Higher apprenticeships: Should I do one instead of university?

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Higher apprenticeships allow you to train for a highly skilled job. Unlike university, you don't have to pay – in fact, you'll get paid a wage by your employer. You'll learn by doing the job you're training for, and study for qualifications along the way – you could even finish with a degree.

What is a higher apprenticeship?

Like all apprenticeships, a higher apprenticeship is a training programme which you do in the workplace. The difference is, you will train for a highly skilled job that might only have been open to graduates before higher apprenticeships were introduced.

Click to see full-size infographic (PDF)

You'll gain top-level qualifications equivalent to a higher-education diploma or even a degree. But as one aerospace apprentice puts it, a higher apprenticeship is "a more practical way of learning than being taught from a book".

As an apprentice, you will work as employee of the company you're training with. This means you'll get paid as you complete your apprenticeship.

Get a quick overview of the benefits of higher apprenticeships by clicking on the infographic to the right to see the full-size PDF.

So could I take a higher apprenticeship instead of going to university?

Yes. While you still need to go to university to train for certain jobs, like being a doctor or teacher, a higher apprenticeship could help you qualify as an engineer, a trainee legal executive, a bank branch manager or even an airline pilot.

You may even study for a degree. Usually, this will be a foundation degree. But because the qualification is a higher level apprenticeship than others, some employers will give you the chance to do a full "honours" degree, the same as you get at university. Like your other qualifications, your degree will be linked to the job you're training for.

What types of jobs can I train for?

There are too many to list here! Higher apprenticeships are available in over 40 subject areas, including agriculture, app development and advertising.

New schemes are being launched all the time. For example, the first space engineering apprenticeship in the UK was launched in early 2014 and a one is being designed for sustainable building technologies.

Here are some of the most popular higher apprenticeships:

  • Accounting apprenticeships
  • IT apprenticeships
  • Engineering apprenticeships
  • Management apprenticeships

What's the difference between this and other types of apprenticeships?

Apprenticeships come at different levels, depending on the type of work you want to train for, and you can read all about the different types on our apprenticeship page.

Higher apprenticeships allow you to train for highly skilled jobs, such as bank manager, advertising guru and even scientist. This is why you study for more advanced qualifications, such as a degree, when you do this higher level apprenticeship. 

How much does it cost to train for one?

As long as you're under 24, you won't have to pay a penny. In fact, as an employee of the company you're training with, you'll get paid a wage. Training costs are paid for by the government and your employer.

How much do higher apprentices get paid?

As of October 2016, the minimum you'll earn is £3.40 an hour. This applies if you are under 19, or if you're over 19 but still in your first year of training. If you're over 19 and have finished the first year of your apprenticeship, you'll get paid no less than £5.55 if you're 20 or younger, and at least £6.95 if you're 21 or older.

This is the least you can be paid. Because higher apprenticeships are work towards more advanced qualifications, you can expect to earn much more than that. The average hourly wage for higher apprentices in 2014 was £11.63, and the top jobs can pay up to £25,000 a year at the start.

What qualifications do I need to apply?

You’ll need at least five GCSEs grade A*-C (including Maths and English).

As well as this, you'll usually need something called a "QCF level three qualification". In plain English, this means A-levels, highers if you come from Scotland, a BTEC, or another type of apprenticeship such as an advanced apprenticeship. If you've been to sixth form, you probably have a level three qualification.

How old do I have to be?

You can start any apprenticeship at 16. But it's a higher level apprenticeship, you need to have a level-three qualification, which means that in practice, you’ll probably be at least 18 when you start, the same as with university.

How does it work?

Like intermediate and advanced apprenticeships, you’ll do most of your training on the job.

On top of this, you'll spend around a day a week or a set block of time studying at a university or college. You may have to take some exams too, depending on what you do.

I've heard of something called a degree apprenticeship. Is it similar?

In some ways, yes. The difference is, you will always study for a degree in a degree apprenticeship. A degree is only part of some higher apprenticeships.

If you like the sound of them, you can learn more about degree apprenticeships here on our site.

How do I apply?

One easy way to apply is to visit the government's GOV.UK website and set up an account. Once you've done that, you can search for different types of apprenticeships. When you've found one you like, just follow the instructions.

Take a look at our article on how to find an apprenticeship for more help. And don't forget to make the best of your careers adviser, teachers, head of sixth form (and even you mum and dad!).

Where can I find out more?

Watch the video

It's just a few minutes long and has loads of great interviews with young people studying for higher apprenticeships today.

I need more!

For more great resources on apprenticeships, you don't need to go anywhere – we've got some plenty of great information right here on our site:

Take a look at Apprenticeships.org for more useful information on apprenticeships. If you live north of the border, things are slightly different, so we suggest checking out the Apprenticeships in Scotland website.



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