University vs Degree apprenticeships

For many young people, making a decision about the future can be scary. We’re comparing the traditional university route with degree apprenticeships to help you decide which would suit best.

The academic option

Apprenticeships are sometimes thought of as being ‘the easier option’, but that simply isn’t true. Degree apprenticeships are an academic option, just like the traditional university route. The end result of both is graduating with a high quality degree. If studying for a degree is a must for you, then both options may be suitable for your future.

Your learning style

At university your learning will be delivered through a combination of formats. These may include: physical lectures, and online lectures, seminars, or tab work. These provide different environments accommodate and aid the delivery of academic material to large and small groups of students. Lectures are typically held in larger room like a theatre, where students interact with a subject leader. Seminars are held in more traditional classroom settings, where topics from a lecture can be discussed in a more focussed way. If you choose to study a practical subject, your learning may be delivered in labs to accommodate, experiments and clinical skills. Think of this way of learning as an evolution of your school experience.

Degree apprenticeships are different. You will be studying part time which means your learning will be structured in a way that accommodates your employment. Typically this will be made up of several intensive study sessions on campus at Aston throughout the year and weekly online lectures. You will also be learning on the job at your place of work. You'll be given projects that will help you get the most out of your studies and that put the theory you have studied into a professional context. If you have the urge to get out of the classroom and into the 'real world' then a degree apprenticeship might be the better route for you.

Workplace ready

As a degree apprentice, you would be committing to working full time and studying part time. This means you will need to be mature enough to handle the responsibilities of showing up to work on time and excelling in your job. You will need to ensure that you keep up to date with online lectures, reading and assignments too.

A lot of young people need the university experience to help them develop independence. At school you will be pushed by your teachers and family to do your best but when you go to university it is up to you to manage your workload and make sure you meet deadlines and do your best. This is a learning curve for many students, and over the course of their degree they grow as individuals and develop strategies that enable them o take responsibility for their own education. The university timetable is varied and you will have free time for self-directed study and opportunities to make the most of the student experience.

What's the cost?

University comes with tuition fees. Currently, non-degree apprenticeship students will pay annual tuition fees of £9,250 usually using a student loan. They will start to pay this loan back once they are in a graduate level job and earning a salary of at least £25,000 per year.

Degree apprentices do not pay tuition fees as this is funded for by their employer. This means they will not have to repay any students loans. In addition, because they are working, degree apprentices will get paid a full-time salary by their employer.

Options for the future

University degrees can range from very specific courses that will train you to do a certain role, to general subjects such as English or Biology than can be applied to many career pathways. The skills that students learn studying for their degree are often transferable and will mean that they can apply for a wide variety of jobs. This is great if you aren’t sure about your career path just yet.

Those applying for a degree apprenticeship will notice that instead of applying for a course, they are actually applying for an apprenticeship job role. The knowledge that degree apprentices gain at university will train them to do this specific role. You will need to be sure that you are interested in and committed to that particular career route.

Experience for your CV

Degree apprentices spend 80 per cent of their week at work doing the day to day tasks required of their job role. This means that by the end of the degree apprenticeship, you would have between three and five years of high-quality work experience on your CV. This makes you really stand out from the crowed when it comes to future job interviews.

Lots of university students graduate with no work experience at all which can make getting a graduate level job more challenging. At Aston, we offer the placement year. This is when third year students can take a year off their normal studies to work in their chosen industry. They return to the University to complete their final year.

Student life

There is no doubt that part of the attraction of going to university is the student lifestyle that comes with it. You have the option to move away from home and live in halls of residence, join student societies that celebrate a shared interest in everything from sports to Game of Thrones and to experience the nightlife that Birmingham offers.

The experience for degree apprentices is different as they will spend most of their time in the workplace and, living within a commutable distance. At Aston, we have partner employers based all over the country. Whilst this might mean your aren't very close to our campus in Birmingham, you remain an Aston university student with access to all of our facilities. When you come to the campus for study sessions throughout the year you will have an opportunity to meet all the apprentices on your programme. This often results in great friendships and brings opportunities to explore everything that Birmingham has to offer.

What are my chances?

It's worth noting that both routes are competitive and you'll need to work hard now to make sure you have the grades you need to apply for your preferred route. Degree apprenticeships are even more competitive and our employers often receive thousands of applications for just a handful of apprenticeship roles.

We recommend that if you want to apply for a degree apprenticeship that you also apply for university through UCAS to give yourself plenty of options when it comes to results day. With UCAS you are limited to five choices whereas you can apply for as many degree apprenticeships as you like.

How to apply

Find a vacancy

To be offered a place on one of our degree apprenticeship programmes, you need to be employed and have your employer's approval. If you aren't currently working, the best way to join us is by searching for suitable apprenticeship opportunities. Here are two great places to start:

Complete an application

When you find a vacancy that appeals to you, you'll need to make an application to the employer and not through UCAS or Aston University. Each employer has a different application process, so it is best to take a look through their recruitment information online to see what is expected of you.

The typical process will involve:

  • An online application form
  • Aptitude testing
  • A telephone or video interview
  • An assessment centre or a face-to-face interview.
Enrol as a student

If you are successful at every stage of your employer's recruitment process, they will pass on your details to Aston University. We'll invite you to complete and application form so we can begin the enrolment process. Once this has been completed, you'll be offered a place as a degree apprentice.

Tips on your application

Do your research

The number of degree apprenticeship roles being offered is growing so it is important you make sure you look into each employer and role carefully to make sure it is right for you.

At some point in the process you will be asked why you are applying for the apprenticeship and you’ll need to have a good reason.

This is your chance to show that you know what the company does and how the role is part of the big picture. So make sure you research:

  • What the company’s products/services are
  • The company’s values and how you are a good match to them
  • Who the CEO/founder is
  • If the company has been in the news recently
What makes you stand out?

You’ll be competing with thousands of other young people so it is important you give the recruiters a reason to remember you.

While you might not have a jam-packed CV yet, you’ll have something else that makes you special.

Do you volunteer? Are you on a sports team? Do you have a part time job? Have you got any work experience? Are you a prefect, house captain or on the school council? Are you doing the Duke of Edinburgh award? Do you have any interesting hobbies?

All of these are great talking points and show that you have skills outside of academia which is important in the working world.

Structure your answers

Carefully plan out your answers so you can be sure you have really showed yourself in the best light. Try the STAR technique:

Situation: Our football team made it to the cup final but we were playing our rivals who we don't get on with.
Task: As the captain of the team, it was my job to keep the team focused on winning and not let the rivalry get the better of them.
Action: Before the game, I gathered the team and gave a speech about how we needed to work together using the strategies from our training sessions. I made sure to say that even though we were facing a team we don't get on with, we needed to stay calm and focus on playing the best game we could.
Result: I showed great leadership skills by communicating with the team and making sure we all joined together with a common focus on our strategy, we won the game 3-1.

This answer demonstrates clearly the applicant's skills and how they managed a situation that could have been very challenging.

Practice your delivery

When it comes to the interview stages it’s worth asking a friend or family member to run a practice interview with you to make sure you are well rehearsed.

Many companies are using digital interviews as part of the recruitment processes. A question will come up on the screen and you'll get about 30 seconds to prepare your answer. Then you'll be recorded giving your answer to the question through your computer's webcam and microphone. The organisation will review the video clips at a later date to decide if you make it through to the next round based on the answers you gave.

Most students will have never done something like this before. But don't worry, some companies like Capgemini offer applicants a chance to have a go at a demo interview to help you get a feel for what the real thing will be like.

Check your personal brand

Are your social media accounts private? If not, anyone, including potential employers can check out what you post. A growing number of employers are using social media as a way to screen candidates and if they see anything concerning, chances are you won't make it to the next stage. If you don't want to change your profile to private, take some time to go through the content you share and make sure there is nothing inappropriate out there for the world to see.