If mounting student debt and being in a classroom full time aren’t for you then there are plenty of other options

Some employers offer training programmes aimed at school and college leavers. You may find that the terms used to advertise these programmes are interchangeable, so it’s worth checking with the individual company to find out what they are offering and what they will expect from you.

Whatever the programme is called there are lots of benefits that make them good alternatives to university. You can:

  • build job specific skills from the outset;
  • achieve qualifications while earning a salary;
  • increase your lifetime earnings;
  • avoid student debt as the government is funding the qualifications that make up a higher apprenticeship.

Higher apprenticeships

Similarly to other apprenticeships you’ll get the chance to gain practical experience while working towards a qualification that could further your career.

To get onto a higher apprenticeship you will usually need to have five GCSEs and level 3 qualifications such as A-levels, an advanced level diploma, an NVQ level 3 or an advanced apprenticeship.

Lasting anything from two to seven years they are currently available in more than 40 subjects ranging from accounting to social media and marketing.

As part of your higher apprenticeship you will study at a college, university or training centre. This could be for one day a week, a block of several weeks or the entire first year of the apprenticeship.

You’ll receive a salary but this can vary significantly depending on the company and sector you are working in. As an average you could expect to start on £10,000 a year which may increase every year depending on your ability to meet certain goals.

As well as working towards professional accreditation and membership, you may be awarded a qualification equivalent to an NVQ level 4 or a foundation degree.

Following a similar structure to higher apprenticeships are school and college leaver programmes. One of the main differences is that they don't always end in a formal qualification.

Find out more about apprenticeships.

University can be expensive and a sponsored degree can help to meet these costs. They involve a company supporting you while you study, either with annual bursaries or a full salary. Many also cover your tuition fees meaning that you leave university with no student debt.

Sponsored degrees are mainly available in practical subjects such as science and engineering, and many City firms will also offer them in accountancy and finance.

Aside from the funding another benefit is that in many cases you will be guaranteed a job when you graduate. It is also a great opportunity to learn from those in the know as you are likely to have a mentor who will provide you with advice and guidance.

It is important to be aware that a sponsored degree is a contract between you and the employer and as such they will expect something in return. This could mean working when your peers are on holiday from university.

If you are interested you will need to first research the companies in your sector that offer sponsored degrees. It is likely that they will dictate the university and subject as many companies will have partner institutions. For example, Morrisons manufacturing and head office sponsored degree programmes are in partnership with the University of Bradford.

Entry-level jobs

These jobs don't require applicants to hold a relevant professional qualification and are therefore available to school or college leavers. Viewed as the entry-point into a specific vocation, some entry-level jobs don't even require applicants to have work experience in the field. Many openings are on a full-time, permanent basis; but some may instead be on a temporary contract or restricted to part-time hours.

There are three main types of entry-level job available to school or college leavers:

  • traineeships, which combine education and training with work experience over a short-term period and usually result in a job offer or reference;
  • apprenticeships, which combine paid work with longer-term study that results in a formal qualification; and
  • employer-designed school leaver programmes, which incorporate paid work with training that culminates in a professional qualification.

Despite this training focus, the financial incentives for progression can often be minor. Pay increases are typically small in relative terms, meaning that several promotions may be required before average earnings levels are reached.

Foundation degrees and HNDs

Focused on building the specific skills that employers are looking for, foundation degrees provide a very strong platform for those wishing to enter the workplace.

They are the equivalent of two-thirds of a full honours degree and are normally offered by universities and further education colleges working in partnership. Students can study on a full- or part-time basis, with courses generally lasting two or three years respectively.

To discover where the qualification can lead take a look at options with your foundation degree.

HNDs are vocational qualifications usually studied full time for two years (or three years part time), which prepare you for careers in specific industries, such as engineering, business, hospitality, computer science, design or health and social care.

However, if you want to apply for a graduate scheme or graduate-level job you will usually need to complete a degree and most HND graduates choose to 'top up'.

Find out what happens after graduation with your HND, what next?

Gap years

Unsure what to do next? Taking a gap year could buy you some thinking time before making your next move into work or study. Traditionally, the phrase ‘gap year’ meant a period of time taken out by students after leaving college and before starting university. Now, gap years can happen at any stage, by anyone, and for varying amounts of time.

Whether you choose to do monkey conservation in Vietnam or farm work in Australia your trip will need thorough planning and clear goals to ensure that you make the most of the experience.

Taking a gap year could help you to develop the skills that employers want, raise your cultural awareness, increase your confidence and independence, improve your language skills and increase your work experience.

Find out more about gap years.


If you’ve got a great idea, a sharp business mind and a determination to succeed then going it alone might be the route for you.

Flexible hours, independence and the potential for a higher salary are just some of the benefits of being self-employed. However having the pressure of success or failure rest with you can be very stressful, you won’t receive holiday or sick pay, your income can be irregular and you could work much longer days than the typical employee.

Take a look at self-employment to find out whether it’s for you.

Find out more

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