When should I apply for school leaver programmes?

When should I apply for school leaver programmes?
Application deadlines for higher apprenticeships and other school leaver programmes can fall at any time of year. Make sure you know when you need to apply, and when other parts of the recruitment process take place.

Thinking of doing a higher apprenticeship or other school leaver programme instead of going to university? You’ll need to apply individually to employers that interest you – there’s no equivalent of UCAS for these vacancies – and different schemes will have different opening and closing dates for applications.

However, while employers choose the timings that suit them best, there is a broad pattern to when they tend to recruit. Our diagram gives a handy summary.

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Typical opening and closing dates for school leaver programmes

Most higher apprenticeships and related opportunities involve starting work in the summer or early autumn, typically between June and October. So unless you take a gap year you’ll be starting a few months after you finish sixth form or college, around the time that friends are heading off to university.

Applications for these programmes tend to open sometime between September (in the previous calendar year) and March. Closing dates typically fall between December and early May. So for some opportunities you’ll need to apply nine or ten months before you want to start work.

When will I have my interview for my apprenticeship?

Employers typically call candidates in for face-to-face assessments between February and May. As well as a traditional job interview, many employers also run assessment centres, also know as assessment days. These are events at which a number of candidates are brought together and carry out activities such as group exercises and sometimes presentations. Most employers try to avoid holding interviews and assessment centres during the exam period.

Meeting employers informally – timings of open days, careers fairs and other events

Many employers organise opportunities for you to meet them informally before you apply. They may attend careers fairs, hold open days at their offices or do something different – for example finance employer Grant Thornton runs pizza evenings for potential applicants who want to find out about the firm.

Some employers hold their events as early as November, though others will still have opportunities to meet them as late as April or May.

Employers’ year 12 summer schools – for the real early bird

Finance employers BDO and EY hold summer schools for students who’ve just finished year 12 to give a fuller insight into working life. BDO’s lasts two weeks and EY’s lasts two days. You need to apply in year 12.

Not all employers follow the trend

Research all employers who interest you and their deadlines individually. The above gives a broad picture, but not all recruiters follow this pattern. This will be especially the case for programmes where you won’t start work in the summer/early autumn – there are a few. For example, IBM programmes typically start in the early autumn, but the company sometimes has smaller intakes at other times of year. And smaller employers may take on school leavers as and when they need them.

Can I apply for school leaver programmes and degree courses at the same time?

If you’re not sure whether to go to university or take a school leaver programme there’s nothing to stop you applying for both. UCAS deadlines are typically in October (for Oxford and Cambridge, plus most courses in medicine, veterinary medicine and dentistry) and January (for most other courses). So this is likely to overlap with applications for the earlier school leaver programmes.

There’s no guarantee as to whether you will receive offers from universities or school leaver programmes first. If you make your UCAS application early and are a strong candidate it’s likely that offers from universities will come in first. However, some universities might not get back to you till their ‘absolute’ deadline in early May, so that’s not necessarily the case.

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