Is a School Leaver Programme for me?

  • Last updated 09 Jan 2020


Found in sectors like finance, accountancy and engineering, school leaver programmes are designed to offer A-level students a genuine alternative to university. But is a school leaver programme the right thing for you?

Let’s have a look at the major advantages and the disadvantages of doing a school leaver programme.


1. Leap straight into the world of work. Instead of delaying it for three years whilst you get a degree, a school leaver programme combines work with education and professional training.  

2. Avoid student debts. As part of the school leaver programme, your education and training will be subsidised by the employer. You can wave goodbye to student debt. Even better, you’ll receive a salary. Sure, it might not be a huge amount, but you’ll likely earn more than those on advanced apprenticeship programmes. For school leaver programmes with large employers, school leavers have been known to earn over £22,000 a year. Boom!

3. Most school leaver programmes are designed to be a genuine alternative to university. Some of the most competitive programmes have entry standards to rival most Russell Group universities, testament to the nature of the experience. Equally, there are school leaver programmes that only require two A-level passes and are more interested in students with a desire to leap headfirst into work and pick up vocational skills. School leaver programmes welcome students from all backgrounds, part of their purpose is to offer an alternative for those who feel they can’t afford university.

4. You don’t necessarily have to sacrifice education and qualifications. Most programmes either involve participants studying for a degree or a professional qualification. For example, some of the accountancy school leaver programmes give their trainees the chance to qualify as a chartered accountant. For some, you won’t have to forego a university education, as many programmes have a degree inbuilt into them. Others have a mix of the two, where you can gain a degree and study for professional qualifications too.


1. If you want to achieve an undergraduate degree, it might be a more indirect route. Your choice of degree and university will also be limited. For example, degrees that are part of school leaver programmes will be directly related to the career path and will most likely be vocational. You won’t find many traditional degrees as part of a school leaver programme.

2. At the moment, school leaver programmes are only limited to a select few industries. Most school leaver programmes can be found in the engineering and finance industries, as well as manufacturing, hospitality, media and construction, amongst others. Whilst they might present an excellent option if you want to pursue a career in those sectors, they might not be suitable for other careers. Certain jobs will still really only be open to graduates.

3. Even if obtaining a degree is part of the school leaver programme, you might have to forego the university experience. Some programmes will only involve one year full-time at university, or you’ll have to study for your degree part-time or through distance learning. So if you’re hankering after the full-on student experience, then a school leaver programme won’t be your best option.

4. There are currently only a small number of school leaver programmes. Consequently, competition for places, particularly for the ones with the big employers, can be intense. There might be more places on their schemes for university graduates.

In short, school leaver programmes aren’t for everyone. They are a fantastic option for those who don’t fancy university and want to start their career straight after their A-levels. However, they do come with limitations and you might find that university provides you with a better option. 

Read more:

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School leaver programmes vs. apprenticeships

Should I do a sponsored degree programme?

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