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5 Alternatives to Going to University in the UK

By Belkis Megraoui

Updated April 15, 2021 Updated April 15, 2021

Going to university in the UK tends to come with a very hefty price tag – currently £9,250 per year for undergraduate home/EU students – and with living costs on the rise, many students find themselves left with substantial student loans to pay back once they’ve obtained their degree and are in employment, while others may find themselves re-evaluating their decision to take an academic route altogether.

Though a degree can be extremely beneficial, providing graduate jobseekers with a full range of career opportunities, it certainly isn’t the only pathway to a successful career – read on for a variety of alternatives to university.   

1. Apprenticeships


Generally, apprenticeships may last anywhere between one and five years, and usually combine both professional and academic training. Different types of UK apprenticeships are available across a wide range of roles, mainly in sectors like engineering and manufacturing, accounting and banking, marketing and even the media, and typically offer several benefits:

  • You may be awarded a formal qualification (equivalent to an NVQ level 4, HND or a foundation degree, in the case of a higher apprenticeship) once successfully completed
  • You’ll gain a significant level of professional experience in your chosen field
  • You’ll receive a salary – more information about the minimum wage for an apprentice can be found here.
  • They’re debt-free.

Entry requirements for apprenticeships in the UK will vary depending on your chosen field of work and study.

According to a new article on Yahoo Finance, tech company Amazon will soon launch a further 1,000 new fully-funded UK apprenticeships – of which more than 90 will involve undergraduate and master’s-degree level programs in fields such as software development engineering, management, and automation. The programs will last from 13 months to four years, and will provide a combination of both in-work and in-classroom training.   

What’s more, pay will range from a starting salary of £9.50/£10.50 per hour to up to £30,000 a year, and will include other benefits such as private medical insurance and company discounts.

Applications for Amazon’s apprenticeship programs will open on 4 March 2019.           

2. Foundation degree or HND

foundation degree

The main purpose of a foundation degree is to provide the student with a strong basis and skillset needed to enter the workforce. It’s considered to be a level 5 qualification, and is usually offered by universities and colleges that share a partnership. When studied on a part-time basis, foundation degrees can take up to three or four years to complete, while full time degrees last two years.

Though Foundation degrees aren’t free, they cost much less than a bachelor’s degree, and are around £2,600 per year for full-time study. Costs for part-time study are typically lower, and vary depending on the course. 

Once completed, there are a number of career and study options available to choose from.   

The HND (Higher National Diploma) on the other hand, is a vocational qualification which is usually studied at a full-time basis for two years (or three years part-time), and is preparation for careers in specific industries such as design, engineering, computer science, business, health and social care, and hospitality – although it’s important to note that this is only limited to certain roles in the aforementioned fields, and if you wish to apply for a graduate scheme or graduate-level job, you’ll need a full degree, and could choose to ‘top up’ your HND by studying for an extra year.

3. Securing an entry-level job

entry level jobs

An entry-level job doesn’t require the applicant to hold any formal qualifications, and is a well-suited alternative for school and college leavers. For some of these jobs, you won’t even be required to hold prior work experience, and you can expect to receive relevant professional training throughout the course of your job.

Entry-level jobs can be found for specific roles in a variety of fields, including accountancy, marketing and teaching assistant positions, and IT roles in web development or business analysis. They’re typically open on a permanent, full-time basis, though some may be on a temporary contract or part-time hours.

Different types of entry-level jobs include apprenticeships (see point #1), traineeships, and various school leaver programs designed by employers.

4. Self-employment & setting up your own business

self employed

Business-savvy individuals may be able to devise a well-thought-out plan to work from home, earn money, and potentially set up their own successful business. Of course, everybody is born with a special skill (or several), but being able to make money out of those skills may require a separate set of strengths (dedication, commitment, independent ability to think and solve problems), knowledge and possibly a good network of like-minded or already well-established business individuals.

Even though income from self-employment can be irregular and the pressure to succeed alone will undoubtedly arise, becoming your own boss is bound to be rewarding once you begin to see the fruit of your labor – flexible working hours, the potential for a higher salary and independence, to name just a few benefits.

5. When in doubt, take a gap year

gap year

The pressure to go to university may seem a little high once you’ve left school, but it’s much wiser to try not to give into that pressure and take your time before deciding on what you’ll do next. Don’t feel like you need to be in a rush to go to university, as it’s crucial you take the time out to rediscover yourself and weigh out the various and plentiful options you have in front of you.

Whether you want to travel the world and explore the array of cultures out there, learn a new language, get a job to earn some money and gain some valuable work experience, or simply take the time out to rest and take care of your health and wellbeing – giving yourself a break and enough time to grow and learn new things will only serve you well. University is expensive, and you do not want to end up regretting your decision once you’re already enrolled.

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This article was originally published in March 2019 . It was last updated in April 2021

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Written by

A former content writer for TopUniversities.com, Belkis published a range of articles for students and graduates across the globe. She has a zeal for history and a natural flair for the arts and sports. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Communication with Journalism from the University of Hertfordshire and is a native speaker of the Arabic language.

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