Written by Erin Dooley, Data Science Tech Apprentice at GSK

Navigating Educational Choices

Finding your way around the educational landscape of today can be scary, especially when working out how to balance higher education with financial stability. As my friends and I reached the crossroads of higher education, many chose the 'conventional' university path while I chose the degree apprenticeship path, one I knew little about. Fast forward a few years and many have completed university with a degree in one hand and a huge debt in the other. Even after many payments, due to interest rates, their debt has been further inflated. This financial burden comes with the harsh reality that despite their qualifications, the job market remains competitive, prioritising experience as much as, if not more than, academic results. 

The Rise of Degree Apprenticeships and Alternative Education Paths

The old statement that university degrees equal higher lifetime earnings is being challenged. With degree apprenticeships and alternative education schemes on the rise, not only can one earn a comparable salary to university graduates, but they can do so without the stress of student debt. When I was in college, the conversation was always about how to apply for UCAS and how to secure student finance, rather than exploring the alternatives. Taking matters into my own hands, I began researching apprenticeships and attending career fairs and apprenticeship events. This gave me the knowledge and potential opportunities I needed to have a future unburdened by debt. 

Research from the Association of AccountingTechnicians suggests that the financial advantage of degree apprenticeshipgraduates over traditional university graduates can reach around £100,000 – a figure that cannot be ignored considering the compound benefits of salary earnings and the absence of student loans. . The UK government has got behind apprenticeships, increasing its spending to £2.7 billion by 2024/25. The introduction of specialised apprenticeships in teaching and healthcare widens the appeal, though it's recognised that certain professions may still be required to take the traditional university route. 

University Degrees vs. Apprenticeships

My discussions with university graduates have uncovered challenges in securing industry placements, leading to a competitive job market full of people who have the right degrees,” but not enough actual work experience. On the other hand, apprentice graduates already have 3-4 years of industry experience, putting them in a poised position when applying for roles. 

Degree apprenticeships are increasingly competitive, compelling some to move far from home
looking for an education free of tuition fees. However, apprentices often struggle with the cost of relocation to sometimes remote or expensive parts of the country. Apprentices are also not able to access student finance privileges, like council tax relief, free dental care, and prescriptions, though student discounts remain a silver lining.
 The university experience is a key difference between full-time students and apprentices, both academically and socially. An apprentice may still partake in university societies and social events, but they will have to balance their working day and work commitments. Apprentices may also have a more remote or digital academic university experience. 


There are many company-specific incentives, like pensions, bonuses, healthcare, and career progression opportunities. While you may not enjoy the generous holidays of a full-time student, full-time employment within an apprenticeship programme will help you to grow a great professional network and the educational outcomes align with real-world industry demands. Ultimately, an apprenticeship offers a range of business sectors, enabling you to make an informed decision about future career direction all within a structured workday. 


One just needs to remember that an apprenticeship is not without some sacrifice. The 20% off-the-job training time for your studies may sometimes spill into your personal time to accommodate any assignments and additional studies. In a world where the value of education is increasingly weighed against its cost, degree apprenticeships offer a strong alternative, combining education with experience and leaving apprentice graduates not just ready for the working world, but also financially ready for the journey ahead. 

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