During a parents’ evening when I was 15, my future had been decided for me. I was told to go to University and study Mathematics before making a career as an accountant. Fast forward a few years, whilst working alongside my degree, I found out I could’ve done an apprenticeship. Not only would this have been a more direct route, but I would have also earnt money alongside learning. Nowadays, these options are a lot more widely discussed, as I found out at the School Summit this year. Thankfully, this wasn’t the path for me anyway, but I wonder if this would have been a more viable option. So, with as little bias as possible, which is better: University or Apprenticeships?
The biggest positive from my time at University was the learning I did outside of lectures. Moving out of Bristol and living with several people really opened my eyes to new experiences. Diversifying my friendship group also provided different viewpoints which helped shape who I am today. From a career standpoint, choosing Mathematics has allowed me to be flexible whilst searching for jobs. Despite the emergence of these new pathways, many employers still look for degrees during the hiring process. Since my interest in accountancy has dropped, I have been able to navigate towards tutoring without having to retrain.
However, whilst my degree allowed room to manoeuvre, it also meant that I didn’t have a specialism. Mathematics covers such a wide range that I could often get an interview but rarely secure the job. Many applicants would also have higher education qualifications, so I would lose out to those with experience in the field. There are opportunities to network, find internships etc. during term time, but that requires a certain proactiveness I at least wasn’t equipped with. Alternatively, specific niche degrees narrow down potential paid employment unless you can become an expert. Essentially, a degree will not guarantee your dream job straight away.
On the other hand, job security is an apprenticeships’ biggest selling point. If you have found something that you’re passionate about, there is a clear journey you can follow to achieve that goal. Split between standard work commitments and lectures, you’ll receive both the necessary qualifications and practical experience not provided at University. You will also be paid for this time, rather than having to pay back extortionate loans (at an incremental rate depending upon your income).
Yet, the salary earned as an apprentice does not equate to a liveable standard. At £5.28 an hour minimum regardless of age, this route is most suited to under 18s still living at home. Depending on the company, it can also prove difficult to break this barrier of low income. Whilst £5.28 to £10.42 an hour (National Living wage) is a significant increase, this would happen across six years doing the same work as higher paid colleagues. Not only would a degree supersede these steps, but they also have the benefits mentioned in the first paragraph.
Altogether, there are clear advantages and disadvantages to both University and Apprenticeships. I view the soft skills I learnt at University as invaluable, and the various options my degree presents suits me. Those more assured of their passion from an early age, specifically geared towards a STEM career, will find apprenticeships perfect. What’s most important is that it’s your choice, no one else’s, and there’s truly no wrong decision.