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What are sponsored degrees?

When it comes to choice, school leavers have never had it so good. You’ve probably heard of higher apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships by now – but what about sponsored degrees?

Well never fear, because in this guide we explain what sponsored degrees are, what they’re like to participate in, how you can find out about schemes you can apply to, how they’re different to degree apprenticeships and what you need to get onto one.

'Get to grips with sponsored degrees in this handy guide - including pros and cons and how they differ from degree apprenticeships'

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What are sponsored degrees?

Students studying in library

With a sponsored degree, you'll get to study at university with

and gain work experience with an employer during the vacation

First things first – what is a sponsored degree when it’s at home?

Sponsored degrees are a kind of school leaver programme and put simply, they’re a degree course paid for – in full or in part – by an employer.

Usually with sponsored degree programmes, you spend most of your time at university or college but work for your employer during the holidays and/or join them for a six to 12-month placement part-way through your degree course.

What do you get out of it? Help towards your tuition fees meaning reduced or non-existent student debt, work experience and employability skills, first-hand experience of how your course content applies in the workplace and a head-start when it comes to applying to your employer’s grad scheme.

What does the employer get out of it? Well, if you succeed in your degree and earn your stripes during your placement, they could well have an experienced employee ready to hit the ground running straight out of university.

Many sponsored degrees have been turned into degree apprenticeships, which work differently but achieve the same thing.

What are they like?

Although many sponsored degree programmes are being turned into degree apprenticeships, there are still quite a few you can apply run by employers, particularly for students from lower-income households. Employers include:

  • PwC
  • MBDA
  • Experian
  • Environment Agency
  • Lloyds
  • EY

Let’s take the Environment Agency’s two-year sponsored foundation degree in river & coastal engineering as an example. On this scheme, you spend nine months studying at university to begin your foundation degree. You then begin a 14-month placement working for the Environment Agency itself or a local council, continuing to attend university over four week-long study blocks.

This way, you gain an academic qualification and over a year of skills and experience gained in the field. You’ll also have a mentor at the Environment Agency throughout your course.

What grades do I need?

This depends on the scheme. For example, to get onto the Environment Agency scheme mentioned above, you’ll need grades BCC at A-level including a B in maths or physics.

What is the difference between sponsored degree and a degree apprenticeship?

Lab science apprentice with beaker and conical flask

With a degree apprenticeship, the mainstay of your programme

will be work

Sponsored degrees and degree apprenticeships are actually quite different – even though many sponsored degrees have been converted into degree apprenticeship schemes.

Whereas a sponsored degree generally combines full-time university study with the support of an employer and work placements during holiday time, a degree apprenticeships is first and foremost a job. While working in a paid role, apprentices study for their degree in their spare time and during block or day release from work.

What are the pros and cons?


  • You will gain work experience during your degree.
  • You will save money on your degree and graduate with lower student debt – and in some cases, none.
  • The financial support you receive generally comes with no-string attached – you won’t have to sell your soul to the employer in exchange for sponsorship!
  • You will have gained a head-start in applying to your employer’s graduate scheme.
  • You may be offered a permanent job.
  • You may have the chance to gain professional qualifications alongside your degree.


  • There is no guarantee of a job at the end of your course – although this doesn’t disadvantage you over other graduates.
  • Entry requirements are often high.
  • You’ll get less experience than with a degree apprenticeship.
  • Choice of university is quite limited and determined largely by the availability of sponsorship in your chosen area.
  • Sponsored degrees are generally restricted to STEM and business-related subjects such as engineering, IT, maths, accountancy, computer science.

How can I find out about sponsored degrees?

Student searching online

The internet is your friend when it comes to finding sponsored


One way to find out about sponsored degree programmes is to use the Scholarship Hub’s online database. Using this system, you can search for sponsorship based on your preferred degree course. This database lists all modes of funding – not just money available through employers.

Another option is to simply Google “sponsored degree” and see what comes up.

Don’t forget to search Success at School’s jobs & courses page.

Image credits

Lead image via Pxhere, Students studying in library and lab science apprentice via Wikimedia Commons