Should you choose an Apprenticeship or University?


With the UK Government confirming more people than ever before are now choosing an apprenticeship, how should you decide what to do next? Here, Higher Apprentice Jack shares what made him choose an Apprenticeship scheme over university.

Do what you can to expand your options

Jack explains: “I studied Business Economics ICT A-level and I got my university place at Kent, to study Business Management. It would have been a 4 year degree, with a 1 year industrial placement. It was a great university place to get, and it was actually my number one choice after I’d visited a number of different universities."

Before you’ve made your final decision, it’s important you do what you can to keep your options open. That way, you can be sure that you’re picking what’s right for you when the time comes to choose. 

Don’t just follow the crowd

As decision time approaches, it can be easy to just stick with what you know. Choosing a route just because everyone else is may not make you happy later down the line:

“ Nearly everyone in my year was planning to go to university. It was unusual not to go to university after 6th form where I studied, unless you didn’t get your grades. Even then people tried to re-sit any exams so they could go straight to university,” says Jack. “I felt like I needed more time to decide- so I deferred my place at Kent University and took a gap year. ”

Prioritise trying something new

Make sure you take time to broaden your horizons where you can. Not everyone can afford to go travelling, but you may want to try work experience or even volunteering. Meeting new people and putting yourself outside your comfort zone could help reaffirm what’s most important to you.

“During my gap year I worked solidly for 6 months to try and save up to go travelling. This included some voluntary work where I helped to care for a disabled lad who suffers from Cerebral palsy. I enjoyed it so much that I still carry this on today; over some weekends I’ll go with him to play rugby,” says Jack. “I then carried out a month’s work experience; 2 weeks with a major car manufacturer and 2 weeks with Nationwide in Marketing as well as Business Transformation. I knew then that Nationwide was the company I wanted to work for; its ‘PRIDE’ culture was very clear even then."

Take time to decide whether it’s what you really want

So you think you’ve made your final decision, and there’s no changing your mind? Remember, it’s natural that your priorities may shift from time to time. Once you’ve made your choice, allow yourself time to take a step back.

“ Eventually I managed to save up £5000, and I went and travelled Australia with one of my best mates; 1 week surfing in Byron Bay was definitely the highlight! I then went Inter-railing round Europe for two amazing months with my girlfriend, visiting 9 countries. By the time I came back from travelling, university wasn’t for me. The two months of work experience helped me realise that I wanted to get straight into employment. Now I want to work my way up within an organisation instead, and I know that I can do that at Nationwide. ”

Research your opportunities fully

If you do choose an apprenticeship or full time employment, there’s still homework! Make sure you research the company/ employer as thoroughly as you would have if you were picking your university! It’s important their values- including career progression and work life balance- match what you’re looking for.

“I was aware apprenticeship schemes can be a really good way to get your foot in the door in an organisation, and a way to gain a qualification whilst on the job. However, when I came across Nationwide’s higher apprenticeship scheme I was blown away by the benefits: the scheme I went for has got me into a 3-5 year placement in the Finance department at Nationwide. I’m now studying to become a Chartered Accountant with CIMA which Nationwide is paying for- including the expenses involved when traveling to Bristol or Reading for study days. They’re even allowing me have these study days in work time,” says Jack. “The higher apprenticeship scheme also allows placements, so like the graduate scheme, I can move to other areas within the division. This is so I can get a experience across the business, while I decide which area I’d like to end up in!”

Try and picture your long term goals

So, you’ve started university or you’re employed and starting your career. Whichever one you choose, try and visualise what it is that you’ll want longer term. Where do you see yourself going, what do you want to achieve?

For Jack, its qualifications and financial security: “My long term plan? I’d like to do 3-5 years of placements whilst I complete all of my exams, making me a CIMA qualified Chartered Accountant. I’ll have avoided the university debt (I worked it out to be around £50,000 over the 4 years). I’ll have a permanent role at the end of my apprenticeship, and I’ll have my degree level qualification.”

Do what makes you happy

Last but not least- do what makes you happy.

Jack explains: “I started in September, the same day as 2 other apprentices and we’ve formed a really good friendship. The apprentices here have a really good relationship; there are regular catch up’s for us all to meet and make sure we’re all ok, and we all help each other with any issues! My advice to future applicants is to go for it; it’s a great scheme to get on to and it’s definitely worth the interview process. “

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For our latest vacancies and to find out more, see Apprenticeships.

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