Apprenticeship or University (or a bit of both?)

07 September 2018 | Advice for Parents | Guest Author

Back to school, and into the throes of decision-making that will affect the rest of your teenager’s life – it’s a daunting time!

Things to consider as you guide your school-leaver through their decisions

Current qualifications

What your school-leaver does next may, by necessity, be determined by the qualifications they achieve and whether they even wish to continue purely academic study any longer. Of course many roles - but not necessarily sectors - require a specific university degree. But ending their time as a 'carefree' student and joining the workforce does not preclude them from reaching ultimate career success - or gaining useful skills and qualifications. Both university and apprenticeships will require particular passes at GCSE or A Level.

Home or away?

If your teen is to join an apprenticeship programme, it's likely that in order to afford to do so, they will be staying with you at home - this can potentially be a challenge all round, as leaving school and going to work and/or study is a firm step into adulthood; yet they're still under your roof. It can, however, also be a helpful form of continuity - they are stepping into a new and strange environment and so may benefit from the consistency of a familiar household and surroundings.

Freshers departing for university at least have their first-time-away status in common with each other. Many will spend this first year living in halls or student accommodation where they are in a similar situation en masse, all coping with a new environment. Of course, living costs are considerable, and consequently many school-leavers are choosing to live at home and study for a degree at their nearest town or city university - so further academic study will not necessarily mean travelling across the country.

Other money matters to consider

Currently a graduate leaves university with a debt of around £50,000. It's important to take note that this is not your debt, it is the student's - and the time at which they begin to repay it is determined by their earnings (and not how much they have borrowed).

An apprentice starts to earn as soon as they embark on their placement. At time of publication, the minimum hourly rate for an apprentice is £3.70. They are paid to work at least 30 hours a week. Not enough to live independently in most cases - although that is a minimum apprenticeship wage and many companies will pay above this hourly rate. There are no tuition fees to pay, so earnings go straight to the apprentice (subject to the same rate of income tax as all UK taxpayers, after standard personal allowance).

It’s not as clear-cut as ‘earn or learn’, however. Apprentices are expected to 'learn on the job' and there is a high chance this will involve an amount of study. Similarly, the majority of undergraduates will seek paid work in summer holidays and other times outside of term-time, or part-time when they are attending uni, depending on the demands of their course.


Your school-leaver is about to gain independence – to a greater or lesser extent – and enter a phase where they are becoming a young adult. They will start to make their own decisions, whilst still needing your help - and probably money!

University or work will determine how they spend their next few years, the friends they make and, of course, how and where they will spend the majority of their time. This generation is one that perceives much fewer boundaries between their various social circles than in the past.

Perhaps your school-leaver foresees a gap year spent travelling and/or working, either before or after their studies. Once commonplace, and considered 'a year off' after intense studying, these are now viewed by employers as an opportunity for the student to have experience that they can translate into useful work/life skills (and not just 12 months spent on various beaches or other Instagrammable locations).

Apprentices, similarly, will begin to meet people who are at different stages of their lives and career paths and will work, and most likely socialise, with them. This in itself can prove quite valuable and bring with it awareness and empathy, which can be great 'soft skills' advantages to someone who has entered the workplace directly from college.

Get an impartial opinion

Speak to independent careers advisors, as well as representatives from the UK's leading universities and companies offering apprenticeships at What Career Live? and What University Live? – supported by the National Apprenticeship Service and held across the UK throughout the year. With hundreds of opportunities, plus advice theatres, panels and clinics for parents, caregivers and school-leavers, these are an essential part of your journey.

Don’t forget to order your copy of Options!

The essential guide for parents, Options is packed with advice and information on your teenager’s next steps, right through to how to support them through those exciting first weeks of work or university. Order your copy now!

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