The truth about university v apprenticeships – what you need to know

Over 50% of graduates say they would have considered an apprenticeship if given the choice instead of going to university.

Furthermore, just two-thirds felt that their degree was vital for securing their current job and only 41% believed it enabled them to perform well at work.

With that said, each path offers its own unique advantages and drawbacks, so it’s important to consider which one is best for you and your career aspirations. On that note, here’s the truth about university vs. apprenticeships so you can make an informed decision that will propel your future.

Pros of university: A world of possibilities

By most measures, university is the more traditional educational route. In 2023, there were 2.8 million students at UK higher education institutions, most of which were full-time students studying for their first degrees. Some of the main benefits of a university education include:

Gain access to specialised knowledge and expertise

UK universities offer access to some of the most highly-regarded academics and experts in the world, making them a great choice for those seeking to gain specialised knowledge. This access to experts is invaluable, as students can learn the hard and soft skills they’ll need in order to be successful in their chosen field.

Take advantage of a wide range of course options

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that universities have something for everyone. From history to engineering, film to finance, there’s an incredibly wide range of courses available to choose from.

Get the opportunity to network with other like-minded students and professionals

One of the most underrated benefits of university is the opportunity to make contacts with other students, academics and professionals. These connections can be invaluable for your future career, as having a strong network is key for finding jobs, internships and other opportunities.

Pros of apprenticeships: Hands-on experience that pays

For those willing to learn on the job, apprenticeships offer a great alternative to university. Currently, there are over 740,400 active learners undertaking an apprenticeship in the UK. Here are some of the key benefits:

Gain practical skills that are in demand

Unlike university, apprenticeships give you the skills employers are looking for in a competitive job market. You’ll gain practical, real-world experience that will put you ahead of other candidates. For example, you may develop first-hand experience with important systems, tools, and software that are essential for your sector.

Earn while you learn

Perhaps one of the best things about apprenticeships is that you can earn while you learn. You’ll get paid a salary as you develop the skills and experience employers are looking for. This opens up the opportunity to gain professional qualifications without having to take on hefty student loans – thus making apprenticeships far more accessible to those who might not otherwise have the means to attend university.

High employment rates and competitive salaries

Since apprenticeships provide such valuable skills and experience, most apprentices go on to secure employment in the sector they trained for. Plus, those with higher-level apprenticeships such as a Level 5 Diploma can expect to earn salaries that are competitive with those seen at graduate level.

Cons of university

The cost/debt

Let’s not beat around the bush – university is expensive. On average, it costs around £9,250 per year for tuition fees alone. That’s not to mention the added costs of books, equipment, accommodation and other living expenses. Those pursuing a university education are often saddled with large amounts of debt. This can be a huge burden, particularly for those who do not secure employment in the field they studied soon after graduation, or who after specialist studying for such a long time decide they don’t want to work in that field after all.

A lack of technical/practical skills

Whilst university provides an opportunity to develop a range of theoretical and conceptual skills, the focus on academia can lead to a lack of practical skills. This is especially true for those looking to pursue careers in a technical field. This can make it difficult to stand out in a competitive job market where employers often look for more than just theoretical knowledge.

A lack of job opportunities

Recent graduates can face a real challenge when it comes to finding employment. Although universities offer career services and guidance, the job market is becoming increasingly competitive. This means that having a degree is no longer enough – employers are often looking for candidates with the right blend of skills, experience and qualifications. However, given the time and investment required to obtain a degree, many recent graduates may find it difficult to gain the necessary skills and experience that employers are looking for.

Cons of apprenticeships

The less travelled route

Apprenticeships can be a great way to gain technical and practical skills. However, they’re still relatively uncommon compared to university courses – only around 3.5% of full-time employees in England came from an apprenticeship. However, due to their focus on practical skills, many employers prefer to hire apprenticeship candidates over those who have only studied in a university setting.

The time commitment

Apprenticeships also require a significant time commitment. As well as attending training sessions and completing practical tasks, some topics require apprentices to attend classes at college or university in order to gain the necessary qualifications. This can require a substantial amount of time, energy and effort – and can make it difficult to juggle other commitments such as family, friends, and work.

Which pathway is best for you?

Choosing between university and apprenticeships is a personal decision that should be based on your individual circumstances, preferences, and career aspirations. Therefore, it’s important to take the time to research and evaluate both options before making a decision.

One of the obvious considerations that most people will have is the cost. University fees and living expenses can be extremely expensive, whereas apprenticeships often provide a route into employment with no additional fees. In fact, many apprentices will earn and save money while they learn, which can give them a much-needed financial boost.

Another important factor to consider is the type of skills and experience you want to gain. If you’re looking for a more theoretical approach, then university could be the best option. However, if you’re looking to develop practical skills and gain hands-on experience, and ‘earn while you learn’ then an apprenticeship can provide a more suitable route.

Finally, lifestyle should also be taken into account. University provides the opportunity to live independently, experience student life and enjoy a wide variety of social activities. On the other hand, apprenticeships may require a more disciplined approach to learning and an increased focus on work commitments.

Ultimately, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice when it comes to deciding between university and apprenticeships. Both pathways can provide valuable skills and experience – it’s just a matter of finding the one that is best suited to your individual preferences and goals.

Final word

No matter which path you choose, the important thing is to stay focused and motivated in pursuit of your dreams. Both university and apprenticeships can provide you with the skills and experience required to succeed in a competitive job market, but it will be up to you to make the most of the opportunities presented.

At Davies, we can see first-hand the profound benefits that apprenticeships can provide for both individuals and employers alike. With the ability to develop skills for life in a practical, hands-on setting, apprenticeships offer an invaluable opportunity to those who are ready to take the plunge. That’s why we highly recommend this pathway to those looking to kick-start their career and earn while they learn.

To find out more about opportunities to ‘earn while you learn’ read about Davies Academy here.

Scott Dalziel

Principal Consultant - Consulting & Technology


Victoria Miles

Consulting Director

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