The spectre of going to uni looms large once you start considering your post-school options and can haunt most of the conversations you have. For some students uni is the perfect path – but there are many other options to leave you in high spirits about your life and career prospects.
An apprenticeship can be a great option for school leavers. Some of the figures (courtesy of RateMyApprenticeship) speak for themselves: while graduates can rack up an average debt of up to £53,000 and with only half of them entering graduate jobs, apprentices are getting paid to study and a whopping 88% of them stay in employment once their programme ends.
But isn't an apprenticeship a non-academic qualification?
Not in the slightest. Some apprentices prefer to choose a profession that emphasises developing practical skills, such as construction, but all apprenticeships involve some kind of study. At the top levels, a Higher Apprenticeship is the equivalent of a Foundation Degree, an HNC or HND; you can even take the degree apprenticeship route and get your hands on an honours degree that way.
Apprentices work for an employer and receive a salary (it can be up to £24,000) as well as studying for work-based and professional qualifications. You can use an apprenticeship to get into film, TV, accountancy, law...pretty much anything.
Kirsty McDermott is an apprentice with National Grid, one of the Top 30 Apprenticeship employers in the UK, and is training to be an engineer. “I get to see real life projects and have the opportunity to become involved,” she says. “Once I'm qualified I'll be in a full time position and already have all the knowledge I need to be successful in my role.”
School leaver schemes
An apprenticeship can give you a head start on graduates as you'll have both professional qualifications and workplace experience by the time the programme ends. Another way to get ahead is with a school leaver programme: employers (including BDO, Grant Thornton and Willis) usually take on students fresh from their A Levels and train them for a career in areas such as finance, retail, IT and engineering.
“I chose a school leaver programme because I felt as though I already knew what I wanted to do,” says Maria Powell, an associate on the Deloitte BrightStart scheme. “If I could get there without university, then why wait three years? I'm now doing my accounting qualifications, while friends that are at uni will have to sit these exams after they graduate.”
A gap year can be all about getting your hair braided and fretting over the perfect location for your hammock, or it can be about getting professional work experience; or it can be both. There are no rules: you can use it to earn money for uni, improve your CV, travel, teach...the list goes on, see our forums for more.
Big employers like Deloitte and Accenture offer gap year placements that give you work experience and leave some time for travel before the year is up. “Getting work experience was a brilliant opportunity to increase my business knowledge,” says Harriet McLean, who joined Accenture's Horizons Gap Year Programme. “I've been surrounded by a really supportive group of people and I'm having the best time ever.”
If you need some work experience or a boost to your maths and english skills before moving into employment or an apprenticeship, a traineeship is worth considering. They're run by companies like Virgin Media, Land Rover and BAE Systems and can help you prepare for work with a blend of training including college study and work placements.
“I chose a traineeship because I had a real interest in IT and when the opportunity came up with Virgin Media I knew it was a chance I couldn't afford to miss,” says Charley Luff Rogers, a former trainee. “I then progressed onto the apprenticeship scheme.”
You could look for work experience as part of a gap year, or in the holidays before uni; or it could help you decide what you want to do once you leave school. You can find a placement by applying to local employers (get some advice on our careers hub), but some large organisations (including BDO, PWC and the BBC) do offer structured programmes.
Andy Vay Ha gained work experience with the BBC. “From research to development to actually filming, it gave me great experience and understanding of how a programme is made,” he says.
How can I find out more?
There are several resources to help you find out more information on the options above. RateMyApprenticeship has hundreds of reviews from students who have chosen to do an apprenticeship or school leaver programme, which will give you a great insight into what it’s really like to work in a blue-chip organisation straight from school.
n other words, you don't need to rush to uni. Take a deep breath, look around, and you might find that an alternative option is the right choice for you. Send that uni spectre packing and enjoy.
Find out more about career choices by checking out RateMyApprenticeship’s School Leaver’s Guide to Career Options 2015.