What is a Higher Apprenticeship?

In Career, General by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

University used to be the expected path for students in higher education, but in recent years apprenticeships have become a lot more popular. This has developed into apprenticeship levels with their own qualification equivalents and entry requirements – which can all be very confusing for prospective apprentices! One such apprenticeship level is a higher apprenticeship: what it is, and what does it involve?

A higher apprenticeship is the second highest apprenticeship level and offers a level 4 or 5 qualification. It can be taken by students who have earned level 3 qualifications such as A-Levels or an advanced level apprenticeship. It is an alternative (and equivalent) to the first year of an undergraduate degree (level 4) or a foundation degree (level 5). Higher apprenticeships combine practical training with study.

Don’t worry if there’s still more you want to know – this article will take you through what a higher apprenticeship is, who it’s for, and how much it costs to complete one!

What does a higher apprenticeship involve?

In a higher apprenticeship, you complete practical training in a workplace (effectively a job – you will get paid and have access to the same rights as employees). However, at the same time you also study.

Most of the time you will be completing practical training – study is only a small element of a higher apprenticeship and is completed in a college or with a training provider.

For further information on what an apprenticeship involves and a guide to apprenticeships in general, please see this Think Student article!

Before you officially complete a higher apprenticeship, you will be assessed. This assessment is just to confirm you have retained what you learned from your studies and training. Passing the assessment earns you your qualification!

To read more about higher apprenticeships, check out information on the UCAS website linked here.

Who can do a higher apprenticeship?

Students who have achieved level 3 qualifications – such as A-Levels or an advanced level apprenticeship – and are over the age of 16 may complete a higher apprenticeship.

You must also have the essential GCSEs, English Language and Maths. While the chances of getting an apprenticeship without these GCSEs is not impossible, it will be very, very low. Your employer will most likely make you take Functional Skills as part of the apprenticeship.

Other specific entry requirements will depend on the employer and on the industry you want to work in. Higher apprenticeships are available to students who are looking to study subjects such as:

  • Business management
  • Childcare
  • Engineering
  • Health and social care
  • Marketing
  • Sport
  • Teaching

This is not a full list of higher apprenticeship fields. If you’d like to search for apprenticeship training in a specific field, check out this page of the government website.

Pros and cons of a higher apprenticeship

A big pro of a higher apprenticeship is that you earn work experience alongside a qualification. Having relevant work experience in your field is a huge advantage over those in full-time study, and makes your chances of getting a job much higher!

Another pro of a higher apprenticeship is that you don’t have to take out a student loan. I’ll be talking about this later in the article, so keep reading to find out more!

A con of a higher apprenticeship is that it isn’t as flexible as a degree. In a higher apprenticeship, you train in one field and only one field, whereas a degree offers you a broader range of knowledge.

Another con of a higher apprenticeship is that you miss out on ‘university life’. However, this is subjective, and if that isn’t something that bothers you, then all the better!

What level is a higher apprenticeship?

Firstly, to understand the different apprenticeship levels, how they’re structured, and whether or not they’re right for you, I’d recommend this guide by Think Student.

Higher apprenticeships are a Level 4 and 5 qualification. As you might notice, it is only one of two apprenticeship levels (the other being a degree apprenticeship) to span two qualification levels.

This is because the qualification equivalents for a higher apprenticeship include both level 4 and 5 qualifications. You can see this in the table below:

Apprenticeship level Level 4 Level 5
Qualification equivalent First year of undergraduate degree

Higher National Certificate (HNC)

Foundation degree

First two years of undergraduate degree

Higher National Diploma (HND)

As you can see from the table, higher apprenticeships are equivalent to the first levels of higher education. You can read more about HNCs here, and HNDs here, from Think Student.

How long does it take to complete a higher apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship can take anywhere from a year up to five years, depending on the employer you’re completing the apprenticeship with, and the field you’re training in.

This page of the Indeed website states that: “Typically your employer determines the duration of the programme, although apprenticeships typically allow for more flexible timelines compared to regular educational routes.”

How long you think you need to complete the apprenticeship will also affect how long it takes to get the qualification. If you choose a part-time course, then it will take longer to complete than a full-time course.

There is no fixed maximum time limit for a higher apprenticeship. You can work at your pace, whether that’s completing one in a year or in a few years!

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

The main difference between a higher apprenticeship and a degree apprenticeship is the entry requirements and the qualifications gained.

As discussed earlier in this article, a higher apprenticeship is a level 4-5 qualification. A degree apprenticeship is the next level up, at a level 6-7 qualification.

As such, the entry requirements for these apprenticeships will be different. Both will require you to have level 3 qualification(s), but you will typically need better grades for a degree apprenticeship.

Similarly, the different apprenticeships offer different qualifications. A higher apprenticeship, being a level 4-5 qualification, will be equivalent to other level 4-5 qualifications, such a foundation degree.

A degree apprenticeship, as suggested by the name, will be equivalent to other level 6-7 qualifications, such as a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Is a higher apprenticeship worth it?

You can start a higher apprenticeship after completing either your A-Levels or an advanced level apprenticeship. You should evaluate whether an apprenticeship or university is right for you in this stage of your life.

A higher apprenticeship is a great gateway into employment that many students don’t get until years later. If you aren’t too worried about not having a full bachelor’s degree and don’t want to take out student loans, a higher apprenticeship is the one for you.

That being said, even if you decide later down the line you do want to pursue a degree, you can do so by taking on a degree apprenticeship, which is the next level of apprenticeships!

If you’d like some guidance on how to apply to an apprenticeship, this Think Student article has everything you need to know!

How much does a higher apprenticeship cost?

According to the UCAS website, you do not have to pay any study costs for a higher apprenticeship – these are funded by your employer and the government.

The government pays 90-95% of the apprenticeship costs, while the employer only pays the remaining 5-10%.

UCAS also reports that government statistics show 90% of apprentices stay in employment after their apprenticeship.

You can read more about this by following this link to the UCAS website.

Apprenticeships are far more financially secure than degrees, because not only do you have work experience to enter your field on completion, but you will also have contacts in your field.

Having no study costs can be a weight off your mind, as you get your qualification without any student debt or loans to repay once you get a job.

Can you get a student loan for a higher apprenticeship?

No, you cannot get a student loan for a higher apprenticeship.

As stated on the UCAS website, linked here, “An apprenticeship is like a real job, so you aren’t eligible for student loans, and you’ll need to cover your day-to-day expenses like living costs, rent and travel in most cases.”

However, UCAS also states that as an apprentice, you are entitled to a salary, holiday, and sick pay like any other employee – these are benefits that full-time students don’t have!

You can’t get a student loan for an apprenticeship because you are not studying full-time. Student loans are there to support students because most can’t work alongside their studies, whereas apprentices earn a wage.

The salary you are paid as an apprentice should cover living costs, so you hopefully won’t need additional financial support.

For more information about finances for apprenticeships, I’d recommend checking out this helpful Think Student article.

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