When to apply for apprenticeships

When should I apply for school leaver programmes?
Application deadlines for apprenticeships and other school leaver programmes can fall at any time of year. However, there are some broad trends that are useful to know about.

Wondering when you should apply for apprenticeships? Different schemes have different opening and closing dates for applications, and you’ll need to apply individually for each opportunity that interests you – there’s no equivalent of UCAS.

However, while employers choose the timings that suit them best, they tend to fall into one of three broad categories:

  • Having an annual recruitment cycle. This involves having an annual start date for new apprentices to begin work and recruiting well in advance. This approach is most common at large employers offering higher apprenticeships, degree apprenticeships and accountancy-related school leaver programmes, and who ask for A levels/Highers/the IB. Often the start date is in early autumn, around the time that friends will be heading off to university. Applications tend to open between September (in the previous calendar year) and March. Closing dates typically fall between late October and early May, so be on the lookout from the start of year 13/S6.
  • Recruiting apprentices for immediate start. Some employers advertise for apprentices as and when they need them, and want them start work straight away. This is quite common for opportunities that don’t require A levels/Highers/the IB (such as intermediate apprenticeships and advanced apprenticeships) and that are with smaller employers, or local branches of national chains. There’s no point applying until you finish school or college, as you won’t be available to start work.
  • Ongoing recruitment. A few recruiters describe their apprenticeship recruitment as ‘ongoing’. This means that they are happy to receive applications at any time of year – however, there may not be a position available to start immediately, so be prepared to wait. You’re more likely to find this approach with larger employers.

Be aware that employers sometimes fill their vacancies before their closing date, so it’s always wise to apply early. See below for more details.

When will I have my job interview for my apprenticeship?

Some employers wait until the closing date to shortlist candidates and send out interview invitations; others prefer to do this as and when they receive applications, so you could be interviewed and even receive a job offer before the application deadline has passed.

As well as a traditional job interview, some employers also run assessment centres, also known as assessment days, particularly for higher level opportunities. These are events at which a number of candidates are brought together and carry out activities such as group exercises and sometimes presentations.

Apprenticeship open days, open evenings and careers fairs

Many employers organise opportunities for you to meet them informally before you apply; for example they might attend careers fairs or hold apprenticeship open days or open evenings at their offices. These can take place at any time of year; however, the autumn term and March are common. Look out for local careers fairs aimed at school leavers, and check for details of open days on individual employers’ careers webpages or social media channels.

Employers’ summer schools – for the real early bird

A few employers offer formal work experience opportunities for students who are still at school, particularly in the finance sector, to give a fuller insight into working life. For most of these, you need to apply in year 12/S5 or in year 13/S6.

Can I apply for apprenticeships and degree courses at the same time?

If you’re not sure whether to go to university or take an apprenticeship 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 earlier application deadlines for apprenticeships that work on an annual recruitment cycle.

There’s no guarantee as to whether you will receive offers from universities or apprenticeships 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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