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Apprenticeships vs University: Which option is best for you?

By Team Multiverse

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  1. What is an apprenticeship?
  2. What is university?
  3. What are the differences between apprenticeships vs university?
  4. Entry requirements
  5. Fees
  6. Qualifications and duration
  7. Earning potential
  8. Structure
  9. Types of jobs
  10. Job outcomes

University is a popular choice for school or college leavers, but it’s not the only option. It might not be the best option for you either. More people are exploring apprenticeships as a viable alternative to university. For the 2021-22 academic year, there were around 740,000 apprentices in England(opens new window).

Choosing between an apprenticeship vs university education depends on your career goals, interests and preferred learning style. Cost and earning potential are other considerations.

In this article, we’ll compare the pros and cons of apprenticeship vs university to help you make the best decision.

What is an apprenticeship?

As an apprentice, you learn on the job and earn a salary. In addition to on the job training, you learn in a classroom setting for at least 20% of your programme. When you complete an apprenticeship programme, you’ll receive an industry-recognised qualification to show you’re highly skilled in your profession.

Examples of apprenticeships

There are various types and levels of apprenticeships across different industries. According to 2022-23 apprenticeship data(opens new window) two of the most popular industries are Business and Technology. Here are some apprenticeship programmes(opens new window) within those industries:

What is university?

A university is an institution of higher learning where you can earn an academic degree. Most learning happens within a classroom environment, but you may also conduct academic research. Some include vocational learning experience, but it depends on the subject.

Examples of university degree programmes

  • BSc - Bachelor of Science
  • BA - Bachelor of Arts
  • BEng - Bachelor of Engineering
  • BEd - Bachelor of Education
  • BMedSci - Bachelor of Medical Sciences

What are the differences between apprenticeships vs university?

To decide between apprenticeship or university, consider the pros and cons. The main differences are how much it costs and how you learn. You should also consider career prospects — how does each path support you in securing a job?

For example, as an apprentice, you work at a company as part of your training. By doing so, you get to build real connections and work experience that increase your chances of landing a full-time role.

Attending university doesn’t guarantee that you’ll land a career in your field. Many graduates are job searching long after they’ve completed university.

You also don’t pay any fees to become an apprentice. Employers pay you a salary while you learn on the job and in a classroom. To study at university, you must pay tuition fees. Plus, your learning is typically limited to the lecture hall, so you miss out on work experience.

We’ll compare the differences between apprenticeship vs university in more detail below, looking at:

  • Entry requirements
  • Costs and fees
  • Qualifications and duration
  • Types of jobs
  • What you learn
  • Earning potential

Entry requirements

To start an apprenticeship in the UK, you must be at least 16 years old and not attending university. Apprenticeships have six different levels. These are divided into four categories that start from intermediate and go up to degree apprenticeships. The entry requirements vary for each apprenticeship level.

A Level and GCSE requirements for university

Most universities require A Levels or equivalent (Welsh Baccalaureate, Scottish Highers) and minimum GCSE grades of 4 or above in Maths and English. The grade requirements depend on the course and university.


There are no tuition fees for apprenticeships. Most employers cover the cost using apprenticeship levy funding from the government.

UK students who study for an undergraduate degree at university full-time, pay tuition fees of up to £9,250 per year(opens new window). International students pay an average of £22,200(opens new window). These are only tuition costs, so it doesn’t include living expenses like rent and learning materials.

Qualifications and duration

Apprenticeships generally take between 15-18 months, depending on your apprenticeship level. You can compare apprenticeship levels to different education levels, from A Levels to university degrees. However, you can complete an apprenticeship much faster than university programmes, while you work in your profession and earn a salary.

Upon completing university, you graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, or PhD, which typically takes three to eight years of full-time study.

Apprenticeship levels

Here’s a chart of the types of apprenticeships and their educational equivalent.

  • Intermediate: This is the first level and is usually the first apprenticeship. Securing an Intermediate apprenticeship is equivalent to 5 GCSE passes.
  • Advanced: The second level of apprenticeship is ideal for young people with five GCSEs already, including English and Maths or those who’ve completed the Intermediate level. In the end, you gain qualifications equivalent to two A Level passes.
  • Higher: The Higher apprenticeship level is for individuals with two passes at A Level or an Advanced apprenticeship qualification. A Level 4 Higher apprenticeship is equivalent to a Higher National Certificate (HNC), Level 4 NVQ, or the first year of an Undergraduate degree. A Level 5 is equivalent to a Higher National Diploma (HND) or Foundation degree.
  • Degree: Degree apprenticeships give Further Education leavers the opportunity to gain a university degree without debt as well as valuable work experience. Degree apprenticeship programmes are only available in England and Wales, but you can still apply for these from Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In 2015-16, the UK government(opens new window) introduced a new apprenticeship category一degree apprenticeships. Degree apprenticeship programmes are only available in England and Wales, but you can still apply for these from Scotland and Northern Ireland.

University degrees

There are several types of university degrees, but these are the main ones:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Master’s degree
  • Doctorate

Earning potential

Apprenticeships allow you to start earning money immediately. After completing your GCSEs or A Levels, you can apply for Higher apprenticeships, where you receive on the job training and get paid for your work.

Companies pay apprentices a wage while they learn on the job. So how much do apprentices get paid? For apprentices aged 16-18 or over 19 and in the first year of apprenticeship, the National Minimum Wage is £4.81 per hour(opens new window).

Multiverse apprentices earn a much higher rate than the minimum wage though. Tech apprenticeships— like the programmes Multiverse offers— earn £18,000 to £25,000 minimum a year. Hourly, it falls to somewhere around £9.40 to over £13.00 minimum per hour (if you’re working 40 hours a week).

With the university route, you usually wait until you’ve completed your degree to look for a full-time paid role in a relevant sector. There are no guarantees of a job after you finish your degree. You may land a job soon after you finish but it takes many people a while to find their first job straight out of university. Your earning potential is also significantly affected by paying back student loans.

There are many misconceptions about the future earning potential if you go down the apprenticeship route. To clear this up, there are no limits to your earning potential if you start out on an apprenticeship. The key is you’ve entered that first step on the career ladder and it’s up to you where your career goes from there.


Apprenticeships are more hands-on, so you learn while you work and earn while you learn. You also learn with a cohort of people in the same programme, similar to university.

University education focuses on a theory-based approach where you learn through lectures, seminars and workshops.

Types of jobs

There are many apprenticeships available in different industries depending on your interests.

Apprenticeship careers

Software engineering apprenticeships, for example, prepare you for fulfilling careers in many industries—tech, finance, and more. Here are some other jobs you can get with an apprenticeship:

  • Software Developer
  • Technology Consulting
  • Accountant
  • Health and Social Worker
  • Audience Manager
  • HR Analyst
  • Data Scientist
  • Beauty Therapist
  • Media Planner
  • Team Leader

University careers

There are specific fields and industries where you must complete a university degree to qualify to work. These jobs require highly specialised knowledge you can only gain through university education. Some of the job titles associated with a university degree include:

  • Physician
  • Nurse
  • Dentist
  • Lawyer
  • Civil engineer
  • Education
  • Architect
  • Research scientist
  • Veterinarian
  • Physicist

Some of the roles above also have apprenticeship options. For example, the NHS offers(opens new window) Higher apprenticeships for Nursing Associates and a Registered Nursing Degree apprenticeship (level 6). So if you prefer hands-on learning, it’s worth double-checking the apprenticeship options available.

Job outcomes

When it comes to employment after studies, apprenticeship job prospects are good. Because you start working and earning a salary from day one, you don’t miss out on building valuable real-world experience. You can also start building your professional network sooner and get personalised coaching and interview prep.

Up to 93% of Multiverse apprentices gained industry-relevant employment after completing their programme. In 2021, around 86.7% of UK graduates were employed in various industries.

Which is right for you?

It all comes down to you. After completing your Further Education, you can choose how to work toward your future career. Apprenticeship and university education are different paths but both can lead to promising careers.

You don't need a university degree to do most careers, there are still some, but these are very specialist. Most modern jobs don't require a degree. Plus, with an apprenticeship, you avoid student debt. You’ll also start earning sooner rather than later in your career.

Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong answer, providing your choice matches your career goals and other preferences.

If an apprenticeship feels like it could be the right fit for you, apply for a Multiverse programme(opens new window). In about ten minutes, you’ll fill out a profile of your interests and goals. Then, we’ll schedule a call to learn more about you and which apprenticeship programme and company would suit you best.

Team Multiverse

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