At the college I went to degree apprenticeships were nowhere near as advertised as traditional university. That is why I understand how trying to find simple information about this qualification can be frustrating. You may have only heard it in passing or perhaps it was quickly dismissed as a rare qualification that is undesirable to employers.
However, as time goes on, they are only increasing in popularity and people are opening up more to the idea of them being a viable alternative to university. Fortunately, articles like this one are starting to pop up more frequently too which will hopefully help you in your journey to discover what qualification best suits your needs.
A degree apprenticeship is a level 6 or 7 qualification that takes around 3 to 6 years to complete. It is a combination of working in the apprentice’s chosen field and study towards a degree. Primarily targeted towards school-leavers, the qualification teaches both the academic and practical side of a field, all with no cost to the learner. Along with the free degree, the student also gets a salary and holiday as you would with a normal job from an employer.
After reading this article, you will have a clear understanding of degree apprenticeships and hopefully feel more confident considering it as an option for higher education.
Table of Contents
What is a degree apprenticeship?
A degree apprenticeship is a qualification available to those aged 16 and up as an alternative to university. Unlike university, the degree qualification earned at the end is completely free and paid for by the employer. This is a reason why apprentices are not eligible for a student loan, something you can read more about in this Think Student article.
Typically lasting around 3-6 years, a degree apprenticeship requires the student to spend 80% of their time at work. During this time, the apprentice works as a regular employee for the company sponsoring their degree. There are a wide variety of sectors that offer degree apprenticeships, you can find list of them here on the apprenticeship page of the government website.
The other 20% of the time, the apprentice spends their time studying towards their qualification through a training provider. Usually, the provider is a university but there are other institutions you may not be as familiar with. For example, Multiverse and QA are both reputable providers used by employers like Barclays and Trainline for their apprentices.
Apprenticeships are targeted towards people lacking experience and knowledge about an industry. Therefore, those who already have qualifications of the same or higher level in a similar field are not eligible for the program. For more information about degree apprenticeships, check out this guide by UCAS.
Do you get paid for a degree apprenticeship?
Along with the free degree, a degree apprentice gets paid a salary by their employer. As stated on the government website here, for the 2022- 2023 tax year the minimum wage for an apprentice is £4.81 per hour. To learn more about this minimum wage, check out this governmental guide.
This at first might be concerning as it is quite low. However, the majority of employers offer a salary that is much higher. According to the career guidance service, Springpod, the average starting wage you can expect for a degree apprenticeship is around £18,000. You can read more about this statistic and degree apprentice salaries in their article here.
Many employers also adjust their salary for apprentices expected to commute to or live in London. As living in London is generally more expensive, you might find that one job listing has different salaries for different locations.
Do you have to pay for a degree apprenticeship?
Doing a degree apprenticeship comes at no cost to the apprentice. This is true for any level of apprenticeship so avoid and be wary of any apprenticeship that requires you to pay. These could very well be scams so you should take the proper procedure if you spot one. This is laid out on the government website here.
The tuition fee you would be faced with going the typical university route is covered by a combination of the government and your employer. In fact, companies receive payment from the government for taking on apprentices. This helps with the funding of the qualification and training.
Even if the apprentice decides to leave the apprenticeship partway through, they will not be expected to pay any money back for the training. It is important to look at the contract for expectations on giving notice before leaving the company but, in terms of payback, it is not required. Read this article by Employing an Apprentice for information on leaving a degree apprenticeship program.
Can you get a student loan for a degree apprenticeship?
Due to the lack of cost incurred on the behalf of the apprentice, they are not entitled to any student loan. They will be expected to be able to support themselves using the salary they are paid since a maintenance loan is not an option. For more information about this, check out this Think Student article.
Therefore, it is important to ensure that the apprenticeship chosen has a reasonable salary suited to the life of the apprentice. For example, if the apprentice lives with their parents and has no car, a lower salary will be much easier to live on.
However, if the apprentice has rent to pay and financially dependent relatives to care for, they will require a much higher salary. Without the support of a student loan, life on an apprentice wage can be a struggle, but this great article by another Think Student writer might help you with budgeting.
What level is a degree apprenticeship?
Almost all available qualifications in the UK have a level. The level corresponds to the difficulty of the qualification and ranges from 1 to 8. The higher the level, the more difficult the qualification. GCSEs, for example, are a level 2 qualification. You can find a full list of qualification types with their levels on the government website here.
Degree apprentices will be working towards a level 6 or a level 7 qualification, the same level given to a bachelor’s degree or to a master’s degree. This level indicates that, upon completing it, the student will have a high-level knowledge of their area of study. For more information about the level of a degree apprenticeship, look at this article by Think Student.
Where do you study a degree apprenticeship?
Even though a degree apprentice spends the majority of their time at work, a portion of their time dedicated solely to gaining their academic qualification. The common structure of a degree apprenticeship is 4 days a week at work and 1 day a week studying.
Usually, the studying does not involve physically travelling to university or a training centre. Often, the apprentice is learning through online lectures and resources from the comfort of their own home.
Although many like to present degree apprenticeships as if the apprentice would be going to university alongside their job, this generally isn’t the case. For many apprentices, the base location of their job is very far away from where they would get their training. Therefore, travelling to that location every week for years would become costly and inconvenient.
For this reason, the degree portion is often delivered online. Many people thrive under this structure and appreciate the convenience that comes with learning from home. However, for others, this isn’t a conducive to an effective learning environment. It is up to the apprentice to figure out what is best for them and then relaying that to the employer or provider.
To learn more about where this learning is done, check out this guide by Queen Mary, University of London.
What are the benefits of a degree apprenticeship?
As you might have already guessed, one of the biggest advantages unique to a degree apprenticeship is the free degree. While almost all those who got their degree from university will be saddled with debt, degree apprentices will graduate debt-free.
Along with the free degree, an apprentice could potentially have a minimum of 3 years of experience at a world-renowned company by the end of their apprenticeship. Companies like Unilever and Amazon offer amazing opportunities for school-leavers that would see the apprentice having professional knowledge of the working world.
Although a traditional university student has the option of a placement year, an employer is more likely to take the person with the degree and 3 years of experience to boot. Competing with other graduates for the same job becomes easier when you have more years of professional experience to bolster your CV.
On top of the free degree, the salary potential is better, not just during, but after the apprenticeship too. While university graduates are often forced to apply for graduate jobs that don’t always have ideal salaries, degree apprenticeship graduates have more options.
For example, a computer science graduate might only apply to entry level or junior software engineer jobs. On the other hand, a software engineer apprentice could potentially apply to mid-level or even senior positions.
A fairly overlooked advantage is the fact that it provides school-leavers who know exactly what they want to do with a fast-track to their career. Although leaving college with only a vague idea of what you want to do is the common sentiment for most students, there are a few who have a set plan in mind.
For those people, going to university might seem like a waste of money and time. By doing a degree apprenticeship, you’d already be in the career you want and it gives you the chance to work out if it’s truly what you want to do. For more, check out this article by Office for Students.
What are the disadvantages of doing a degree apprenticeship?
One of the biggest aspects of degree apprenticeships that tends to make people hesitant is the social side. It is undeniable that partying and making friends is a big part of university culture. Due to apprentices having less free time, it could be argued that they have less opportunities to engage in social activities.
However, to combat this, many employers have events put in place specifically for apprentices to encourage socialising. Though for some, this is no match to the full university experience of being able to stay out late in the middle of the week and having a flexible schedule. It is up to you to decide how important that is.
Another thing to consider is your certainty about the career path chosen. A disadvantage about these apprenticeships is their specificity. If you have no idea where you see yourself professionally, a degree apprenticeship is a big commitment to take on. University, although costly, exposes you to a variety of people studying different things and provides a sort of buffer to real life.
In addition, degree apprenticeships are a lot of responsibility, and it might be a lot for a school-leaver to take on. Juggling a full-time job and a degree simultaneously is no small feat, especially if you’ve never worked before. This is why it is so important to find supportive providers and employers who will give you the guidance you need. For more on this, check out this article by Coburg Banks.