How to be successful without going to uni

If you’ve ever felt like uni wasn’t for you but you’re worried about getting a job, fear no more. 

School leaver programmes are a way to get straight into work after A-levels. Here’s everything you’ve ever wondered about school leaver programmes and some advice on how to get one. 

Are they less respected than a degree?

Not at all – and you’ll still need to have good GCSE and A-level results to qualify for a school leaver programme, so don’t get complacent. There's generally a minimum requirement of UCAS points required so don't be fooled into thinking they're an easy option. They’re usually highly competitive, so you’ll need to work hard and prepare like you would for university. 

What are the benefits?

There are loads of benefits to joining a school leaver programme. “You’ll get a competitive starting salary, on-the-job experience, and a globally recognised qualification,” explains Steve Keith, Employer Brand Manager for EY. 

You’ll also get loads of work experience, which employers really value. “You’ll have a smoother introduction to the workplace, which is very different form a school environment,” adds Stephen Osborne, Learning and Development Manager (School Leaver) for Pret. 

On top of that there’s also the bonus of not having student debt to pay back - plus the fact that you're sorted for a job. “The school leaver programme is a permanent job that will not just end once you’ve completed your qualification. There are opportunities to progress,” explains Enii Fagbola, Student Recruitment Senior Assistant for Deloitte.

School leaver programmes are offered by all kinds of companies, so you should have no problem spotting one that would suit you. "It comes down to thinking about your interests, as well as playing to your strengths," says Nick Clapp, copywriter for RateMyApprenticeship. 

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Will I have a social life?

If you’re worrying that you’ll miss out on university life, don’t. "You’ll meet just as many friends,” says Osborne. “We have lots of social events where the teams can get to know one another.” 

You’ll also have more spare cash so you so you’ll all be able to afford to do things together. “You can enjoy taking advantage of living and working in the city by having meals, drinks and social activities with other school leavers after work,” says Keith. And if you want to see what the uni experience is like? "You can always go and visit your mates at uni," says Keith. 

Companies may buddy you up with other school leavers so you won’t feel like you’re on your own. “Your buddy will guide you and answer any questions, as well as invite you to social events,” explains Fagbola. 

You'll find there are plenty of other people in the same boat, too. “All of our offices where we place school leavers have a community of trainees in the years above them and no one is ever placed alone,” says Keith. 

How can I apply?

You’ll need to apply for a school leaver programme directly through the employer, usually via their website. Not sure what’s out there or what industry you want to go in to? 

Check out our Apprenticeships and Alternatives to uni forum where you can ask questions and speak to official representatives from companies who can give you advice and information. You can also check out RateMyApprenticeship for reviews about school leaver programmes so you can find out what the experience is really like. 

When it's time to fill in your application, be sure to mention anything about yourself that's relevant to the position. “Make sure you put across what skills you have not just academically but your soft skills (like time management, team work and interpersonal skills) as well,” says Osborne. 

What you've done isn't necessarily as important as how you present it. “It’s the skills you’ve developed and how you apply them to the application that we look for,” says Keith. 

As part of your application, you may have to undergo aptitude or psychometric testing. Make sure you’re prepared. “Use the practice tests so you know what to expect,” advises Fagbola. 

Most of all, don't rush it. "Take your time in applying and do so as early as you can, so that you're not rushing when the deadline comes around," says Clapp. 

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