Should I Go to University or do an Apprenticeship in the UK? | Top Universities

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Should I Go to University or do an Apprenticeship in the UK?

By Chloe Lane

Updated March 15, 2021 Updated March 15, 2021

Once you’ve completed your sixth-form education, you may be unsure which path to take next. If this is you, there’s really no reason to panic – there are plenty of options available to you. 

Whether you choose to attend university or decide to go down the apprenticeship route, both options can give you the opportunity to complete a full bachelor’s degree . Degree apprenticeships will allow you to gain a degree whilst learning about your industry with on-the-job training. 

Attending university and pursuing an apprenticeship both come with their own sets of pros and cons so it’s really up to you to decide which option is best given your own personal circumstances.

We spoke to a couple of apprentices about their experiences: Stephanie Hayes, who started her cyber security technologist apprenticeship with QA in 2017, and Elena King who is currently pursuing a solicitor apprenticeship in a UK law firm. We also spoke to Adam Snook, a third year history and international relations student at the University of Reading.

Read on as we compare the two options so you can decide which path is right for you…

Will it limit my options in the future?


If you decide to attend university, you’ll have the opportunity to study a wide range of subjects, although admission to some courses may be dependent on the subjects studied at A-level.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, so university gave me a wider range of options”, says Adam Snook, a third-year history and international relations student at the University of Reading.

University degrees give you some time to figure out what you want to do for your future career, whilst studying a subject of your choice in depth and allowing you to gain a variety of transferable skills, which’ll be useful in a wide range of industries.


If you decide to study an apprenticeship you will be studying while you work in your chosen field. The downside of this is that your options are likely to be slightly more limited in the future, as you will have specialized in a career path quite early on.

Despite this, there are an increasing number of options for apprenticeships in fields like business, accounting, engineering, IT, education, retail and media. Degree apprenticeships will allow you to earn a degree in your desired industry, whilst pursuing on the job training.

Elena King started on an admin apprenticeship in a law firm, but soon found that this is not what she enjoyed. “I wanted to do more than admin”, she told TU.

However, her apprenticeship helped her find a career that suited her; “when I changed teams, I was offered much more legal work and I was eventually pretty much working as a paralegal/trainee”. She adds “When I saw the solicitor apprenticeships available, I went for it.”

What qualifications will I earn?


At university, you will earn your bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or PhD, depending on which level you study at.


The qualifications you earn in your apprenticeship really depend on the type of apprenticeship you decide to pursue. The different types of apprenticeship include:

  • Intermediate - equivalent to five good GCSE passes.
  • Advanced - equivalent to two A-level passes.
  • Higher - equivalent to the first stages of higher education, such as a foundation degree.
  • Degree - equivalent to a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

“I took the Level 4 Cyber Security Technologist apprenticeship – a higher apprenticeship from QA based around the skills required for upcoming cybersecurity professionals” says Stephanie Haynes, who started her apprenticeship at QA. “By completing the QA apprenticeship, I am now a fully-fledged cyber security analyst”.

How much will they cost?


In England, an undergraduate university degree will cost you a maximum of £9,250 per year. In Scotland you will not be charged if you are from Scotland, or the EU, although students from England, Wales or Northern Ireland will be expected to pay up to £9,250.

In Wales, you will be charged up to £9,000 for home students and £3,925 for EU and Northern Irish students. Students in Northern Ireland will be charged up to £4,030 for home students and £9,250 for students from elsewhere in the UK.

Stephanie spoke of her difficulty finding a university degree program that suited her fiscal needs; “all of the degrees available to me at the time were full-time, campus based degrees which would have made it difficult for me to support myself and complete a degree at the same time”.


One advantage of undertaking an apprenticeship over a university education is that you will be earning money while studying.

In the UK, if you are under 19, this will be £3.90 per hour minimum. If you’re over 19, this will be the National Minimum Wage (at the time of writing this is £6.15 for 18 to 20-year olds, £7.70 for 21 to 24-year olds, and £8.21 for 25 and over).

If you’re doing a degree apprenticeship, the cost of your course will be divided amongst the course providers and the government, meaning that you will complete your degree and be completely debt free. However, this means that degree apprentices don’t qualify for student loans.

Elena revealed that this was one aspect that really appealed to her about apprenticeships; “I really like that I won’t be in debt at the end”.

What is the lifestyle like?


At university you will either be studying full time or part time and may be living at home, in private accommodation or in university halls. If you’re a full-time student in the UK, you will have three terms, running from September to October, to around May, with time off for Easter, Christmas and summer.

“University life can be whatever you want it to be. You can get involved with whatever you’re interested in and you can choose when you want to work. Some people treat it like a nine to five job and others just go when it suits them,” says Adam.

“I think that attending university has its own unique experiences in the same way that completing an apprenticeship does. Before I started [the apprenticeship], I did consider the social aspect – uni seems to be a great place to socialize and network”, says Stephanie.


In an apprenticeship you will combine working with studying; learning job specific skills, working with experienced staff and studying at a college or training organization to gain specific qualifications.

“80 percent of my time would be spent working on the projects assigned to me in my job, and the other 20 percent was either spent away from work attending classroom training, or putting a bit of time aside at work to focus on my apprenticeship studies,” says Stephanie

The apprenticeship experience will differ depending on the company you’re working for, the location and the type of apprenticeship you are undertaking.

Apprentices are also entitled to 21 days paid holiday plus bank holidays in the UK.

How long will they take to complete?


Your undergraduate university degree will take two to four years to complete if you’re a full-time student. This will depend on your course and where you decide to study. The most common length of a master’s degree is a year, and a PhD takes around three to four years to complete in the UK.


Apprenticeships will take between one to six years, depending on the type of apprenticeship you are pursuing. You may then be offered a full-time position with the company.

This article was originally published in February 2020 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

As Content Editor for and, Chloe creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. Chloe has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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