A handy careers guide to

Higher Apprenticeships

Everything you need to know about higher apprenticeships

Featuring exclusive apprenticeship tips from

Everyone's always talking about higher apprenticeships -
but there's just so much information out there.

We hear you! There’s certainly quite a lot of information out there when it comes to apprenticeships in general. But here’s the thing – everyone’s talking about this because they do offer an exciting new career pathway. They also offer a great way to learn – especially for the ones who prefer more hands-on learning as opposed to a classroom environment. 

So here’s what we say. We’ve scoured the internet and picked the brilliant minds of some of the leading employers who offer apprenticeships, and put together this handy guide to higher apprenticeships. From what they are to why you should do them – this guide’s got you covered.

Ready? Of course you are!

Join Springpod to find higher apprenticeship opportunities.

Section 1

Higher Apprenticeships: The Basics

What is a higher apprenticeship?

A higher apprenticeship is an opportunity to gain a Level 4 (or above) qualification while you work and study at the same time, with an employer in your chosen industry.

They’re the next step up from an advanced apprenticeship, with most higher apprentices achieving an NVQ Level 4, a Higher National Diploma, or a Foundation Degree. That being said, they also give you the opportunity to study all the way up to postgraduate qualifications (level 7).

What are the different levels of higher apprenticeships available?

If we were to use a superhero analogy, you could possibly refer to them as The Avengers of the apprenticeships world.  The entire universe is made of different levels – sort of like individual superheroes with their own special qualifications. 

At this level, you’ll study a level 4 qualification such as a Higher National Diploma, Higher Education Certificate, NVQ Level 4, a BTEC of a foundation year of a degree program.

Next up at level 5, you could study anything from a Higher Education Diploma, Higher National Diploma, NVQ or BTEC at Level 5, to a foundation year or second year of a degree.

At level 6 you’ll complete a qualification equivalent to a full degree, a graduate certificate, or NVQ or BTEC at Level 6

The highest level you can do: a postgraduate qualification! This could be a Meng, a Masters, postgraduate certificate or an NVQ at Level 7.

Will there be employer-specific qualifications?

This completely depends on the employer. When you undertake an apprenticeship, you are essentially an employee of that organisation. Your employer may have professional development or other specialist courses they support all staff to complete in order to be better skilled and competent in their roles.

If you don’t have a recent English and Maths qualification, you might also be expected to complete a Functional Skills certificate (at level 2 or 3) as well.


A tip from Jaguar Land Rover

In our experience, some higher apprenticeships offer the potential and support to achieve professional registration to Engineering Technician, Incorporate Engineer and Chartered Engineer with internationally recognised Professional Engineering Institutions such as the IMechE or IET.

What higher level apprenticeship is right for you?

This will depend on your current academic background and qualifications, as well as the entry requirements for the course you study as part of your apprenticeship.

Entry requirements for higher apprenticeships can be stricter and they might include 5 GCSEs at grade A-C, as well as A-Levels, NVQS or a BTEC at Level 3 if you’re applying for a level 4 apprenticeship. The higher the level of qualification involved, the more entry requirements there will be.

For your application to be successful, you might also need to demonstrate that you’ve gained qualifications in subjects that are relevant to the industry you want to work in. For example, Double Science and ICT GCSEs for STEM-based roles.

What are the benefits of a higher apprenticeship?

One of the biggest drawcards for a higher apprenticeship is the ability they offer you to really work your way up and progress with your studies while working and earning. Apart from a degree apprenticeship, no other apprenticeship offers you the opportunity to gain a postgraduate qualification. If you know the industry you want to be in, a higher apprenticeship is a great way to help you get the qualifications and experience you’ll need to be a success. 

Other benefits include:

Earning while you learn

Uncover Different Career Pathways​

Building a professional network

studies to real world

Access to the best mentoring, both in work and study

Applying your knowledge to real-world problems

Say goodbye to student loan debt

Strong progression opportunities

What’s the difference between a higher apprenticeship and other apprenticeships?

There are a few core differences between the different levels of apprenticeships, mainly relating to the level of course you study and the mix of how you’ll blend work and study:

Often referred to as ‘entry level’ or sometimes ‘level 2’ apprenticeships. These are the first step on the apprenticeship ladder and the most popular apprenticeship. At the end of an intermediate apprenticeship, you’ll secure a vocational qualification, usually a Level 2 NVQ. You might also work towards a BTEC, GCSE, or City & Guilds qualification.

Also referred to as a ‘level 3’ apprenticeship, with an advanced apprenticeship 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.

Probably the most compared with higher apprenticeships, during a degree apprenticeship, you’ll work towards achieving a Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree (Level 6 and 7 qualifications respectively). 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.

Who are higher apprenticeships for?

Anyone! If you’re aged 18 or above and you’ve got the right entry qualifications, a passion for your chosen industry, and the enthusiasm to take on the challenge of combining work and study, a higher apprenticeship could be just the right pathway for you.

How long is a higher apprenticeship?

A higher apprenticeship can last anywhere between one and five years, depending on the qualification you work towards and your individual employer’s programme.

What is the structure of a higher apprenticeship?

This can depend on the level of apprenticeship you undertake, your qualification and your employer’s specifications. You’ll typically spend at least 20% of your time studying, with the majority of your week spent on the job.

Some higher apprentices do full-time study for the first 6-12months before going into the workplace, with the further study being completed once a week at college or in intermittent blocks. You might also do some of your training via online study. It’s a pretty varied pathway!

Atkins Apprenticeship Tips

A tip from Atkins

Every Atkins apprentice is 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, what the apprenticeship with involve as well as networking and listening to senior members of the organisation.

Join Springpod to find higher apprenticeship opportunities.


Higher Apprenticeships: The Application Process

Are higher apprenticeships valued by employers?

Absolutely! Higher apprenticeships are a great way for employers to invest in you as an early professional, and ‘sculpt’ you as an employee and ambassador for their company! Many employers see apprentices as a vital addition to their teams.

What are the entry requirements for a higher apprenticeship?

It’s important to note that every apprenticeship opportunity will list specific entry requirements and qualifications that a particular employer is looking for. However, as a general rule you will require the following:


Entry requirements for higher apprenticeships can be stricter because of the higher levels of study. This might include 5 GCSEs at grade A-C, as well as A-Levels, NVQS or a BTEC at Level 3 (for a level 4 apprenticeship). If you’re aiming for a higher level, say a level 7 postgraduate higher apprenticeship, then you’ll need to demonstrate you have qualifications and capacity to study up to a level 6 (so you’ll need a degree already).

Employer/Industry Specific

It’s likely your employer will want to see that you’ve already dedicated some of your previous study to subjects that are relevant to their area. As this is a higher apprenticeship, they’ll probably want to see some work experience – whether paid or unpaid – that demonstrates your commitment and a basic understanding of their industry.

Do you need to complete an advanced apprenticeship before applying for a higher apprenticeship?

If you don’t meet the entry requirements, then an advanced apprenticeship could be the best starting point for you to get the qualifications and practical experience you need to impress for a higher apprenticeship application. Some higher apprenticeships can only be applied to once you’ve gained an advanced apprenticeship.

Many advanced apprenticeships connect quite nicely to higher apprenticeships in the same organisations. It really just depends on what the employer offers.

What subjects can you study as part of a higher apprenticeship?

Higher apprenticeships are rapidly growing in popularity because of the flexibility they give people to achieve qualifications at different levels while working, Right now, there are more than 130 different areas you can study in, including:

  • Accounting and Financial Services
  • Project Management
  • Bioinformatics
  • Data Analyst
  • HR Consultancy
  • Management Consultancy
  • Marketing
  • Animal Training Services
  • First Officer Pilot
  • Retail Management
  • Engineering
  • Software Development
  • Teaching

What skills will you develop during a higher apprenticeship?

Similar to all apprenticeships, you will gain a whole new world of technical skills and knowledge.  The biggest differentiator is that due to the nature of these higher apprenticeships, you could be using these skills to develop products that aren’t even on the market yet. In a way, you’ll be developing skills that define the #FutureOfWork!

Aside from that, expect to develop and fine tune the following skills:

  • Teamwork and Collaboration
  • Time Management
  • Decision Making & Analytical Thinking
  • Communication & Interpersonal Skills
  • Creative Thinking and Problem Solving

Where will you study as a higher apprentice?

Where you study will depend on your course level, and your local providers (unless you decide to travel further afield for your apprenticeship). You might complete your course across a mix of providers and this could include:

  • Further Education or Vocational Education Colleges
  • Registered Training Organisations
  • University
  • Online Study – might be provided alongside classroom-based study

What does the application process involve?

Like with all apprenticeships, individual application processes will come down to the training provider and the employer, but it’s always good to be prepared with what’s generally expected which will probably include:

  • An up-to-date professional CV (No more than 2 sides of A4!).
  • A one-page cover letter outlining why you’re the ideal candidate.
  • Relevant academic transcripts or qualification certificates.
  • Additional 1-2 pages addressing any relevant selection criteria.
  • At least two references.
Google Apprenticeships Tips

A tip from Google

In an apprenticeship application, we look for passion for the area they are applying for and some practical experience in the area. 

We also look for a true understanding of the opportunity as doing an apprenticeship is not the easiest option and the person has to do their research and make sure it’s what suits their learning style best. 

What to expect at the apprenticeship interview

There possibly isn’t a person alive who doesn’t get nervous at the thought of an interview! And that’s totally fine. Remember – you might be asked to interview with both the employer and teaching staff from where you’ll study.

Here’s what to expect:

  • A panel interview with 2-3 (sometimes more) key members of the team.
  • A mixture of questions aimed at getting to know you and your experience.
  • Behavioural questions – These are the ones that typically start ‘Tell me about a time when …’.
  • Sometimes you might be asked to complete a psychometric test or small task to showcase your abilities.
  • You might also be asked to do a basic Maths or English task.

When it comes to nailing your interview, preparation is absolutely essential! The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll feel in being able to create a great first impression.

Here are our top tips for preparing for your apprenticeship interview:

  • Research the company AND the course you’ll study.
  •  Plan your journey and your outfit.
  • Create a list of your key skills and personal qualities.
  • Get a mock interview person.

How much does a higher apprenticeship cost?

And the right answer is: Zero.

There is no cost to you as the apprentice to do a higher apprenticeship. Your course fees are covered by your employer and usually your training provider, as part of an agreement with the government to provide these opportunities.

Where can you find higher apprenticeship opportunities?

There are numerous options available to help you uncover what apprenticeships are available. They include:

Direct Employers or Training Providers

If you’ve got a few companies in mind that you’d love to work for, checking out their websites directly will tell you everything you need to know. Different training providers will also advertise these opportunities, so check with your local college, training company or university. If you don’t know where to start, we have you covered – we’ve partnered with some awesome organisations who offer these apprenticeships (including Jaguar Land RoverCapgeminiAtkinsGoogle and many others!)

National Apprenticeship Service

This is 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. And now they’re all available on Springpod too.


Our network is designed to bring you the best of the best that’s out there for your future career pathway (including higher apprenticeships). On Springpod, you’ll also have the opportunity to interact and ask questions to real ambassadors who have ventured down the apprenticeship pathway. Become a Springpod member for free.

Your School Careers Centre

Your careers leader can be a great resource to help you when researching, planning and applying for any apprenticeship opportunities. Book some time with them during form time or a careers lesson to get more information. 

When is the best time to apply for a higher apprenticeship?

Employers and universities or colleges generally only have one intake a year, so if there’s someone you really want to work for, check their website and set a reminder.

We’ve seen apprenticeship applications typically following this timeline:

  • Applications open near the start of the year (Feb-March) and close a couple of months later.
  • Selection processes and interviews tend to happen over the summer (July-August)
  • Offers are made ready for apprentices to enrol with the new academic year (September). However, some providers offering rolling intakes – meaning they’ll enrol apprentices at any point of the year if there’s an employer who can accommodate them.

Is there a lot of competition for higher apprenticeships?

As we’ve touched on briefly, opportunities at this level are still relatively small in comparison with intermediate or advanced apprenticeships, so there is more competition for these roles.

Employers can also recruit existing staff seeking to up skill themselves into these opportunities, so if you apply, you could be up against someone else who is already working in the organisation. However there are always new opportunities coming up – so keep trying.

How do you create a stand-out higher apprenticeship application?

Don’t let the competition for these roles dishearten you. There are still a lot of opportunities to create a kick-ass application! Even if you don’t get the first apprenticeship you apply for, that doesn’t mean you should stop applying.

Three tips to make your higher apprenticeship application stand out

Show Your Enthusiasm

Think about how you feel when you meet someone who likes the same stuff as you: it’s exciting! When we talk to people who understand our passions and interests we remember them, and the same applies when you apply for an apprenticeship! Demonstrate how much you know about your chosen sector, industry and employer and wow them with your knowledge!

Notch Up Some Work Experience

We’re gonna keep banging this drum at you: Work experience is invaluable! Not only to demonstrate the aforementioned enthusiasm and passion but to show an employer you’re committed to and understand what working in their sector might look like.

Demonstrate Your Skills

Employers and course providers will want to see that you understand what a higher apprenticeship will demand from you. Think about how you can showcase things like time management, handling priorities and deadlines, teamwork, organisation and communication skills. You can pull examples from your studies, part-time work, volunteering, work experience, and sports or hobbies!

Google Apprenticeships Tips

A tip from Google

An apprenticeship is the longest opportunity we offer at this time apart from full-time roles that gives people insights into the work and culture at Google. As such, depending on how open to learning one is, there are endless opportunities to connect with people, learn from experts and make the most of the skills development opportunities.

Final thoughts on higher apprenticeships

A higher apprenticeship might be the first step on your apprenticeship journey, or it might be your stepping stone to great heights! Depending on what level you study as part of your higher apprenticeship, there’s the opportunity to keep learning, growing and being the best version of you with the next level of higher apprenticeship, or even a degree apprenticeship! 

And if you’re keen to find out what life is like as an apprentice, take a look at some of our careers broadcasts. Or take a peek at our Degree Apprenticeship guide to read what apprentices with employers like Jaguar Land Rover, Accenture and Google have to say.

The world is your oyster! Let’s go create your future.

Join Springpod to find higher apprenticeship opportunities.