Apprenticeships or A-levels?

  • Last updated 09 Jan 2020


So, you’ve done your GCSEs and now have the choice between continuing full-time education with A-levels, or changing course and taking on an apprenticeship. Decisions, decisions. One isn’t “better” than the other; you just need to figure out which suits you and your future.

Here are a few pointers to help.


Just because A-levels are seen as the traditional path to a degree, it doesn’t mean that by going down the apprenticeship route you’d be turning your back on a “traditional” education or university. Apprentices can go on to university and study for higher qualifications.

And apprenticeships aren’t for those who “don’t have the grades” to do A-levels or go to university. There are some challenging apprenticeship schemes out there, with tough application processes and fierce competition for places. They are a genuine alternative to A-levels and later university, for those who want to go straight into work: an Advanced Apprenticeship for example, is equivalent to two A-level passes.

Many companies want bright school leavers eager to head straight into the world of work - so even if you get top grades, don't feel obliged to go up the A-level path and then to university, unless that’s what you actually want.

Consider your career aspirations

Remember there are certain careers only accessible via a degree. If you’re desperate to be a doctor, there’s unfortunately no apprenticeship for that, so you’ll have to take A-levels and apply to university.

Other occupations are just as accessible via apprenticeships. An accountancy school leaver programme could comprise two years of a higher apprenticeship, followed by study for the ACA. This way takes five years to reach chartered accountancy status, where a graduate might take six. Even journalism is now catching up – read our interview with a journalism apprentice at The Independent.

If you don’t know what career you want to pursue, studying at university can help keep your career options open, while gaining a qualification.

If you don’t go, there’s also the issue of missing out on the full “university experience”. And we don’t mean just the amazing social life: full-time academic study for three years, which can be very fulfilling.

Money matters

Money is another important factor. Apprenticeship training is free, and you are paid while for your work, on a newly increased Apprentice National Minimum Wage.

A-levels are free, but you won’t have the opportunity to earn a proper full-time wage (and there is no support via the Education Maintenance Allowance now it’s been scrapped), and if you then go onto university the fees are famously hefty.

There is plenty of financial support in the form of loans, grants and bursaries from the government, but it isn’t the same as earning a wage as an apprentice.


Remember, it’s your choice. Don’t do something just because everyone’s telling you to. Take time to do your research, talk to people who’ve done an apprenticeship and to those who’ve done A-levels and been to university, and consider your own personal motivations.

Read more:

Not going to university?

School leaver programme: which A-level subjects?

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