options... not going to uni? What are the alternatives?


What it’s all about?

Apprenticeships are on the rise, with more young people interested in earning and learning than ever before. Apprenticeships are available in all sorts of areas and are a great way to gain a qualification while getting hands on experience as well as a wage. Best of all, they aren’t just for people wanting to work in manual labor jobs. You can now do an apprenticeship in journalism, law, accountancy, photography and much more.

Levels of apprenticeship

  • Intermediate – equivalent to 5 GCSE passes
  • Advanced – equivalent to 2 A level passes
  • Higher – can lead to NVQ Level 4 and above, or a foundation degree

How can I do it?

  • You must be 16 years old or over
  • Living in England
  • Not in full time education

"My apprenticeship gave me a ‘foot in the door’ to a Microsoft Gold Partner"

Kimberley Bolton, IT apprentice at K3 CRM

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School leaver programmes

What it’s all about?

School leaver programmes give A-level students the chance to work towards a university degree and/or professional qualification. They’re a little longer than apprenticeships, and vary from company to company in terms of what they involve.

There are now school leaver programmes in all business sectors, from technical, commercial to creative. They are generally with FTSE 100 leading employers who offer great training programmes and pay good starting salaries.

How can I do it?

  • On average, companies are looking for 240+ UCAS points either via A Levels or equivalent qualifications
  • Employers will be looking for someone who is ready to experience a professional environment, but is also keen to continue learning

Kayleigh Anderson, Accountancy School Leavers Programme

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Gap year

What it’s all about?

Gap years are an extremely popular choice among young people after college. They give you the chance to spend a year away from education, feeing you up for travel, work experience, research and deciding where you want to go next.

They’re perfect if you haven’t quite decided what you want to do next, often it will become clear what you want to do after you’ve taken a break from education. Even if you do know what your next steps are to your career, a gap year could be that final boost on your CV you need before you begin applying.

How can I do it?

  • Travel – you can spend the year travelling the world
  • Volunteer – either at a local charity or in another country
  • Work – and start saving money before uni, or an internship/apprenticeship

"It’s really the time away that gives you the opportunity to think about what you want to do"

Anouska Cope, PR apprentice at Salix & Co

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What it’s all about?

Internships are a great way to build up your experience of the work place and build on your knowledge. They’re very similar to work experience, except for a few differences. Internships tend to last a lot longer than work experience, and the employer has to at least pay for your expenses.

Work experience tends to be more random and less specific, whereas an internship allows you to experience a very specific industry so you can decide if it’s right for you. They’re a great way to get your foot in the door and start building contacts.

How can I do it?

  • An internship is a great way to try out a career before committing to it
  • Many companies hire interns as a way of recruiting new employees, rather than advertise a vacancy
  • Even if a permanent position doesn’t come of it – this level of work experience will look brilliant on your CV
  • Internships can be just as competitive as a job
  • For most internships, you’ll have to fill out an application form and attend and interview
  • At the end of your internship, you might be given the opportunity to interview again for a permanent role

"I love working with something which I have a genuine passion about."

Maddie Hanson, marketing intern at Penguin Random House

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Work experience

Whats it all about?

Experiencing a potential career for a few weeks is the perfect way to decide whether or not it’s suited to you. Whether it helps you decide what you want to study or whether you want to study at all, if you can get a couple of weeks in the work place they’ll surely be worth it.

Work experience doesn’t even have to be in the field you’re thinking of going in to or end up in – any work experience is useful work experience. It shows employers that you’ve experienced a professional environment, know how to conduct yourself, and took the initiative to try and find some experience for yourself. Not only that, but if you’ve done well on your placement and impressed you can get a reference written – this is always a bonus when looking to apply for jobs.

How can I do it?

  • Potential job opportunities at the end
  • Learn important life skills like time keeping, deadlines, working in a team
  • Employers love seeing work experience on a CV


"While I don’t think that doing badly in your exams is positive, it certainly opens your eyes to other options – which can’t be a bad thing."

Jack Baker, UNFM work experience

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University Technical Colleges (UTCs)

What’s it all about?

UTCs are state schools that were created to address the skills gap in areas such as engineering, product design, digital technologies and manufacturing. Aimed at 14–18 year olds, UTCs work directly with universities  and local employers combining a technical and academic curriculum with the opportunity to focus on your employability skills too.

By 2017 there will be 55 UTCs across the country and will be backed by more than 500 employers, so you’ll have connections to the industry you want to go into after the course.

Find a UTC in your area and see where it could take you.

 How can I do it?

  • Find out where your nearest UTC is
  • Find out what their specialist subject is
  • Once you’ve researched, get applying!

' I always knew I wanted to go into engineering, I have a constant need to know how things work and how they are put together.'

Holly Broadhurst, JCB Academy, Higher Apprentice

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National Vocational Qualification (NVQ)

What’s it all about?

NVQs test your ability to work in the work place. They’re extremely hands on and are great and building your knowledge and preparing you for your future career, as well as giving you a great qualification by the end of it.

How can I do it?

  • Candidates must demonstrate their competency in their chosen career or role
  • National Vocational Qualifications recognise the practical skills and knowledge a person needs to know their job
  • No examinations
  • Improve employability
  • A diploma is a certificate which indicates a student has completed a course of study

Straight to work

What’s it all about?

For some people, education just isn’t for them. Instead, it’s time for them to get into the big wide world of work. Although full time work at a young age may seem daunting, it can be incredibly rewarding to get a head start while others are still working.

How can I do it?

There are a number of ways of going straight into work – traineeships and apprenticeships for example. Although they’re both qualifications that involve training and learning, they still take place primarily in the work place. If these don’t sound right to you, you can always start at an entry level position and work your way up – depending on what industry you’re interested in!


"The key to being successful in the sense of having a career without a degree is purely motivation."

Rosie Hardy, self taught photographer

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Distance learning

What is distance learning?

  • Distance learning is studying for a qualification without actually attending classes
  • Support is provided via a virtual learning environment, telephone, email or even through Skype
  • There’s the occasional meeting face to face with a tutor at an open university

How can I do it?

  • Most distance learning courses are done through an open university
  • However, most of the actual studying and learning is done at home
  • You will learn through resources given to you as part of the course, such as videos and textbooks


Start your own business

What’s it all about?

If you have an entrepreneurial flare and consider yourself the next Richard Branson, it might be time to consider starting your own business. Every business starts with an idea, and then t’s up to you where you take it. To start your own business you have to be able to self motivate and aim high. Positive thinking is key to starting your own business, because it’s definitely not guaranteed success – its takes a lot of hard work and ambition to make your business work.

How can I do it?

  • With any business you can think of, it started with one idea that grew. If you have a great idea you can picture making your career, you’re already off to a good start.
  • When it comes to getting your budding business of the ground, investment can help a lot. Start by asking around your friends and family, and if all else fails head to the bank.
  • You might have the idea and the funds, but without the knowledge and know how that doesn’t mean very much. try and find someone who has been in the business world for a while and can mentor you in how to navigate it. It’ll pay off later when you already know the in’s and out’s!

"At the age of 13 I had made my first grand."

Ollie Forsyth, entrepreneur

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