Should you pursue an apprenticeship in 2021?

The degree vs. apprenticeship debate is long-running and choosing your next move requires careful consideration.

By U2B Staff 

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Fortunately for those beginning their academic journey to professional success, there’s more than one route available to leadership. Learners can opt for the traditional university route or work towards a degree through a higher or degree apprenticeship.

The degree vs. apprenticeship debate is long-running. Higher education remains a popular option but most attitudes towards apprenticeships have also evolved to become an equivalent in some cases and an ideal stepping stone in others.

Both paths have their merits. If you’re someone who really wants to embrace the student experience and explore your course subject in-depth, going to university might be for you.

If you enjoy hands-on, experiential learning, want to get paid for on-the-job training and get an education without worrying about tuition fees, then an apprenticeship could be a better option.


If both routes sound appealing to you, consider weighing out the pros and cons of university vs apprenticeships. It is important to remember that you do not have to apply for one or the other. A good way to keep your options open is by applying for both. Here are some of the key differences between experiencing an apprenticeship vs experiencing university life:

Learning types 

Apprentices are constantly learning new skills on the job, and have the opportunity to apply this new knowledge every day.

University, on the other hand, prepares learners for the workforce, but you normally have to wait for about four years before applying your skills. Of course, internships and placements are common in regular degree programmes. However, it is still not as instant as apprenticeships.

Knowledge gained 

Apprenticeships will put you to work immediately, and therefore you will need to grasp the basics as quickly as possible. These students are known to progress quicker as being exposed to a work environment every day allows for quicker adaptation.

University, however, provides a broader set of knowledge. You will still be taught key skills required for a successful career, however, you will  also be taught the theories behind concepts. 

Electives outside of your discipline can also be a good learning opportunity to venture out of your comfort zone –– a perk that will make you more agile and resilient in the process.


With costs on a constant rise, many see university as a gamble, while some still see it as an investment. Few students have the funds available to pay fees outright, meaning the majority of them are forced to take on lengthy student loans.

Best case scenario? They will go on to acquire rewarding roles that will enable them to pay off these loans. However, a lot of university students end up in entry-level positions surrounded by co-workers who lack qualification, but excel as natural-born upskillers. In other words, they were able to execute these tasks by teaching themselves ––– an option far less costly.


Comparatively, most apprenticeship courses are usually undertaken as full-time jobs, which means participants receive work entitlements such as time-off and other perks. 

What’s the catch? Apprenticeship students pay for their qualification, but not for their experience. 

Work placements undertaken in university, are usually part of a required unit. This means that most university students have to pay for the opportunity to experience the workforce, domestically or abroad.

What do employers think?

Research commissioned by the Association of Accounting Technicians, conducted among 1,000 organisations employing more than five staff, shows that employers prefer candidates to have experience from an apprenticeship more than having a university degree.

49% of employers said they would prefer to see experience from a relevant apprenticeship or previous position on a candidate’s CV, compared to only 24% who would prefer a relevant degree.

When asked why they prioritise candidates with relevant experience from an apprenticeship or previous position, 71% stated it was because candidates had demonstrated their skills in a practical setting, and 62% revealed it shows candidates have a better understanding of the world of work.

Universities, on the other hand, will always be respected for the depth of knowledge and transferable skills it provides. 

In conclusion, one option is not necessarily better than the other. Individuals should consider their current situations before making their final decision. How much money are you willing to spend? Would you rather earn? Are you ready for the workplace? Would you benefit from more preparation?