Head To Head: Which Is Better An Apprenticeship Or A Degree?

Posted: 8th of October 2013 by Anonymous

If you're currently looking into your future trying to work out what the best path is for you then you might be wondering how to decide between an apprenticeship and a degree. To give you some help we've put them head-to-head and looked at the pros and cons for each option based on five different categories. 


Degree - there have been some scary-sounding statistics in recent years about 1 in 5 graduates being unemployed, but the most recent stats show that actually 90% of graduates were either in further study or employed six months after graduation. Yes, that means that 1 in 10 are not employed but that's still a fairly good stat. However, the real issue with degrees and employability is the underemployment of graduates. This is where you start to look in more depth at what those 90% are actually doing - is it a job that they need a degree for, if not then surely you could argue that getting a degree was a bit pointless? For the last few years several studies have shown that around 40% of uni graduates are underemployed.  

Apprenticeship: The very good news for apprentices is that businesses consider you to be very employable, and they're really the people who count. When asked to grade the employability of various qualifications apprenticeships came out on top, higher than a degree. The stats seem to show that apprenticeships are the way forward for employability with only 4.5% of Level 4 apprentices still out of work after they finished their qualification.


This is a fairly easy one to compare - both an apprenticeship and a degree will see you earning more over the course of your lifetime. The stats suggest that a degree will net you more than £150,000 over the course of a career and an apprenticeship will mean you earn around £105,000 more. The obvious conclusion from this is that it's worth getting either, but with the provision that you also take into account...

How much will it cost you?

There are several figures floating around that put the cost of a degree at some fairly scary looking amounts. The simplest thing is to work out that to get a degree you'll need to pay for your course, pay to live (including food and accommodation) and pay related university fees (books, etc). Depending on where you choose to go to university this will cost differing amounts, but a general idea would be that most unis charge £27,000 for a three year degree, then you've got the costs of living for three years. Again this depends on whether you live at home or at uni, but a good rule of thumb is to allow about the same as the £9,000 course fees, giving you a (very rough) total of £54,000. This is a real debt that needs to be paid back, but only when your earnings reach a suitable point.

An apprenticeship is easier to work out as it's free. The government and your employer pays for your training and you get paid while you learn. It's not a fortune (at £3.30 per hour minimum as of 2016)), but it's certainly better than accumulating debt.

Social life

University has an entirely new social life built into it. From the university societies where you can learn anything from sports to drama up to the new friends you'll make in halls or your student accommodation. Students are also targeted with special nights and offers, so you'll find that you'll never be short of things to do.

Apprentices are connected to a social scene through the college where they receive their training. They will also be connected to their company's social scene. Depending on where you work this can include nights out, special offers and all sorts of related fun. It might be slightly different because it's for a variety of ages but if you're looking for people your own age then your college social scene will be available to you.

How easy to get into?

Your school will be able to help you with every step of applying to university and the whole thing is neatly managed through the UCAS website. For apprenticeships it's a case of signing up for a profile on this site and getting the latest opportunities delivered to you. Don't forget that an apprenticeship is essentially a job with built-in training, so you should expect to compete harder to get an apprenticeship than you would do for a degree. 

So what wins for you? Three years of building up debt but getting a degree, or the different option of an apprenticeship? If you have questions about either path don't forget to sign up for the site and put your questions to us.

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Comments (2)

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Posted: 10 Oct 2013 by j.l.kennedy@hud.ac.uk
Although a degree does cost money it is important to point out that tuition fees DO NOT need to be paid upfront. The governmenment will provide you with a tuition fee loan which does not have to be paid back intil you are earning £21,000 or more.
Posted: 10 Oct 2013 by Anonymous
Thanks @Jodiek - that's a fair point to make but is that much of a distinction? It's certainly valid to say that you don't have to find £9k to get into uni, but from the second you start you know that your bank balance is down by £9k. I'd be interested to know if that makes a huge difference to people.

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