Work v. uni: what to expect

Work v. uni: what to expect
Find out about key differences between apprenticeships and degrees – such as where you'll live and how you'll study – to help you decide between the two.

What to expect

What is life at university really like, and how does it compare to life on an apprenticeship or other school leaver programme? It’s hard to choose the best option if you’re hazy about what's on offer. To help you decide, we’ve compared the similarities and differences between university and apprenticeships in key areas such as accommodation, finance and your social life.

Bear in mind that apprenticeships and similar programmes vary in the type and level of study they include. On some schemes, you’ll find yourself going to university alongside other undergraduates and working towards a full degree; on other programmes you might attend attend a local college to study for a lower-level qualification.

Whether you choose to learn through work or at uni, you’ll need to look closely at the details about your preferred courses or programmes to find the path that’s right for you.

Will you have to leave home?

Apprenticeship: Depending on where your apprenticeship is based, you may need to move away from home into private rented accommodation – though it’s likely that your employer will give you support with this. On the plus side, this should mean you have a reasonable amount of living space, privacy and independence.

Uni: Most students live either in halls or in private rented accommodation, though the proportion of students who stay at home is growing. Halls can be sociable but noisy; private renting gives you more independence and more control over who you live with, but also calls for more organisation.

What happens to start with?

Apprenticeship: You’ll have an induction. On a high-level programme such as a degree apprenticeship this might involve being put up in a smart hotel with the other new apprentices.

Uni: The first week at university is usually called Freshers’ Week. You’ll meet your tutors and there will be plenty of social events too. At your university’s freshers’ fair, you’re likely to find societies for just about every interest you could imagine.

What do you wear?

Apprenticeship: You might not be expected to wear a suit – many workplaces have a smart casual dress code – but if you do have to, you might find that you enjoy the confidence it gives you. You should be able to dress more informally on study days.

Uni: Within reason, you’re going to be able to wear what you like (and can afford).

How will your finances be affected?

Apprenticeship: You will experience the pleasure of a regular pay day. However, you’ll still need to budget carefully, especially if you’re living away from home.

Uni: You’re likely to end up with loans to pay off, and possibly an overdraft too. However, you can offset this by earning through part-time work. You may receive a non-repayable scholarship or bursary. See our advice on student funding for more information.

What should I expect from my studies or training?

Apprenticeship: Chances are you’ll be putting in some pretty long hours, as you’ll be combining work with study. You may have seminars or lectures and will probably need to study independently too.

Uni: Depending on the nature of your degree course, the amount of independent study required may be a shock. You may have relatively few contact hours with your tutor and nobody’s going to check up on whether you’re going to lectures. It’s going to be down to you to make sure that you make the most of your time.

How much work experience will you get?

Apprenticeship: Loads! You’ll be able to apply the theoretical learning you pick up on the study element of your apprenticeship to real-life situations. You’ll also learn from everyone around you. You’ll see how people handle stress, deadlines, conflict and all the ups and downs of professional life, and you’ll pick up an understanding of what makes businesses tick and how to communicate at work that will serve you well for the rest of your career.

Uni: There will be plenty of scope for you to gain work experience, whether you do this through a part-time or holiday job, sorting out an internship or getting involved in clubs and societies. Depending on the nature of your course and how vocational it is, you may have opportunities to put what you are learning into practice. As part of your studies you’ll develop your communication skills and learn how to learn, picking up strategies for analysing problems and making judgements that will help you through as yet unforeseen challenges in your future career.

What about your social life?

Apprenticeship: If you join a big apprenticeship scheme, you’ll have a ready-made peer group of people of your own age – though you may be in different teams. You’re also likely to be spending time working with recent graduates as well as more senior staff. Big companies usually run a number of networks that employees can join and there may also be sports teams and other groups to sign up for. If you go out with colleagues after work on a Friday, you’ll know that you’ve earned it.

Uni: You’ll be surrounded by undergraduates who have just finished school or gap years and who are also new to the university experience – so, plenty of potential for bonding and a buzzy social life. You’ll meet fellow students from a broad range of different backgrounds, including others who are studying your subject or who are involved in the same extracurricular activities.

Will you move around or stay in one place?

Apprenticeship: You’re likely to spend time both in the office and at college or university. You might also have placements in different parts of the business or travel to clients’ offices. If you’ve joined an international business, ultimately you could have the chance to live and work abroad.

Uni: If you’re based on campus, everything you need will be close by. If you’re living in a new town or city, this is your chance to get to know it really well. Your extracurricular activities may send you off round the UK – for example, if you take part in mooting competitions or are on a sports team and play away matches. Some courses involve a year in industry or overseas, and any work experience and travel you organise for yourself will broaden your horizons, too.

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