• What are the alternatives to university?

    Last updated 02-08-2016
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    Words by: Sam Duthie
    Crossroads Not everyone goes to university. There are many reasons why you might choose to take a different path from the undergraduate masses; here we take a look at some key uni alternatives.

    Alternatives in higher education.

    If you’re keen to continue with higher education but can’t find a degree that suits you, there are other possibilities.

    A higher national diploma is a qualification which is studied over the course of two years. Once you've completed the course, it can be ‘topped-up’ into a degree if your marks are high enough. Colleges will require one or two A-levels (or equivalent) to enter into a HND programme.

    If you want to go to university but don't have the qualifications you need, you might consider a foundation degree. Entry requirements for these courses are typically lower; you might not need any formal qualifications at all.
    A foundation degree can be 'topped up' to a full degree (not necessarily at the same university) if you have achieved high enough marks.

    It is also worth bearing in mind that you can study for a degree while you are working, with institutions such as the Open University and Birkbeck. Some employers may support you with the costs.

    Working straight from school

    Craving independence? Not sure uni is for you? Maybe looking for a job is the right call. You'll have heard all the old chestnuts about people who became hugely successful without getting a degree: Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates, blah, blah, blah and, yep, you can be successful without going to uni (although don't bank on the boundless wealth and influence part). CV

    Whether it's the right choice for you depends on you as a person. If you're not convinced university is the right choice for you, then give work some serious thought. Talk to your friends and family, talk to your school or college careers adviser and take their advice on board.

    You might also find that going into work results in you simply delaying uni, rather than writing it off entirely. Many people postpone going to university until their 20s or 30s – or even later – so you wouldn't be unusual if you did the same.

    Starting an apprenticeship

    Take an apprenticeship and you'll get work experience (that you get paid for) while you're working towards a qualification. If there are apprenticeships available in the industry you're targeting, this can be a smart way to get your foot in the door. And there are plenty to choose from, with up to 28,000 apprenticeship vacancies available at any one time. There are three levels of apprenticeship:
    • Intermediate apprenticeships - equivalent to 5 GCSEs A*-C
    • Advanced apprenticeships - equivalent to 2 A-levels
    • Higher and degree apprenticeships - equivalent to university level education
    An apprenticeship is a job, so you will get paid. The minimum wage for an apprentice is £3.30 an hour for those aged 16-18, or those over 18 in the first year of an apprenticeship. Beyond this, there are different minimum wage levels for each age group. Bear in mind, those are minimum wage levels; you may earn significantly more.

    More on TSR:

    TSR Apprenticeship Zone

    What is an apprenticeship?

    How to earn a degree from an apprenticeship

    Taking a gap year

    Desert island Some people take a gap year intentionally; some people find themselves with an unexpected gap year after missing their offers.

    If you're in the latter camp, the idea of suddenly having 12 months out of education can be daunting.

    But even if this wasn't something you were planning, it can still bring huge benefits.

    Travelling, volunteering, working...you've got a whole year to fill and many ways in which to do it. Whichever you choose, you'll build up a whole range of new skills that will be hugely valuable to add to your future CV (and your personal statement). If you end up spending some time away from home, you'll also gain a level of independence that can make stepping up to university a whole lot easier. Talk about gap years in the forum.

    Gap year experiences

    TSR member marrythenight changed his mind about going to university after his results were released. Initially dreading the gap year, marrythenight says that working his way through Asia gave him a feeling of independence and fulfilment. He enjoyed it so much that when he arrived at Fresher’s week he found himself missing his travels.

    Liv89 volunteered to work as an intern with the Cress foundation, who are committed to protecting the Amazon rain forest. She spent time camping in the jungle and engaged in research.

    Gemini89 couldn't wait to finish uni so she could relive her gap year experience. She travelled to New Zealand, the USA, Australia and Hong Kong and took on the journey completely self-funded. She talks about how the experience gave her much more independence and confidence and made her friends for life.

    Forums related to this article:

    Gap years




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