College apprenticeships vs. GCSEs

  • Emma Finamore
  • Last updated 09 Jan 2020

Explore the advantages of doing a college apprenticeship compared to those of taking GCSEs.


In England, all young people must remain in some form of education or training until the age of 18. For many young people at 16, this takes the form of GCSEs at school, but another great option is college apprenticeships.

An Intermediate Apprenticeship at college could suit many young people better than the traditional GCSE classroom setting, and although some Intermediate Apprenticeships might require apprentices to already have some GCSEs, some programmes do not require this, making them a viable alternative to school.

The entry requirements will vary depending on the college and apprentice employer; colleges and employers might ask for two or more GCSE grades (A*-C) or equivalent, but for some, you might not need any formal qualifications at all. If you don’t have the basics – GCSEs in English and maths – you’ll usually be required to take a basic numeracy and literacy test. If you don’t quite meet the entry requirements, the National Apprenticeship Service runs an Access to Apprenticeship pathway – there’s plenty of support to help you follow your chosen career path.

This means college apprenticeships are open to young people who fare better when assessed during hands-on environments rather than exams and essays, which are often how GCSEs are measured.

College apprenticeships (like all apprenticeships) are also paid – unlike GCSE students, apprentices are paid the National Apprentice Minimum Wage for their work and time (or the National Minimum Wage, depending on their age and stage of the apprenticeship – over 19s in their first year must be paid the National Minimum Wage although many employers pay more), which makes them a great option for young people keen to start earning early on. GCSEs on the other hand are not paid.

College apprenticeships offer a wide range of qualifications compared with GCSEs and a wide range of industries that might not be on offer at school. Industries range from business administration and law to arts, media and publishing.

GCSEs are more academic, which means it’s a great route for those wanting to keep their options open, or for those wanting to take A-levels and then go on to university or a school leaver programme, for example, whereas college apprenticeships are great for people who know what general industry they want to work in, but need some hands-on experience to help them figure out exactly what role they want to pursue in that industry.


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