Apprenticeships VS University: Which is better?

It’s the biggest question you’ll ask yourself. No, not ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ 

And not ‘What should I have for dinner tonight?’

We’re talking about this one: ‘Should I do an apprenticeship or go to uni?

There are lots of factors to consider, including finance, duration and the level of qualification. Your decision might be swayed depending on what your friends are planning to do, but at the end of the day, your choice will influence your life and future. That’s why it’s important to take your time and think about what’s really right for you.  

We’re helping you answer this important question by weighing up the similarities and differences between apprenticeships and university – so read on for the ultimate guide to apprenticeships vs university.

Cost and earning potential

It’s no secret that university costs a whopping £9,250 per year, which can leave you in around £30k debt after the end of your course. But with the rising cost of living and inflation rates, your spending might not be limited to tuition fees. While there are grants and bursaries available from the government to ease the pressure, most university students make extra cash by working outside of their study hours. 

In contrast, the whole idea of an apprenticeship is to earn while you learn. You’ll be employed and paid a salary while you complete your studies, so you can line your pockets with a good wage and build up some savings. 

Imagine if you could earn up to £23k during your apprenticeship? Well, you can – with some sought after companies paying very lucrative apprentice wages. (Check out which companies are offering the highest paying apprenticeships in the UK).


It’s okay if you don’t want to spend 4 years studying, and it’s also okay if you do.

Apprenticeships can last between 1-5 years, which gives you the flexibility you need to achieve your goals in a timeline that suits you. University courses generally last 3 to 4 years, during which time your focus will be on your education, and you might need to wait until you’ve graduated before you shift your focus to workplace experience.  

On-the-job opportunities 

Apprenticeships offer a unique opportunity to work alongside successful people and experts in your chosen industry. As well as gaining an insight into their day-to-day activities and job expectations, you’ll see how the wider business and industry operates. Plus, on-the-job work helps you develop key transferable skills like dealing with responsibility, teamwork and working under pressure. 

Just because you go to university doesn’t mean you won’t have access to on-the-job opportunities, but this sometimes depends on the course. If you are studying in medical or science subject, you’ll undertake mandatory placements or research in the workplace. But this isn’t a necessity in creative subjects like English and art, so you’ll need to find your own placement opportunities. 


Whether you’ve just completed a university course or an apprenticeship, you’ll end up with an industry-recognised qualification. Remember that university isn’t the only way you can achieve a Bachelor’s or a Master’s – you could also earn this during a degree-level apprenticeship. 

There are multiple apprenticeship levels to suit your goals, industry and preference:

  • Level 2 (intermediate) – equivalent to 5 GCSEs (at grades 9 to 4)
  • Level 3 (advanced) – equivalent to 2 A-levels
  • Levels 4 and 5 (higher) – equivalent to a foundation degree
  • Levels 6 and 7 (degree) – you’ll get a full Bachelor’s and/or Master’s degree

Post-study employability 

Here’s the truth about university: you’re not guaranteed to get a job at the end. University students improve their employability by doing internships, placements and research with companies in their chosen industry, some of which might have links to the university. Employability is often down to the individual – you need to go out and send off plenty of applications to secure the right job. 

Apprentices get a leg up when it comes to finding a job. A huge 85% of apprentices stay in employment after completing their schemes and 64% continue working with the same employer. Some apprenticeship schemes will even make it clear during the application process that there is a chance of full-time employment at the end, which gives you extra motivation to work hard. 

Although we spend most of our school lives being taught that good grades are everything, this isn’t always the reality in the workplace. Yes, some employers are most interested in your academic achievements, but experience in the real world of work is what will set you apart from the competition when you’re applying for jobs. 

Think about it: by the time you apply for a job after your apprenticeship has finished, you’ll already have a few years of successful employment under your belt, which will be highly regarded on your CV. It’s proof that you can hold down a job and that you have the relevant skills in your industry. 

It’s Your Choice – and Your Future

No matter which path you choose, you’ll be taking a step in the right direction toward your dream job. Apprenticeships give you the added bonus of building a financial future for yourself too, as you can start earning a salary early on in your career. Plus, you will gain invaluable experience in the real world of work, which is great for your CV and for building knowledge and practical skills.