Will I miss out on the university experience if I don’t do a full-time degree?

Will I miss out on the university experience if I don’t do a full-time degree?
If you’re considering a school leaver programme, you might be concerned about missing out on the university experience. Could your higher apprenticeship or sponsored degree programme deliver something equally appealing?

Thinking about joining an employer on a higher apprenticeship, sponsored degree programme or other school leaver programme instead of going to uni? Whether you’ll miss out on the university experience depends very much on which aspects of the university experience you don’t want to miss. Different people have different reasons for wanting to go to do a degree, and different students enjoy different things about university life.

Which of the following would or wouldn’t be important to you?

  1. Studying a subject that really interests me for its own sake.
  2. Being able to choose the modules and projects that most appeal to me.
  3. Moving away from home and living independently.
  4. Meeting new people and making new friends.
  5. Learning new things and having new experiences.
  6. Getting involved in activities such as sport, theatre or politics.
  7. Having time to explore my interests, values and possible career options and work out what I want to do before I have to make any big decisions about jobs.
  8. Being able to socialise into the small hours whenever I feel like it without having to get up for work the next day.

Academic freedom

If academic freedom is what you’re worried about missing out on (points 1 and 2), you probably do need to go to university independently rather than joining a school leaver programme, so you’re free to study what you like.

New experiences

If it’s more about being able to leave home, meet new people and do new things (points 3 to 5), both university and school leaver programmes will give you these opportunities. Many school leaver programmes pay enough for you to be able to rent a room away from home if you need to, and all will involve getting to know plenty of new people and learning lots of new things. If you like company, you might actually be happier at work surrounded by people than at university studying for an arts degree, on which you’d probably only have a few hours of lectures and tutorials each week and be expected to spend the majority of your time writing essays by yourself.

One difference will be in who you spend your time with. As a full-time student you would mix largely with people of your own age but who were studying a variety of subjects and going on to a range of careers. In contrast, on a school leaver programme you would have colleagues of all ages but who worked in a limited range of careers. However, there would still be the chance to meet others of the same age, both new joiners at your company and those with whom you would study.

Clubs and societies

If you’re keen to join clubs and societies (point 6), in theory you can do this just as well while working as while at university. There are groups all over the country for local adults to join, whether you want to sing in a musical, learn to row or reduce your impact on the environment. Large companies often even have a club or two of their own. However, some school leaver programmes do involve quite a bit of travel and/or studying at home in your free time, which might limit your ability to take on commitments outside work.

Getting some ‘me time’

Starting a school leaver programme immediately probably isn’t right for you if your current priority is a bit of time and space to work out what you want in life or to have a great social life (points 7 and 8). That’s not to say that heading straight to uni is the best choice either – there’s no guarantee against 9.00 am lectures, and getting a decent degree requires motivation and commitment to your subject. If you have that, great. If you don’t, you might want to consider a well planned gap year to help you earn some money, try new things and form a better idea of what you want to do before you take your next step.

Want to dip your toe into the water of different career options? University is one good way of giving yourself the time and opportunities to do so. For example, you might use the long vacations to get work experience in different areas, try career-related activities on campus (eg writing for the student newspaper) or make use of the careers service’s contacts. See 'Will a school leaver programme make me specialise in a particular career too early?' for more advice.

How worried are you about debt?

If you are leaning towards looking for an apprenticeship or school leaver programme solely because you are worried about racking up huge debts, check our advice on Will I be better off financially if I do a school leaver programme or go to university at 18?. It’s actually very difficult to weigh up the lifetime financial advantages of each route, but the difference could be smaller than you might think.

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