Apprenticeships vs university: what is the best route to get into Finance?

Finance plays a key role in maintaining the UK’s status as a leading global business centre

It’s also a thriving field where skilled workers are always in high demand. If you’ve decided that a career in this dynamic and rewarding sector is for you, then you may be weighing up the best way to springboard your career. 

Heading to university will help you gain the qualifications you need. But a degree in finance or economics isn’t the only way to get ahead in the world of finance. If you’ve got big ambitions – and prefer to jump straight in – then a hands-on approach could be the ideal solution. 

Apprenticeships like Deloitte’s BrightStart programme are changing the way students are entering the finance world. They’re also quickly becoming the go-to option for career-driven students who’d rather get a head start on the career path. As Tax Analyst Oliver puts it “it is the best introduction to the world of work.”

What it's like to be a finance apprentice

It’s an attractive alternative to the time and money students spend gaining a degree in finance, economics, or a similar area of study – not to mention the pressure of achieving the 2:1 or above that most large firms require from graduates. But the thought of opting out of a degree can still be a worry for some. 

“I was worried I’d be under-qualified compared to the graduates and other colleagues” admits fellow BrightStart apprentice Ryan.

“But, I soon realised that was immaterial, as everyone is learning… regardless of their level of education” adds the Assistant Associate. 

Jess had similar apprehensions about starting her apprenticeship. But, like Ryan, the Engagement Support Associate soon realised that she needn’t have worried. 

“I wish someone had told me I wasn’t expected to have prior knowledge about Deloitte or audit. As long as you’re interested in learning as much as possible, you’ll get on just fine.” 

Aside from proving that a university degree won’t guarantee you’ll be any more qualified for a financial role, BrightStart apprentices are finding that the earn-while-you-learn approach is giving them a head start up the career ladder, too. 

“[My friends] are all in their second year of uni, so haven’t had a chance to kick-start a career yet.” says Jess. 

“[They] have realised what a good opportunity I’ve had” admits the BrightStart apprentice. 

It’s not just Jess’s uni friends who are envious of her leap into the finance world.  Many apprentices find that their friends are realising the value of hands-on opportunities. 

“My friends who went to university wish they’d considered an apprenticeship at a firm like Deloitte” admits Ryan. 

While Oliver insists; “I’ve been told by some that retrospectively they would like to have done the same.” 

What's it like learning in the workplace?

Getting ahead time-wise is just one advantage. The apprenticeship route also gives you both job and industry-specific skills that can only be learned in the workplace. It’s these skills – which include project management, time management, decision-making, leadership and analytical thinking – that are setting apprentices apart from their university counterparts.

As Mollie puts it:- “There is so much extra training available and opportunities to grow and develop.”

It may also come as a relief to know that you’re not expected to know it all at the start. But gaining experience early on means that you’ll be able to learn from your mistakes sooner rather than later. 

“I joined thinking that everyone would expect me to get everything right from day one – but I now understand that it’s really OK to make mistakes; it’s how quickly we learn from them that’s important” adds the Business Insights Analyst. 

You’ll also get to know what various jobs involve, too – which may come as a surprise. 

“I didn’t know what Strategy and Operations Consulting would entail before I joined. 

“I thought finance would be about working with spreadsheets and accounts all day, but I couldn’t have been more wrong” admits Mollie. 

Work-based-learning also lets you experience a variety of roles – so you can find out exactly which areas interest you the most. And being in the driving seat is something that appeals to many career-driven apprentices. As Mollie puts it “having the freedom to be in charge of my own career so early on is amazing.”

An opportunity to develop yourself

Aside from gaining a competitive edge when it comes to time, practical experience and specialist skill sets, being part of the work culture will also help you develop both personally and professionally.

“Being in an environment where most of your colleagues are experts in their field helps hugely towards your professional development” insists Ryan. 

“I’ve probably become a better version of myself since I’ve been here as I’ve been able to develop my confidence and work on the feedback I get. It’s been pretty life-changing for me from that perspective” adds Mollie. 

Fellow apprentice, Jess, also says that her apprenticeship has been invaluable for her development, and admits that she wasn’t expecting the work environment to be so encouraging and empowering. 

“I thought Deloitte would be very strict. I also thought no one would let me do anything important, in case I got it wrong. I quickly realised that everyone is incredibly nice and the office is an empowering and encouraging environment. I was given responsibilities, treated like an adult and made to feel I was trusted to do well.” 

Ultimately, it’s important to know that a university degree isn't your only ticket into the finance world. Apprenticeships are now recognised as an equal alternative to university – and are an ideal way to gain the hands-on experience and professional training you need to succeed. 

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