Not Going to University?

  • Last updated 16 Aug 2016


There used to be two main choices for school leavers: get a job or go to university. Those who were successful in their A-levels went to university, those who weren’t got a job.

One would get a higher qualification, the other wouldn’t. University was widely considered the “better” option.

Nowadays, university is still recognised as a fantastic option, but there is an increasing awareness that it isn’t for everyone.

Alternatives to university

Over the last decade, the emphasis has been on getting more and more people into university, but, with the tuition fee rise and the value of university coming under scrutiny, there has been a tide change. People are increasingly willing to embrace alternatives to university.

There’s a real demand for something that straddles the two: combining qualifications with employment, and that’s where apprenticeships and school leaver programmes come to the fore.

Unfortunately, there are still some common misconceptions surrounding alternatives to university.

A-level results day inevitably brings with it a slew of comments on Twitter and articles in newspapers all focusing around the same theme: “Missed out on a university place, what are your options?”, “Haven’t got the grades? Check out apprenticeships”.

Intentional or not, these sort of comments position the alternatives to university as a kind of secondary option or a lower rung choice.

This simply isn’t the case. School leaver programmes and apprenticeships aren’t just for those who “don’t have the grades” to go to university. Even if you are predicted As and Bs at A-level, university isn’t your only option.

School leaver opportunities: big companies

Companies are increasingly keen to recruit bright A-level students. Since 2011 the UK has seen the rise of the school leaver programme, a kind of high school graduate scheme for ambitious sixth-form leavers.

Trainees on these programmes are often treated like those on the graduate schemes and they often follow a similar training programme to the graduates.

You don’t have to turn your back on university education either: sponsored degree programmes and certain higher apprenticeships and school leaver programmes give trainees the chance to attend university and achieve a higher education qualification while working.

These can be just the ticket for those who want to combine university with gaining some real working experience.

It's your choice

The overriding message should be that it is ok to not want to go to university. University choice should be based on a passion for the subject, a desire to get stuck into some in-depth learning or as a route for certain career paths, not because you “might as well go” because everyone else is.

You need to weigh up what you think is the right option for you, whether that’s university, a school leaver programme, an apprenticeship or going straight into employment. Like most things in life, your choice isn’t black and white. It’s up to you to tease out the pros and cons.

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