Deciding what to do after you finish your A-levels is a big decision. Do you enter the world of work with an apprenticeship or continue your studies at university? Find out which is the best route for you
The degree vs apprenticeship debate is long-running and choosing your next educational move requires careful consideration. Higher education continues to be a popular option despite the rise in tuition fees, with 409,000 students accepted onto degree courses in 2015.
However, attitudes to apprenticeships have also evolved and they are now recognised as an equal alternative to university. During the 2014/15 academic year almost 30,000 people were working to gain higher and degree apprenticeships.
Here we weigh up the benefits of each option to help make a tricky decision that little bit easier. If you're still unsure be comforted by the fact that it needn't be an either/or decision - it is possible to do both.
What subjects are on offer?
If you choose to study at university you'll be able to pick from thousands of courses. This variety can be useful if you're unsure of what to do after graduation as you can opt for a broader subject and keep your options open.
You might also be surprised at the scope of apprenticeships on offer. They are no longer dominated by the manual trades and the engineering sector, and instead span a range of industries including accountancy, IT, law, media, publishing and journalism. Pretty soon you'll have even more choice, as the government has pledged to create a further three million apprenticeships by 2020.
What will I learn?
Although vocational degrees are on the rise university study is primarily focused on education and research. Following a theory-based approach you'll learn about your subject through lectures, seminars and workshops, and graduate with a Bachelors degree. You'll then head out into the world of work to test your knowledge and put into practice what you've learned.
Apprenticeships appeal to those looking for an alternative to university as they take a more practical approach to learning. You'll focus on training for a specific career and learn your trade by actually doing the job. You'll gain hands-on experience and have the opportunity to apply your skills immediately. On completion you could hold an NVQ, HNC or HND, while higher apprenticeships can lead to a foundation degree and degree apprenticeships can result in a full honours degree.
What job opportunities are available?
A university education allows you to target a broader range of careers than you can through an apprenticeship, but both will stand you in good stead when it comes to looking for a job.
Apprenticeships are restrictive in the sense that the training and skills that you gain are specific to a particular industry or role. However, if you're confident in your career choice you'll be well equipped to take advantage of available opportunities.
Bear in mind that some professions, such as those in the business, engineering, healthcare and science sectors, may require a degree; so if you have ambitions to become a doctor or psychologist the decision is made for you.
How much will it cost?
Apprenticeships undoubtedly win this round. If you're under 25 the government and your employer fund your training so you don't have to pay a penny.
On the other hand studying for a degree will cost you £9,000 per year in tuition fees, plus additional living expenses. It's estimated that an undergraduate could leave university with up to £50,000 worth of debt. However you won't start repayments until you earn a minimum of £21,000 a year.
What will I earn?
If you opt for university you'll have to wait until after graduation to start earning a full-time wage. As an apprentice you'll earn while you learn and receive the national minimum wage for apprentices. If you're aged between 16 and 18 the rate currently stands at £3.30. This rate also applies to those aged 19 or over who are currently in their first year of training.
The earning potential of university graduates and apprentices has been examined in recent research by The Sutton Trust, which found that top apprentices can expect to earn thousands more in their lifetime than undergraduates from a non-Russell Group university.
In fact, those who opt to study for a level 5 higher apprenticeship will earn £1.5million during the course of their career, almost £52,000 more than graduates from non-elite universities who can expect to earn £1.4million. However, students from top Russell Group universities come out on top with estimated lifetime earnings of £1.6million.
What do employers think?
Both methods of study are highly regarded by employers. University is respected for the depth of knowledge and transferrable skills it provides, while apprenticeships are valued for their practical nature and real-life work experience opportunities.
More organisations than ever before are offering apprenticeship schemes as employers come to view this method of training as a viable alternative to a university degree. However, educated graduates are in high demand and look set to remain so for the foreseeable future.
If you have ambitions to work for a particular company it might be helpful to find out what they look for in a candidate, which do they value most, qualifications or experience? This could help when making your decision.
It's a tough choice to make and one option isn't necessarily better than the other. Take a look at your current situation - consider what qualifications you already hold, what you'd like to study, your finances and what you'd like to do in the future. Do some research and choose the best option for you.
You could work towards an apprenticeship and then go to university or similarly get a degree and then do an apprenticeship. However, if you pick the latter course of action the same apprenticeship funding might not be available.