University or Apprenticeship: The Comprehensive Guide

Written by Nicola Wylie

Deciding what to do after you finish school can be an incredibly tough decision. There are many options available but it generally comes down to two pathways: university or apprenticeship. Of course, each option has its merits and also drawbacks. 

Deciding between university and apprenticeship is a long-running debate which requires careful consideration. Although university is still the most popular option, apprenticeships have evolved immensely in recent years and are now seen as a viable alternative to university. 

This blog will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of university education and apprenticeships, aiming to help you make an informed decision about your professional path. If you’re struggling to make up your mind, remember that you can still get a university qualification through a degree apprenticeship. So try to focus more on which of the two experiences you would prefer.


Advantages and Disadvantages of University Education

Let’s begin by weighing up the pros and cons of university education in the table below:

Advantages  Disadvantages 
In-depth knowledge High tuition fees 
Personal growth Lengthy duration 
Diverse career opportunities Delayed entry into workforce
Networking  Limited practical experience 
Recognised qualifications Potential for student debt 

A university degree offers thousands of course options and gives students the opportunity to master a particular subject. Furthermore, as a university graduate, there are diverse career prospects, spanning research, academia, and vocations requiring specialised expertise. University campuses are also the perfect place for building a strong network of friends and contacts, who can become invaluable connections for the future.

However, the substantial cost of higher education cannot be overlooked. Tuition fees cost £9,250 per year (except in Scotland), as well as additional living expenses. This results in most graduates having substantial student debt. Repayments do not begin however until you earn a minimum of £27,288 a year. Furthermore, the extended duration of degree programmes postpones graduates’ entry into the workforce, potentially placing them behind apprenticeship peers in terms of practical experience.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Apprenticeships

We’ll now look at the pros and cons of apprenticeships:

Advantages  Disadvantages 
Practical experience Limited theoretical knowledge
Earn while you learn Industry-specific skills 
Direct industry relevance Potential for limited career mobility
Practical skills development  Less recognised qualifications
Immediate entry into workforce Possibility of lower starting salary

With a hands-on learning approach, apprentices gain practical skills that a relevant to their chosen field. A massive plus is that apprentices earn while they learn, which means that student loans and debt are generally not an issue. The direct alignment with industry needs ensures apprentices graduate job-ready. Furthermore, the government has recently invested more in apprenticeships, even creating 6 green apprenticeships to mark the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III.

Conversely, apprenticeships tend to lack the broader theoretical knowledge that university students obtain. Certain sectors may require more extensive academic understanding, and this is an area where apprenticeships might fall short. Moreover, if you’re not completely sure what you want to do in the future, the industry-specific focus of apprenticeships could potentially affect your career mobility.


What Employers Think

At the end of the day, our objective is to find employment so it’s also important to take into account the employer perspective. So, where do employers stand on the university or apprenticeship debate?

Well, it depends. You see, some industries hold formal degrees in high regard. To them, those degrees aren’t just pieces of paper – they’re symbols of dedication to the academic journey and a sign of adaptability. It’s as if they’re saying, “I’ve put in the hours in the classroom, and I’m ready to tackle whatever challenges come my way.”

That being said, there are also employers out there who prefer the real-world skills that apprenticeships can bring to the table. These employers want people with practical skills who will make things happen for their business. 

However, the hiring landscape is constantly changing due to industry trends and economic shifts. What’s on demand today might not be the same tomorrow. It’s a balancing act that changes as the needs of the job market change.

For instance, there’s currently a skills shortage in the UK. The skills that are needed are predominantly in IT, engineering, nursing, and pharmacy with 13.3% of employers reporting a shortage of workers. However, once these positions are filled with skilled candidates, it will create a shortage in other areas, and so on and so forth. 

This is why it’s important to do your research and stay up-to-date on the latest labour and market trends.


Job Outcomes

As we previously mentioned, the aim of doing a university degree or apprenticeship is to find employment. So let’s talk a bit about the employment rates of university graduates and apprentices.

University graduates

According to the most recent ONS data, the graduate employment rate is currently 87.3%. This is a 0.7% increase from 2021. The degrees with the highest graduate employment rates included:

  • The sciences
  • IT
  • Education
  • Mining
  • Health and social work
  • Manufacturing
  • Real estate


Similarly, studies reveal that 90% of apprentices remain in employment after completion of their apprenticeship programme, with 71% of apprentices continuing work with their existing employers. On top of that, a staggering 92% of employers who have taken on apprentices believe that it leads to a more motivated and satisfied workforce.

So, as you can see from these numbers, there isn’t that much of a difference in employment rates between university graduates and apprentices.


Making an Informed Decision

As with any big decision in life, it’s important to weigh up all of your options. And the pivotal choice between university and apprenticeship is no different. After all, it’s a fork in the road that can shape your entire future. 

So, along with the pros and cons of each option, take the following points into consideration as well.

Consider your personal strengths

First off, you’ve got to do some self-discovery. Take stock of what you’re good at, what makes you tick, and where you see yourself headed. Be brutally honest with yourself about whether you thrive in academic settings or through hands-on, practical learning. Knowing your strengths is a hugely important life skill and this decision will put your skills to the test.

What does your future look like?

Next, think about your future. What do you dream of doing? What sort of role gets you excited? Don’t just think about the job title; think about the tasks, the challenges, and the impact the job has on you and the world around you. Look at both sides of the coin: the roles that university graduates often slip into and the positions that apprentices tend to fill. Picture yourself in each scenario; which role feels like a better fit?

Earning potential

Of course, potential earnings must also come into play. Both paths can lead to similar earnings, but the journey there will be different. Research what the salary ranges look like for both university graduates and apprentices in your chosen field before making any decisions. Money isn’t everything, but a large difference in earnings could affect your decision.


Key Takeaways

The debate of university versus apprenticeship continues to stimulate dialogue amongst job seekers and employers alike. Having weighed up the pros and cons, it’s clear that both paths possess merit. The difficulty lies in matching your choice with your long-term goals and finding opportunities that suit your personal strengths and aspirations. 

For more information on apprenticeships, continue browsing Employing an Apprentice. Our apprenticeship job board has all the latest opportunities near you.

For more information on university degrees, check out our sister site Developing a Student. Our graduate jobs board is packed with the latest graduate jobs.

Feel free to contact our team if you have any questions. And don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter below for all the latest news and apprenticeship opportunities.

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Last Updated: Tuesday April 30 2024
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