School Leaver Programmes vs. University

  • Last updated 16 Aug 2016


In the red corner…

Weighing in at 9,000 pounds, we have the veteran, the fans’ favourite, the teenage dreamia from academia. Give it up for University.

In the blue corner…

Weighing in at zero pounds, we have the challenger, the new kid on the block. He floats like a company on the stock market and stings like a bee.

Raise the roof for School Leaver Programmes.

Let’s get ready to rumble!

In each round of this epic battle, School Leaver Programmes will go head-to-head with University as we assess both options for school leavers against various important criteria.

Hopefully, when the final bell rings, you will have a good idea about which is the best option for you. Ding ding…come out swinging!

Round One: The Money

Unless your parents are billionaires and you’ve got money to burn, you’re probably worried about how much university is going to cost. And rightly so!

With the recent increase in tuition fees, and the money you’ll spend on food, clothes, travel, books, stationary and partying thrown into the mix, it is predicted that students starting university in 2013 will, on average, be £53,400 in debt upon graduation.

That’s more than double the amount of debt that students who started in 2011 will have to deal with (£26,100).* Blimey!

If you do a school leaver programme, however, you will get a degree or professional qualification without having to pay any expensive tuition fees. Amazing!

Admittedly, not all companies will foot the bill for the entirety of your tuition fees, but you will at least get a sizeable chunk paid for as part of a scholarship.

Your student debt will therefore be either non-existent or very small in comparison to that of the average university graduate.

What’s more, the majority of companies that offer school leaver programmes pay their school leavers a pretty sweet salary. Some school leavers can earn over £22,000 a year!

At the end of Round One: As the contenders take a welcome break to drink some water and readjust their mouth guards, it looks like School Leaver Programmes have an early advantage.

Round Two: The Fun Factor

Going to university isn’t just about getting a degree; it’s also about enjoying the whole university experience.

University is about having fun, meeting new people, doing things you’ve never done before and taking advantage of your long university holidays to see the world and gain new experiences.

If you’re thinking about doing a school leaver programme, it’s probably worth considering that, as a university student, you will probably only have between 6 and 18 hours of lectures a week.

If you join a school leaver programme where you’ll be working full-time, you might have fun, but you will work at least 7 hours a day, if not more. You’ll have a lot less time to socialise and you won’t have the same lengthy holidays.

Even if you do a school leaver programme which involves going to university every day during term time, you will still be required to work at the firm during the holidays.

That means you can kiss goodbye to that InterRailing trip around Eastern Europe you had planned for the summer after your first year of university!

At the end of Round Two: This contest is really hotting up now! And it looks like University is starting to pull it back.

Round Three: The Career Ladder

If you go to university, you will have a great time, develop a lot of skills and learn about an interesting subject; however, you will also delay your entry into the world of work by three, or maybe even four, years.

If you join a school leaver programme, however, you will start your ascent of the career ladder much earlier.

You will develop skills and learn about your industry, but you will simultaneously gain incredibly valuable on-the-job experience and establish yourself within the organisation much earlier.

By the end of your school leaver programme, you will most likely have the same level of education as the graduate trainees who join the firm, but you will have an advantage over them in terms of experience.

This may be beneficial when it comes to progressing up the career ladder.

At the end of Round Three: There are a few broken teeth and bloody noses out there now as School Leaver Programmes begin to step it up a notch.

Round Four: The Options

You may have heard the phrase “the agony of choice” before, but most of the time it’s much better to have a range of options to choose from, especially when it comes to your education.

If you decide to apply to university, you will have the luxury of choosing from hundreds of universities and thousands of courses.

School leaver programmes, however, are fairly restrictive when it comes to choosing courses and universities. Indeed, most school leaver programmes only allow trainees a choice of two or three universities.

Furthermore, you will be required to study a vocational degree which is relevant to your school leaver programme.

If you fancy studying art history, for instance, you won’t get the chance to do so as part of a school leaver programme.

What’s more, since school leaver programmes are fairly new, these schemes are only available in a small number of sectors at the moment, such as accounting, finance, retail, engineering and construction.

The number of school leaver programmes in the UK is therefore quite low and, as a result, competition for places can be fierce.

At the end of Round Four: Where did this come from? University has got a second wind and has mounted an epic comeback.

Round Five: The Professional Qualifications

Although school leaver programmes may not give you the same level of choice when it comes to picking a course, the majority of them give young people the opportunity to obtain highly respected professional qualifications (sometimes in addition to university degrees).

For instance, accountancy firms like PwC help their school leavers to complete the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) qualification in double-quick time.

This allows faster career progression and really enhances the earning potential of school leavers.

At the end of Round Five: School Leaver Programmes are ducking and diving. They’ve raised their game and have really got University on the ropes now.

Round Six: The Commitment

If you plan to join a school leaver programme, it’s important to remember that you will be committing to your employer for quite a long time, sometimes even five or six years. That’s quite a big leap for someone who is fresh out of high school.

What’s more, once the company has invested their time and money in your education and development, you might feel a sense of obligation to stay in the industry and stick with the same employer.

This option may give you job security, but it may not give you the same amount of freedom.

If you go to university, however, you will have much more flexibility. You can change your mind, try things out and explore different options.

You can even change your degree partway through if you’re not enjoying it and fancy something else.

Once you graduate you have no ties; you can go travelling, you can do a bunch of internships with different companies, and you can really think about your options before committing to a particular career path or employer.

At the end of Round Six: It’s a dead heat. The judges are divided. There is nothing between these two valiant contenders. It’s really up to you to decide what is most important to you and your future!

Got a burning question about your career? Ask away on our AllAboutSchoolLeavers Facebook fanpage


Read more: 

Apprenticeship vs. University 

Alternatives to university

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