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The Ultimate Guide to University Alternatives

Going to university after leaving secondary school is often considered the next best step in a young adult’s life, whether that would be to seek further education, gain knowledge in a professional field they wish to one day have a job in, or simply to abide by the status quo.

But university degrees come with a hefty price tag. To give a bit of context, International undergraduate tuition fees in the UK currently cost a whopping estimate of £22,000 per year. 

This inevitably leads to the majority of students facing substantial student loans before even managing to secure their first post-university job. Let’s face it, it doesn’t exactly sound like the most enticing option, especially when there are a number of viable alternatives available.

Not only that, but truth be told, university isn’t for everyone. Stress, endless hours of studying, and academic competencies are not everyone’s strong suit. While some may be more academically inclined, others are more talented with practical skills, for whom university simply just doesn’t make sense. 

Although university degrees can be beneficial for jobseekers, providing them with many career opportunities, it’s not the only path towards professional success.

To help give you more insight, we’ve created the ultimate guide to university alternatives, giving you all the options you have to make the best decision for your future.

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1) Apprenticeships 

A great alternative to university, and perhaps one of the most preferred options amongst young adults, are apprenticeships. They offer invaluable industry training along with the development of professional knowledge in virtually every industry, including HR and L&D through to retail and manufacturing. 

Apprentices can develop many practical workplace skills while also becoming qualified in a role, enabling you to upskill and thrive in your chosen career path. 

Usually apprenticeships in the UK can last anywhere between one to five years and are available across a wide range of roles including engineering and manufacturing, banking, accounting, media, sales and marketing, human resources and many more.

With most apprenticeships, you will be paid a wage, and while a permanent position is not always guaranteed at the end of an apprenticeship, most employers will offer permanent employment to apprentices who have shown their commitment, growth and the development of the required skills to satisfy the role. In fact, studies have shown that as many as 85% of apprentices will remain in employment following the end of their apprenticeship, while 64% will remain in employment with the same employer.

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2) Entry-level Jobs

Entry-level jobs don’t always require applicants to have formal qualifications and are a great option for school leavers and young adults for whom university doesn’t feel like the right option. 

Not only that, but for many entry-level roles, jobseekers aren’t expected to have any prior experience, as the premise of entry-level positions is to undergo the necessary training as soon as you join the company. Essentially, they’re perfect for people who are eager to get started in the world of work.

While entry-level jobs don’t require a university degree per say, some entry-level roles may require certain school grades, while others simply require candidates to be enthusiastic and demonstrate great work ethic. They tend to be offered on a permanent, full-time basis, and can be found in a variety of different industries such as sales, marketing, accountancy, IT and web development, business analysis and more. 

The key to securing an entry-level job is putting together a great CV, listing all your skills, knowledge and any possible work experience you already have that is relevant to the role. Once you have successfully been selected for it, working your way up in the company is a great way to kickstart a successful career.

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3) Take on industry accredited qualifications

Many people are unaware about how many different qualifications are available, across several industries and sectors, which provide jobseekers with just as much knowledge as university degrees do. This means that you can basically just skip university altogether. 

In simple words, industry qualifications are similar to university degrees, with the only difference being that they are primarily focused on practical skills. They concentrate on work-based learning and putting all the knowledge and theory taught throughout the course into practice, equipping students with the necessary knowledge and skills to excel in their chosen careers. 

University degrees on the other hand tend to be a lot more theory-based, relying heavily on students’ academic capabilities in order to succeed.

You can choose to study industry qualifications, oftentimes at college, on a full-time or part-time basis. However if you are in full-time employment or have other personal commitments that don’t allow you to dedicate so much time to your studies, you can always study such qualifications completely online, flexibly and remotely, working them around your schedule. 

As you can imagine, the type of qualification you study is fully dependent on the industry you wish to kickstart your career in. Most industries have an accreditation body responsible for maintaining and regulating quality and standards, as well as issuing recognised, industry-specific qualifications. 

You should also note that each accreditation body will have different levels of qualifications, depending on what stage of your career you’re at, from entry-level qualifications all the way through to senior management level.

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4) Higher National Diploma 

If you’re still interested in gaining a higher education diploma, but the thought of university study-intensity causes you anxiety, then perhaps a Higher National Diploma is the right choice for you. 

Higher National Diploma assignments have been designed specifically for the professional world, therefore, they’re valued by employers and are perfect for those looking for a more practical experience with their studies. 

It’s a level 5 qualification worth 240 credits, which translate to two thirds of a standard, full-length, undergraduate university degree. Therefore, people who have completed their A Levels or equivalent can embark on their Higher National Diploma studies. 

The diploma can take anywhere between 2 years, studying full-time, or 4 years, studying part-time, to complete and is equivalent to the first 2 years of university. Higher National Diploma subjects include:

  • Agriculture
  • Computing & IT
  • Construction & civil engineering 
  • Engineering
  • Health & social care
  • Business management
  • Sport & exercise sciences
  • Performing arts
  • Retail & distribution
  • Hospitality management.
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5) Take a Gap Year

Coming out of school, everyone feels immense pressure to have already figured out what career they want to follow and sign up for a university course. However, it’s so important to really take your time to figure out your next steps. This is your chance to discover yourself and your strengths, and weigh out your options, so by no means rush to get into university. 

Perhaps a gap year is exactly what you need!

Take the opportunity to go travelling and explore new cultures, get a job and save some money while gaining valuable work experience or just take some time to look after your health and wellbeing. A gap year is the perfect opportunity to give yourself a breather and allow yourself to grow and develop as an individual, outwith an education. 

As we’ve mentioned, university is an expensive investment, so one thing you don’t want to do is regret your decision of enrolling on a university course, when it’s already too late. 

Now you may be worried that taking a gap year may look bad on your CV. As long as you do something productive with it, it can help you display an additional skill or experience you may have gained during that time, which will in fact benefit you.  


Enrol on a 100% online, industry-accredited qualification and start developing the career you’ve always dreamed of. 

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