Degree or not degree?

Degree or not degree?

Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson

Grow Talk, the newest feature for Grow’s online platform, provides commentary on what’s happening both locally and globally and discusses its impact on the business world. Written by Sofy Robertson, our Online Content Assistant and the newest member of our editorial team, Grow Talk will be a regular feature exclusive to our website.

Studying for my A-levels seems a lifetime ago, though in reality less than ten years has passed since I made the ‘decision’ to read English at University. Note, I am using the term decision lightly here as in 2010 my options felt fairly limited; go to University or go straight into a job where I would never receive the salary possible with a degree. Most of my friends and peers chose to do as I did, or to defer for a year and then pursue their degrees. Very few chose the straight into employment route and not a single student from my year group successfully entered into an apprenticeship.

Eight years on, it seems there has been a shift in attitude. Whether this is due to the exorbitant fees to read for a degree, regardless of University or subject, remains to be seen. Workplaces all over the country are pushing more than ever to provide on-and-off-the-job training for students post-18. Many would assume these apprenticeships are solely trade-based as has often been the case in the past but now top tier city law firms, NHS trusts and leading finance institutions to name a few are on the search for fresh talent.

So the question becomes degree or not degree? What are the pros and cons for this year’s A-level students looking to make their decision? And equally, what impact does hiring an apprentice have on a business?


It goes almost without saying that degrees carry a lot of ‘weight’, particularly if that degree is from a leading institution like a ‘red brick’ University. Employers will notice a degree qualification on a CV and some employers or types of employment require a degree, making an apprenticeship moot.

According to the Times Higher Education survey, the most popular reasons for pursuing a University degree were students’ passion about the subject they had chosen and their desire to continue their learning and development. For many in education, they have experienced the process of ‘honing their options’ whereby they have slowly been able to eliminate the subjects they have no interest in or passion for. Beginning with GCSE selections and then A-level, University then offers the ultimate selection; a chance to pursue that one subject, whether offered in their school or not, where their passion truly lies.

There is also truth to the money side of the equation in that the average graduate is looking at a mid to high £20k salary. Students are also directly contributing to the economy with money going into University and therefore developing building projects and providing jobs. It also means we, as a country, have a generation of highly educated people. As a degree can be taken up at any point, whether you are eighteen or fourty-eight, higher education is always available and there to provide the opportunity for a new career trajectory at any point.

The social aspect of University education cannot be ignored. For many students, it is a chance to leave home and gain independence. For many, it is also a chance to live a very different lifestyle, to experiment, to find who they are in this fresh start. And let’s face it, there are few experiences like being a fresher and very few times in your life when you are almost expected to doss around yet party hard.

A pair of reading glasses rest on an open book.

Not degree

Interestingly, 25.2% of the students surveyed by the Times gave their main reason for choosing University as “Because University is the natural progression after school” and nearly 20% cited  “To spend time deciding what I want to do with my life” as their motivation. This suggests there is still a similar mindset as to when I finished school; University was the next step, especially for those who were unsure as to what career to pursue (this turned out to be a significant proportion of my year group). Arguably, those students who are more career-driven and have a clear idea of what their future holds could benefit from an apprenticeship route over a University degree.

Debt will be an unfamiliar word to you. Rather than three to four years of tuition fee loans and their added interest, apprenticeships offer either expenses or a salary so that you can learn and earn. An apprenticeship may also be the quicker route to your chosen career. Many apprenticeships are shorter than a three year degree and there is also the benefit of already being based within the company, or at least the environment, that you wish to work in.

For those who prefer a more hands-on approach to learning, apprenticeships give the benefit of working and learning all combined into one. Rather than learning the theory, you are learning on the job and alongside other business professionals rather than half-cut students.

Apprenticeships, like University, can offer the opportunity for students to spread their wings and move away from home if desired. For those who aren’t quite ready yet, local apprenticeships or apprenticeships with a company that has multiple branches is possible. Students also have the benefit of being mentored by those a few years ahead of them in their chosen career path and many who go on to complete apprenticeships pursue mentoring roles of their own, such as the Young Apprentice Ambassadors Network.

From a business perspective, an apprentice has decided that working whilst training is for them and that this is the career they want to work in, meaning the company will gain an eager and enthusiastic employee. They will also be starting from scratch which means no bad habits from other companies, providing a fresh canvas, so to speak. And let’s not forget that apprentices are cheap. A company could choose to take on several apprentices rather than one experienced member of staff and, if all goes well, then both employer and apprentice will mutually benefit from the process which will result in a new member to the profession and potentially to their staff.

Whether your choose to degree or not to degree will depend upon a large amount of personal factors; your chosen career path or subject interest; the way that you work best; your friends and their choices; your family and what they have in mind and so on. One message rings loud and clear from my research into degrees and apprenticeships: do the research and take the time to talk it over with the people in your life who matter. With apprenticeships available in almost every industry now, your options for the future are more varied than ever.

To find out more about apprenticeships, click here.

Has your business taken on an apprentice? We’d love to hear your story. Email

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