Deciding what you are going to do with the rest of your life may seem like a pretty big ask – especially since up until now your path through life has probably been pretty well mapped out for you. From nursery school you moved up year-by-year through school, getting through your GCSEs and on to A levels. Chances are this path was something that you always expected to take (or if not, your parents may have expected you to). However, all of a sudden you are faced with a choice of what to do next. Of course, choosing which subjects you wanted to study as you progressed to sixth form was part of looking to your future, but now the real decisions are upon you, what should you do?
University is certainly a popular option. In fact, despite the burden of tuition fees, university is still the most popular choice after sixth form, with last year seeing over 412,000 university or college places taken up. However, apprenticeships are also growing in popularity with a 20% increase in the number of 18-year-olds opting for an apprenticeship in England, while older people are also looking at apprenticeships as a route into work.
The fact that apprenticeships are becoming a genuine option for many young people is a good thing, and this trend looks set to continue as Skills Minister, Nick Boles has declared that, “I want every young person leaving school to view university degrees and high-level apprenticeships as different but equally valid choices,” adding, “You can gain a degree with an apprenticeship in subjects ranging from accountancy to law and engineering. Apprenticeships allow all school leavers the chance to fulfil their potential through taking the next step that best suits their skills and ambitions."
The rhetoric sounds good, and while moves are afoot to increase the quality and quantity of apprenticeships on offer over the next five years, we are likely to see more young people take this route. But what is best for you?
The first consideration here is what you hope to do in the future – what career you want to forge for yourself? If you have a clear idea then the question becomes easier. If you want to get into plumbing, for example, then an apprenticeship is clearly the best way to go. Learning on the job with support and training is a great way to get into a specific career, and you may be surprised at the range of apprenticeship options available to you (check out our current apprenticeship options here). Plus, a higher level apprenticeship can lead to a foundation degree, which means you needn’t rule out university at a later stage.
An apprenticeship is great for those who have had enough of academic education and want to get stuck into learning a trade. However, on the other hand, is the university option, and there are some careers that still require you to have a university degree. If such a career is your chosen destination then your hands are tied, and uni is set to be your destination – tuition fees or not!
Have a think about what you would like to do – write down your ideas (however silly they may seem) and try to get a picture of where you want to take yourself. Choosing a career is not easy, but there is plenty of advice to help you make your mind up.
Many people look to university for the much-heralded lifestyle it offers. Sure, this may include living off of baked beans and noodles for weeks on end, but there are plenty of young people who are attracted to the prospect of getting away from home and stretching their wings at university.
For others there may be an expectation from family that they will go to university, or pressure to do what your friends are doing. However, it is worth considering what to expect once you graduate too. For many apprentices, there is the prospect of full-time work once they are qualified. This means doing the job you have been trained for, and statistics show many apprentices command decent wages once qualified.
On the other hand, a great many university graduates are forced to take non-graduate roles due to the high number of students leaving university each year compared to the number of graduate level jobs. It is generally thought that an apprenticeship may be better for your career prospects than a traditional degree.
So what do you do?
The difficulty lies in making the right choice for you. To do this you will need to speak with teachers, your parents, career advisors, and anyone else who can offer you some sage advice – but don’t rule anything out immediately if you can help it. You can also check out our ‘advice centre’ for some more help if you need it. If you can speak with people who have been through university recently, or people doing an apprenticeship this will make things clearer as you will be offered a real insight as to what to expect.
There are pros and cons to each route – it all depends on what you want from your career.