, many people weighing up a long university course are often concerned about the realities of getting a job after graduation. Depending on the university, employment rates can fluctuate significantly. 

At the top end, Lancaster University and the University of Aberdeen boast a 95.9% employment rate; looking the other way, the University of Hull has an employment rate of 75.3% and even highly-regarded institutions such as the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick don’t fare too well, with both recording an employment rate of 75.6%.

Apprenticeships don’t come with a guarantee of a full-time contract at their end, but anyone willing to work hard and make themselves indispensable to their company will stand a great chance of landing a job.

In Summary

If you’re weighing up whether you should go for an apprenticeship or university, the most important thing to consider is what you want to get out of the experience. For those keen to start a great career as soon as possible, an apprenticeship will give you a clearer path, whereas university will always offer more from a lifestyle perspective.


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