School leaver programmes vs. sponsored degrees

School leaver programmes and sponsored degrees both offer high quality academic qualifications without student debt plus paid workplace experience, but both come with their own set of distinct advantages. 

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Even though school leaver programmes and sponsored degrees both offer high quality academic qualifications without student debt, and paid workplace experience, the two also offer distinct advantages, different to one another.

School leaver programmes 

There are now school leaver programmes in all business sectors, from technical, commercial to creative. They are generally with FTSE 100 leading employers – such as EY, IBM and Deloitte – who offer great training programmes and pay good starting salaries.

School leaver programmes are also designed to arm students with the specific professional qualifications they will need to embark on a career at that particular organisation, not necessarily a university degree. For example, on the EY school leaver programme, trainees study towards two professional qualifications: the globally-recognised ICAEW Certificate in Finance and Business (CFAB) followed by a second professional qualification linked to their chosen field — Assurance, Transactions or Tax. So a school leaver programme might be the best choice for someone wanting to pursue accounting, for example, rather than a sponsored degree.

Sponsored degrees are harder to pin down than school leaver programmes, dividing roughly into three groups:

Sponsored degree programmes

Sponsored degree programmes are school leaver schemes that focus on the fact that you’ll get a degree as part of the programme. As well as studying for a degree at university, students are often regarded as permanent employees of the company and receive a salary.

The schemes are often devised with a particular university, meaning that the student will have little say in what university or course they do. However, they’ll usually have their entire course fees paid by the employer or at least receive a bursary or scholarship to go towards the cost of their university education.

Students might attend university on a part-time or distance learning basis (e.g. one day a week) while working for the employer, or they might go to university full-time, spending their holidays working for the company. The employer might also offer students a guaranteed job on qualification or, subject to performance, a place on their graduate scheme. Other employers offer similar opportunities, where you’ll be a permanent employee of the company whilst taking a degree at a specified university.

The balance of time you’ll spend at university and in the work-place will vary from scheme to scheme, so make sure you check.

There are now school leaver programmes in all business sectors, from technical, commercial to creative. They are generally with FTSE 100 leading employers, who offer great training programmes and pay good starting salaries. The schemes are designed to arm students with the specific professional qualifications they will need to embark on a career at that particular organisation, not necessarily a university degree. 

Sponsored degrees

Other universities will provide degrees that are sponsored and devised with a consortium of employers and/or professional associations. These are more common in industries like engineering and accountancy, usually for more vocational degrees.

For the consortium sponsored degrees, students might be sponsored wholly or partially (e.g. £1,000 for each year) and might take an industrial placement or a summer placement with an employer in the consortium.

Alternatively, a degree might be devised with and sponsored by a single employer (sometimes in tandem with a professional association). For these degrees, the employer involvement will likely be more comprehensive.

For example, students on a sponsored scheme might receive a bursary and have a yearlong placement and two summer placements with the employer. Depending on academic and placement performance, they might also get a spot on the graduate scheme or a job with the company upon graduation.

Students on these types of degree aren’t permanent employees and only earn a salary during their placement year or summer internship.

Student sponsorship

Some companies will offer sponsorship either to a small number of students on a degree course in the form of a scholarship or they will sponsor a promising student irrespective of their degree course and university; although, of course, they might target students on particular courses.

Students have also been known to approach companies before they attend university in the hope of some form of sponsorship.

This is probably the most informal sponsorship programme of them all. The employer might cover a student’s fees for part of their university education or give a one-off token amount to the student.

In return, students might take up a summer placement with the company, work with them after university or they might actually have no particular obligations towards the company at all.

Alternatively, some companies will sponsor students who stand out during their internships or placements with them, offering to cover their last year or two years at university and giving them a place on the graduate scheme or fast-tracking their application to the interview stage.

School leaver programmes might be easier to find and to understand than some of the less structured sponsored degrees, and might be better for those wanting to pursue professional qualifications (e.g. those required for accounting), while sponsored degrees might be a better option for those set on a bachelor’s degree specifically, as well as those who don’t like the idea of the week at university being broken up with days at the office – sponsored degrees will often keep study and work more separate than school leaver programmes, by having summer or year-long work placements rather than work and study timetabled in the same weeks.

Both sponsored degrees and school leaver programmes offer great prospects of a full-time job with the employer after the schemes are complete. 

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