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8 Alternatives to University

By Team Multiverse

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  1. 1. Traineeship
  2. 2. Advanced apprenticeship (Level 3)
  3. 3. Higher apprenticeship (Levels 4-7)
  4. 4. Degree apprenticeship (sponsored degree)
  5. 5. Further Education (FE) courses
  6. 6. Gap year
  7. 7. Self-employment or starting a business
  8. 8. School leaver programmes
  9. Should you go to university? Tips to help you decide
  10. The bottom line on alternatives to university

With tuition fees costing up to £9,250 per year, the demand for alternatives to university is rising. Fees aside, more young people want to start their careers sooner rather than later and increase job security.

These eight university alternatives can help you start a meaningful career and earn a competitive salary.

1. Traineeship

A traineeship prepares young people to join the workforce by combining traditional learning with work placements. Traineeships are ideal if you're a school leaver with little work experience and you’re comfortable working without a salary.

Like an apprenticeship, these programmes include work experience. Unlike apprenticeships, an employer doesn't have to pay you for your work placement. They'll usually reimburse you for expenses (like travel and food) for your traineeship, but being paid isn’t a guarantee.

You'll gain the equivalent of five GCSE passes (including English and Maths) by completing your traineeship.

  • Cost: Free, but employers aren’t required to pay you (some do).
  • Time commitment: Six weeks to a year, but you can complete most within six months.
  • Eligibility requirements: You must be eligible to work in the UK and aged 16 to 24 or aged 25 with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan.
  • Best for: Those who have little or no work experience without five GCSE passes. A bonus here is you’ll gain GCSEs in English and Maths as part of this qualification.

A traineeship isn’t a direct alternative to university. However, it can prepare you for your next career steps and lead to a paid apprenticeship. For example, an unpaid trainee may go onto paid Level 2 or 3 apprenticeships.

2. Advanced apprenticeship (Level 3)

Apprenticeships prepare you for a career by providing on the job training and paying you a salary while you learn. As an apprentice, you spend 80% of your time doing on the job training as part of your work day. For the remaining 20%, you have personalised coaching sessions with industry experts to develop skills for your role.

Generally, completing an apprenticeship takes less time than university. There are different apprenticeship levels that influence the qualifications you earn and the roles you can pursue.

An Advanced apprenticeship can help you kickstart a meaningful career. After you complete your programme, you can progress to higher apprenticeship levels and earn qualifications that are comparable to university.

  • Cost: Free and you earn a salary (£18,000 to £25,000 per year for Multiverse apprenticeships)
  • Time commitment: 12-18 months
  • Eligibility requirements: You must be 18 or over, not in full-time education, currently living in and have the right to work in England. It also requires at least a grade of 4/C GCSE (or equivalent) in Maths and English.
  • Best for: Those who want to start their career right away, gain work experience and earn a salary while learning.

If you're committed to becoming a master in your industry, you might be eligible to start your apprenticeship journey at Level 4. To discover the right path, create a Multiverse profile of your skills(opens new window). Our team can then double-check your eligibility and discuss apprenticeship options. 

3. Higher apprenticeship (Levels 4-7)

Higher apprenticeships include Levels 4 to 7. They’re a viable alternative to university because you can achieve anything from a Foundation degree to a Master's degree. Higher apprenticeships are also typically much quicker (and more affordable) than the full-time university route.

For example, with Multiverse, you can complete a Level 4 Business Transformation Fellowship programme in 13 months. You'll achieve the equivalent of the first year of an Undergraduate degree. But unlike the university route, you won't have to pay any tuition to complete your apprenticeship.

  • Cost: Free and you earn a salary
  • Time commitment: 13 months to 3.5 years
  • Eligibility requirements: Must be 18 or over, not in full-time education, currently living in and have the right to work in England. You also need a grade of 4/C GCSE (or equivalent) in Maths and English.
  • Best for: Those who are starting their career and want financial stability while earning a degree. It’s also suitable for those who are eight to 15 years into their careers and want to upskill or switch careers.

With a Higher apprenticeship, you could complete multiple levels within a single qualification. For example, Multiverse’s Technology Consulting apprenticeship progresses from Level 4 to 6. You'll achieve a BSc Hons Digital and Technology Solutions Degree.

4. Degree apprenticeship (sponsored degree)

Degree apprenticeships are one of the best alternatives to university. They provide hands-on learning and you earn the equivalent of a Bachelor’s (Level 6) or Master’s degree (Level 7). Unlike university, you don’t pay a tuition fee either to earn the degree. Instead, you earn a salary from day one.

In other words, you get all the benefits of a university education, without the high tuition costs or time out of the workforce.

  • Cost: Free with a higher salary than other apprenticeships.
  • Time commitment: Two to three years (most full-time university degrees take three or four years.
  • Eligibility requirements: 18 or over, not in full-time education, currently living in and have the right to work in England. At least a grade of 4/C GCSE (or equivalent) in Maths and English.
  • Best for: Those who want a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree education without student debt.

5. Further Education (FE) courses

If you live in England, you must stay in education until age 18(opens new window). Further Education courses are free for those aged under 19. FE courses are helpful for 18-year-olds who feel like something other than the traditional A Level route is right for them.

Further Education courses can also prepare you for an apprenticeship.

  • Cost: Free for students between 16 and 19
  • Time commitment: One to four years
  • Eligibility requirements: 16 or over
  • Best for: Those who want to avoid the traditional A Level route. You'd like to complete Level 2 Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) qualifications that prepare you for a Level 3 apprenticeship.

6. Gap year

Deciding your future as a college or Sixth Form leaver can feel overwhelming. Some people choose to take a year out (a gap year) before choosing their next steps.

You can spend your gap year travelling, volunteering in an industry that interests you, or both.

If you take a year to reflect on your next steps, there'll still be options waiting for you that don't involve going to university. You can use the skills, experience and confidence you've gained from travelling or volunteering to apply for a Degree level apprenticeship.

  • Cost: The average cost to travel is £2,258 a month or up to £27,097(opens new window) a year (if you travel every month).
  • Time commitment: One year
  • Eligibility requirements: None
  • Best for: Those who haven’t decided what career they want to pursue yet and have the funds for living and travel expenses for a year.

7. Self-employment or starting a business

If you're entrepreneurial, then you might consider starting a business. Being a business owner can be stressful with startup costs, taxes and more. However, it can also be fulfilling. Another option is self-employment. For example, you can freelance without making the full commitment of running a business.

  • Cost: The average cost to launch a business in the UK is £5,000(opens new window). It can be as much as £23,000 when factoring in accounting, human resources, and other operating costs.
  • Time commitment: Running a business is a full-time job, and it typically takes at least two to three years before you make a profit.
  • Eligibility requirements: You can start a business when you're under 18. But it's easier to get a business bank account or credit when you're 18 or over.
  • Best for: Those who already make money with a hobby or side hustle like graphic design, writing, or photography.

If you'd like to do something creative with a tech focus (becoming a Web Developer, for example), gaining work experience first is best. Then, you can showcase your work in a portfolio and build your network to attract new clients.

8. School leaver programmes

Like apprenticeships, school leaver programmes include a work placement and practical experience.

Unlike apprenticeships, you're not guaranteed a qualification when you finish. There’s no set national guidelines that school leaver programmes must follow. Employers create the programmes and set the requirements, pay, training, qualifications and more.

School leaver schemes can take as long as university to complete, but you’re learning and working at a company instead of in a classroom. They also lack the social aspects of university. Because you’ll be working a full-time job, it can be hard to connect with peers outside of work.

Since each employer programme differs, you should research the details of each to decide if it’s right for you.

  • Cost: Free if you meet the eligibility criteria
  • Time commitment: Three to seven years
  • Eligibility requirements: You must be 18 or over and not in full-time education. Some programmes also require good A Level grades.
  • Best for: Those who want to work with a particular company that offers school leaver programmes.

Should you go to university? Tips to help you decide

University isn’t for everyone. These days, there are many viable alternatives to university that lead to a meaningful and well-paying career.

If you’re exploring alternatives to university, here are three factors to consider:

It's expensive

Tuition fees can cost up to £9,250 per year(opens new window). Plus, if you're entitled to a Maintenance Loan, it's not always enough to cover living expenses like rent and food. Then there are the loan repayments. Although repayments are tiered, you'll need to repay Student Finance England (SFE) monthly if you earn above a specific salary.

It's a big time commitment

Completing a degree at university can take up to four years. Studying a full-time course leaves less time to earn money and cover your living costs. Then if you choose to work, it can impact your studies. Doing an apprenticeship as an alternative to university means getting paid to work and learn, which can be a quicker route to independence.

There's no guaranteed job

A degree doesn’t guarantee a high-paying career. Many graduates are still job searching long after they qualify. On the other hand, 93% of Multiverse apprentices who completed their programme landed a job in their field within 90 days.

The bottom line on alternatives to university

University isn't the only or best option to reach your career goals. There's no guaranteed job security and studying full-time at university is expensive.

Meanwhile, university alternatives like apprenticeships are much more affordable. Unlike university, you can pursue an apprenticeship for free and earn a wage while you learn. To top it off, a permanent job with a competitive salary is usually waiting for you once you complete your qualification. If an apprenticeship sounds like the right choice for you, apply for an apprenticeship today(opens new window).

Team Multiverse

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