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University is expensive these days, so how would you feel about studying for a degree without taking on so much debt?


There are hundreds of further education (FE) colleges where you can earn a university degree. You work towards the same qualification you would get from uni, but you get to study somewhere that's just down the road from you.

Tuition fees are generally lower than those charged by universities - so you get your degree without taking on so much borrowing.

Finding an FE college


There are 241 FE colleges in the UK currently providing undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications. These offer foundation and full university degrees in everything from accountancy and biomedical sciences to engineering, photography and social care.

These FE colleges partner with universities, so the degree you get at the end of your three years is actually awarded by that partner uni. Often, you'll get the added bonus of being able to access the partner university's resources and facilities as part of the deal.

So, if you’re keen on getting a degree, but you're not sold on the university experience, have a think about the following pointers.

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1. Get the same qualifications you would at uni


Whether you want to study engineering, agriculture - even law - you can do that at an FE college. All of those subjects and more are available, so don't fall into the trap of presuming that studying at college means limited choice.

Colleges offer a whole range of degree and degree-equivalent courses. Those degree courses are accredited by the partner university, so you'll undertake exactly the same level of study as you would studying that course at university.

2. Save money on fees and living costs


There's only one way university tuition fees are going...and unfortunately it's not downward. Most unis charge the full £9,000 a year tariff, and that cost is set to rise in the coming years. It's not all bad news - while you're a student you do get to cover that cost with a tuition fee loan that doesn't have to be paid back until you're earning a certain amount. But if you want to limit your borrowing then hunting down lower tuition fees is an obvious place to start.

Those FE colleges that offer degree courses typically charge lower tuition fees than unis. The Manchester College, for example, offers Bachelor of Arts degrees accredited by Sheffield Hallam University with fees of £5,950 a year. Over the course of three years you could pay £9,150 less than you would getting a degree at university.

You don't have to study for the full three years, either. Many colleges offer you the chance to study for a foundation degree for two years which you can then top up with a further year - if you wish - to get a full honours degree.

If you're studying at your local college, you get the chance to make further savings by living at home. Getting cheaper (or, if you're really lucky, free) rent, plus cheaper living costs means even less borrowing that you need to do.

And because your college study will typically be compacted into two days, you've got the rest of the week to work part-time, gaining valuable practical experience and getting paid for it.

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3. Develop practical experience



Many FE colleges place an emphasis on practical learning, so not only do you get the qualifications you need to enter your chosen career but you can expect to gain plenty of work experience too.

That's going to give you a headstart when you come to look for a job. You'll have a CV that doesn't just show academic qualifications but also a hefty chunk of relevant experience. Think that's going to make you stand out in the job hunt? You'd be right.

Fitting that work into your schedule is made easier by how college degree timetables are structured.

You'll typically find you're in college for two days a week and the rest of your time is available for work. So you're learning in two ways - both in the classroom and in the real world, practising your skills as you go.

4. Smaller classes mean more one-to-one teaching


College study is built around smaller classes rather than huge lectures. The result is a much more personal education experience - in terms of contact time it's fairly similar to what you've had in sixth form.

Universities, on the other hand, have thousands of students and you can find yourself lost in a sea of other people in crowded lecture halls – it’s easy to become just a number.

Some people excel in that environment but if you’re after something a bit more personal then college can offer that.

The kind of learning environment you can expect is more interactive than a university lecture. You'll be learning in a classroom and your tutors will often be accessible throughout the week in person, phone and by email.


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5. Study closer to home


Some people love the idea of moving hundreds of miles away from home to go to uni. But it's not for everyone, and if you'd rather stay local then the college down the road gives you that opportunity.

According to the Association of Colleges, the average distance between home postcode and learning location for undergraduate students attending a college is 17 miles compared to 52 miles for those at a university.

Travel costs are lower, accommodation costs are lower and you can maintain better links with friends and family.

6. Long-term employment prospects


You might worry about not having the kudos of going to a high-ranking university but the point of gaining a degree is to get a rewarding job. Building a CV that's rich with not just academic achievements but also work experience is going to get you a long way towards that.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) College Key Facts Report 2016/17 shows that the average FE college works with around 600 businesses, and 35% of large employers who train their staff do so through a college compared to 32% through a university.

Ultimately, you’ll be very employable after a degree taken at an FE college with a good mix of practical and classroom experience that appeals to employers.