Will a school leaver programme make me specialise in a particular career too early?

Will a school leaver programme make me specialise in a particular career too early?
If you want to join a school leaver programme you’ll need to make some career decisions now. How specialised is a higher apprenticeship or sponsored degree programme? And what if you change your mind in a few years’ time?

On average, school leaver programmes are more focused on training you up for a specific career than degree programmes. However, there are some very specialised degrees (eg computer games development) and some school leaver programmes that include studying for some quite broad qualifications (such as the BA in management and leadership offered by Barclays on its sponsored degree programme).

Even at the same employer, you might find that some programmes are more targeted than others at preparing you for one specific job. For example, CGI runs two higher apprenticeships that are focused specifically on software development or on cyber security careers; in contrast it also runs sponsored degree programmes in information systems management and in business management for IT that can lead to a broader range of careers in IT or business respectively.

Of course, if there are careers that you don’t want to rule out that require a degree (such as teaching) then there’s no point looking at school leaver programmes that don’t include a degree.

Can I change career after a school leaver programme?

If your school leaver programme includes a degree, then in theory it should be transferable to careers that ask for a degree but don’t require a particular subject. See our list of careers for which you do or don't need a specific degree to get an idea for what these are. However, you might need to explain carefully to recruiters why you have chosen to train for one career and then apply for graduate jobs in another.

As an example, let’s say you completed a sponsored degree programme that trained you to be a software developer, then decided that you wanted to apply for graduate roles as a marketing assistant.

If you’d got involved in marketing activities at work and found you really enjoyed them, that would be a clear reason for your change of direction and would show that you had experience in marketing on which to base your decision. If you hadn’t, you’d need to have fitted in activities related to marketing outside of work, to show you’d tried it and knew you liked it. Here students who’d been to university full time might have the advantage, as they would probably have had more time and opportunity to, say, take a marketing internship in a vacation or been marketing rep for the university summer ball.

Qualifications below degree level will of course be transferable to other jobs in similar areas, but are less likely to help you if you want to change career completely after your school leaver programme. This is because there isn’t really a recruitment market focused on, say, HNC leavers with any subject, whereas there is a recruitment market for graduates who’ve studied any subject.

It’s also worth checking whether school leaver programmes that interest you have a ‘tie-in’ period – you might be expected to work for the company for a set period of time after finishing your qualifications.

Keeping your options open

If you want to keep your options open between a number of different careers, you might want to consider doing a degree and making sure you will have time to try out different career areas of interest on the side. You might be able to do this on a sponsored degree programme that doesn’t involve too much travel, overtime or studying in your free time. However, you’re more likely to be able to do this as a full-time student – providing you don’t have to work 25 hours a week in a part-time job to support yourself or spend several hours a day commuting to get to lectures.

For example, if you’re a history undergraduate considering careers in teaching, law or accountancy you might join the university debating society, stand for election to become treasurer of the choral society and spend a morning a week in term time volunteering at a local school. You might then try to line up work experience with schools, law firms and accountancy firms for your university vacations, and head along to watch trials at your local court when you’re not otherwise engaged.

Of course, if you go to university to keep your options open then you need to consider whether you need to study a particular subject for the career(s) you are thinking about.

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