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Some choices are tough to make – especially when they involve potentially life-changing ones such as deciding what to do after completing your A-levels (or equivalent). It’s normal and it’s something we all go through.
University tuition fees have been rising every year. Which means unless you get a scholarship or have someone to co-fund it, going to university is likely to leave you with student debt. Research has shown that on average, a UK university student accumulates about £45,000 in debt by the time they graduate. That’s quite a staggering figure if you ask us.
So, is there another way to get the best of both worlds? Yes, there is. And it’s called Degree Apprenticeships. In this comprehensive guide, we cover pretty much everything you’ll need when it comes to the world of degree apprenticeships – including some tips from leading employers who offer them.
So let’s dive in!
A degree apprenticeship combines the best of both worlds – full-time, paid work with part-time university study.
Pretty much what it says on the tin. Degree apprenticeships are created through partnerships between universities and employers who want to offer students and school leavers the opportunity to gain a Bachelor or Masters degree while getting on the job training. They’re currently available in a few sectors, mainly those where the government has decided there is a demand for more skilled workers to meet industry needs. So degree apprenticeship candidates are highly sought after.
Degree apprenticeships still sit within the broader apprenticeships family, but there are a few core differences that are worth knowing about. Below, we’ve broken down what each of these apprenticeships offers you.
You might hear these referred to as ‘entry level’ or sometimes ‘level 2’ apprenticeships. These form the first rung on the apprenticeship ladder and are currently the most popular, with around 260,000 young people starting an intermediate apprenticeship in 2016/17. At this level, you’ll work full-time with an employer and learn on the job, with some time spent in the classroom.
At the end of an intermediate apprenticeship, you’ll secure a vocational qualification, usually a Level 2 NVQ, which is equivalent to five GCSEs grades A*-C, alongside Functional Skills (English and Maths). You might also work towards a BTEC, GCSE, or City & Guilds qualification.
Also referred to as a ‘level 3’ apprenticeship, advanced apprenticeships are the next step. As with all apprenticeships, your time will mainly be spent in the workplace, learning the practical skills to be a success in the industry, while studying part-time.
You’ll work towards achieving a Level 3 NVQ qualification, or equivalent, and you’ll often also gain a knowledge-based certificate such as a BTEC and Functional Skills.
So what’s next once you’ve completed your advanced apprenticeship?
You guessed it! The next step up is a higher apprenticeship. It’s the same deal (you’ll be working full time while you complete your qualification), but there are some key things to remember. For starters, there are fewer higher apprenticeships out there, and you usually have to be 18 to get onto one, having completed an advanced apprenticeship or attained a minimum of two A-levels previously.
They also have higher entry requirements than intermediate and advanced because you’ll be studying at a higher level. Higher apprentices typically gain a Level 4 NVQ (or above) but can also work towards a foundation degree or higher national diploma.
Last but by no means least, we have degree apprenticeships. These are still relatively new, and currently only available in a few industries.
During a degree apprenticeship, you’ll work towards achieving a Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree (Level 6 and 7 qualifications respectively). These pathways are a bit more varied than other apprenticeships, as you’ll be meeting employer requirements and achieving a higher level of study.
So you might either work day-to-day with your employer and have set days for study, or complete work and study in blocks through the week. Aside from the level of qualification, the biggest difference with these apprenticeships is the time commitment – typically it will take between 4 and 6 years to complete a degree apprenticeship.
Degree Apprenticeships offer the perfect solution for everyone who wants to earn a full degree while learning and gaining experience in their chosen industry. But you will need to prove that you’re capable of studying at this level.
As you can imagine, due to the higher education qualification, the entry requirements for a degree apprenticeship are slightly more demanding, and the specifics will depend on the degree subject. It’s also worth noting that some employers may have certain prerequisites too.
For instance, let’s take a look at the Airbus Engineering Degree Apprenticeship.
Airbus Aerospace Engineering Degree Apprenticeship Requirements:
Some degree apprenticeships are also directly linked to intermediate and higher apprenticeship programs, so if you’ve started off on the apprenticeship pathway, it’s likely you’ll be able to enter a degree apprenticeship by meeting the requirements that way too.
One of the criticisms that new graduates often encounter is that they lack the work based skills needed to be successful because they’re spent their entire degree focusing only on their studies.
What’s the way around it? Well, we can’t think of a better solution that a programme like degree apprenticeships that offer students the chance to gain important insights into the workplace, while studying, earning a decent wage and developing all the core skills they’ll need to be successful later on in life.
But don’t just take our word for it. Keep reading, and we’re sure you’ll find why degree apprenticeships are fantastic alternatives to going to university.
How about a few quick stats to get the ball rolling? According to our friends at Gov.uk, after completing their apprenticeship:
A degree apprenticeship is the ultimate opportunity to gain a degree while also earning a decent wage in a role that aligns with your studies. This is guaranteed for the duration of your apprenticeship (anywhere between 3 and 6 years). Let’s be honest - not many young people can claim that kind of security.
It’s one thing to sit in a classroom learning theory, and another entirely to take that theory and see how it can be used to solve actual problems in your industry. A degree apprenticeship offers you that and more.
Imagine getting a fully-funded degree! That’s exactly what degree apprenticeships offer you, since the tuition fee and training costs are often covered by the government and your new employer. It’s a huge investment in you as a budding professional, and a benefit not to be taken for granted. Just ask anyone who’s still paying off their student loan ten years down the track
For many people completing a degree, what happens next can be a huge mystery. This is not the case for those on degree apprenticeships, as many employers will see supporting you at this stage as an investment in having you on board as a permanent employee once you’ve finished your studies and completed the apprenticeship programme.
You’ll get the best of both worlds, with mentors in place from your industry to support you on the job, alongside mentors at your university to support you with your studies. These people can be your Gurus for networking, advice and guidance, which professional memberships to join, career pitfalls to avoid, and next steps if you want to continue studying.
As we mentioned, many employers don’t feel that graduates are able to meet the demands of the modern workforce. But not you, because equipped with a degree apprenticeship, you’ll have the skills, experience, knowledge, and confidence to prove them wrong.
Through degree apprenticeships, candidates can gain full accredited degrees without the debt. The development opportunities are great and as an organisation we are generally seeing that the degree apprenticeship routes are the most popular.
All sounding a bit too good to be true? We get that. And while we wouldn’t call them cons exactly, there are a few other things that you’ll need to think about before committing to this pathway.
When they were launched in 2015, the government worked with a board of leading business and education providers to decide what subjects and industries should be a focus. They announced degree apprenticeships in nine core areas:
Well, yes, and no. Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers are a massive priority for the government. As a nation, we need more technically skilled young people to keep up with the technological demands of the new world – and that’s why degree apprenticeships were launched.
However these apprenticeships have also widened out a bit since 2015. Today degree apprenticeships include opportunities across more industry sectors including Business and administration, Education, Digital, Creative and Design, Health and science, Finance, Accounting and Legal, Law Enforcement – and the list continues to grow!
Unfortunately, at this stage, you can’t really choose which university you study at. It’s more a case of seeing what opportunities are available and being open to where this might take you.
More universities are quickly seeing the benefits of offering degree apprenticeships and signing up to offer them. There are some top players already on board including:
Good question – and the answer’s even better. It costs you nothing. If this is your first degree, your course fees are covered by your employer and the university under an agreement with the government to provide these opportunities.
You’re also paid a competitive salary during your apprenticeship. If you’re curious about the range, here’s a quick snapshot at the range you could be earning:
All of the education is paid for and you’ll receive a salary even when studying. You’ll get a recognised degree from a top ranking university like The University of Warwick.
The great news is that you have multiple options available to help you discover the right degree apprenticeship opportunities. They include:
Springpod: Our network is designed to bring you the best and best that’s out there to help you discover your future- and that includes a range of degree apprenticeships. So if you haven’t joined Springpod yet, now is a good time to do so.
Direct Employers or University: If you’ve got a few companies in mind that you’d love to work for, or know which universities you’re interested in, then checking out their websites will tell you everything you need to know. If you don’t know where to start, Springpod has once again got you covered – we’ve partnered with some awesome companies that offer these apprenticeships including Jaguar Land Rover, Kier, and Google! (#SorryNotSorry for the shameless plug).
National Apprenticeship Service: It’s a great resource for all things apprenticeships, with anywhere between 12, 000 and 20, 000 apprenticeship vacancies advertised on the site at any one time.
Your School Careers Department: Your friendly careers leader can be a great resource to help you when researching, planning and applying for any degree apprenticeship opportunities.
The structure of a degree apprenticeship can vary. It will definitely be a mix of work and study but how that’s achieved will depend on:
Degree Apprenticeships offer a sustained opportunity to work & study because they don’t only include short term learning, condensed in a few modules, but rather a full degree that is spread out over a significant period. This takes away some of the concern that apprenticeships are not as meaningful as the university option because you don’t earn externally-recognised certifications.
Applying for a degree apprenticeship is no different to how you might apply for any other apprenticeship, internship, work placement or job. It’s about highlighting your passions, skills, experience, and qualifications that would make you the best candidate for the opportunity. A typical application will ask you to submit:
Most employers that we partner with at Springpod such Kier Group, Atkins and Capgemini, offer early careers sections that give you additional details about the application. Or you could login to your Springpod account, search for the employer and find out from their profile.
While the steps may vary slightly from employer to employer, if your application is successful, the next steps might be:
This might not be the case for all degree apprenticeships, but it’s worth being prepared for what each of these scenarios might involve. When you’re invited for an interview or assessment, you’ll usually receive full instructions on what you need to do and bring. Make sure you read these instructions carefully and reach out to the Recruitment Team if you have any questions at all.
Once you’ve decided that this is right for you, the next step is to check when applications open. Typically employers will only have one intake a year for these roles, so if there’s someone you really want to work for, check their deadlines and set a reminder.
You won’t be able to actually start your apprenticeship until you have all your academic results in, but you can still get an application in with your predicted grades so you don’t miss out.
If you’re just not sure and want to wait and see how your results turn out, then it’s totally fine to take a break or gap year and focus on some other things. These breaks can often help you when you need to make a big decision, as it gives you some life experience and perspective. Or you could even look into doing a gap year internship.
As it’s still a new area, and opportunities are still being developed, the competition for a degree apprenticeship can be tough. If you know this is a path you want to pursue, give yourself the best foundation to start from by
Absolutely! Don’t let not making it through the first time set you back. Ask for any feedback on your application or interview and learn from it. Get support on brushing up your CV if needed and ask a friend or trusted adult to help you with some mock interviews.
In a sense, you’ll be considered as both. As your time will be split between working and studying you’ll get to experience what it’s like on both sides of that coin. As an enrolled student, you’ll still be eligible for student discounts, including the NUS Apprenticeship card which entitles you to discounts at over 150 high street and online partners. Better yet you might even get some extra benefits through your company.
Greg - Degree Apprentice
Preparing for your degree apprenticeship might seem daunting, but don’t panic! You’ll be given plenty of support, plus mentors in both your workplace and at your university.
Shannon - Degree Apprentice
Jaguar Land Rover
Some extra pointers to help you get ready:
Sam - Degree Apprentice
Jaguar Land Rover
One thing we’ve learned from chatting with apprentices at some of our employer partners is that there is definitely no such thing as a ‘typical’ day! From what they tell us, each day is an opportunity to get stuck into something new with their programs offering them structured access to try out being a part of the different teams across the business. One thing is for sure, they definitely aren’t being left to make cups of tea.
Sam - Degree Apprentice
Jaguar Land Rover
A degree apprenticeship is an excellent grounding to your career with a recognised employer. You’ll gain a wide range of experiences, and will be given the chance to learn and grow through a range of projects, with increasing levels of responsibility over the course of the apprenticeship.
Different degree apprenticeships will split the work-study blocks differently, with a focus on having you in the workplace to put what you learn in the classroom into practice. This will also change throughout your apprenticeship, for example:
You’ll have dedicated time set aside for when you need to be in the classroom or tutorials to commit to your studies, but it’s up to you to make sure you know what assignments you have due and when. Make sure you utilise all the amazing support available to you so you don’t fall short when it comes to your studies. Everyone is there to see you succeed so be afraid to speak up if you feel like you’re struggling.
Tom - Degree Apprentice
Changing your mind is totally fine – it happens! And your employer and university will want to work this out with you. The great thing about the degree apprenticeship is that you’ll get a chance to experience a variety of different departments and roles before you settle into one that you feel works best for you.
Changing your degree program might not be so easy, as we mentioned, only specific subjects are eligible under the degree apprenticeship framework. If you’re struggling or unsure, make sure you speak to a course advisor and get the right advice and support you need to make a decision that’s best for you.
There’s a bit of a misconception that by becoming a degree apprentice, you’ll miss out on the full social life experience that studying at university might offer you – but it’s not the case!
One thing you’ll get as a degree apprentice in the workplace is the connection with a variety of new people and some great culture and events that you wouldn’t get to experience otherwise. More than just socialising, a lot of workplaces put a focus on giving back to their local communities, and provide you with the opportunity to get involved in some really feel-good events.
Still not convinced? Take a look at what these apprentices have to say.
Sharon - Degree Apprentice
Jaguar Land Rover
Greg - Degree Apprentice
Megan - Degree Apprentice
Depending on where you study, who you do your apprenticeship with, and your personal circumstances, you might be entitled to other support, including financial support, towards your apprenticeship. This support can help you with things like relocation, accommodation and travel costs.
Most employers also offer support networks and mentors to help you make the most of your degree apprenticeship experience. Take a look at what some of our employer parters have to say:
All apprentices get a thorough induction into both Jaguar Land Rover as well as the education / college provider. We also provide apprentices with location guides, information about the local areas, department descriptions thereby giving them an overview of the area which they are going into as well as pre-starter packs to give an overview of the support available
over the apprenticeship.
Apprentices are assigned a line manager and a buddy when they join. A full two day training event takes place within their first month with Atkins. This is set up via the learning and development team and helps them to understand more about who we are, what the apprenticeship with involve as well as networking and listening to senior members of the organisation.
Apprentices get connected before they start onsite so that they get to know each other. We understand that they will form the first support network so we plan informal, out-of-the-office events to help them bond. Throughout the year, they join informal events with their team and the rest of the apprentices, including access to any company-wide event so they feel part of the company.
While there can never be a 110% guarantee of securing a job with your employer at the end of your apprenticeship, it certainly makes sense for them to want you to stay on. After putting so much effort into supporting you, mentoring you, and coaching you to be a strong part of the team – why would they let you go at the end of it?
Shajida - Software Engineer
Apprentices gain a wide range of experiences throughout their apprenticeship so they can use this experience to grow in many different areas of the company. Providing that apprentices pass their End Point Assessment, they will be offered a full time position at Jaguar Land Rover.
If you’ve worked hard and proven that this is the right path for you there’s a good chance there’s a job waiting for you at the end of your apprenticeship.
And while a job at the end of it is of course a great achievement, there is so much more a degree apprenticeship will offer you in terms of experience, upskilling yourself, making new friends and not to forget, the fully funded degree at the end of it too.