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Is university right for you?

Week 3

25 September 2023

Go to uni? Get a job? Become a shut-in? Adopt ten cats? What you do after college is entirely up to you, and that's exactly why it's such a difficult decision to make.

This week we are going to look at some of the most popular options, from apprenticeships and university to gap years and the world of work.

It's easy, right? You either go to uni, or you don't. Simple. Well, for some it may be, but for others, it really isn't. Is university worth it for you? If you still aren't sure, it's important to remember that no decision is far better than a rushed decision. Take it easy, and don't commit to anything that you aren't 100% happy with.

Last week, we suggested you think about what you want out of your career. If you've given this some thought, hopefully you might now have a clearer idea of what it is you want to do (or at least what kind of lifestyle you want to lead). The next step is to think about how you're going to get there.

Go to uni

Firstly, it's worth remembering that a fair few professions will require you to have a degree. If you have your heart set on one particular field, make sure you do your research.

Of course, there's more to being a student than getting the academic qualifications. There are lots of other good reasons why university is worth it - the student experience, standing on your own two feet, joining societies, or even learning to cook!

Having a degree could make you more employable in certain industries, even if it's not an essential requirement. University will give you three years to grow as a person, try new things, and really work out what you want from your career.

The transferable skills that come from studying at university - critical thinking, research, independence and project management, to name just a few - are valued by employers in all industries.

Leap into the world of work

What do Simon Cowell, Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs have in common? None of them got a university degree. But, they're all successful in their careers, so it's worth remembering that you don't need to go to uni to become a success.

For some, three more years of education just doesn't appeal, but stepping straight into the world of work does. Some careers place a lot of emphasis on 'learning on the job'. If you've got good grades at GCSE, BTEC, A-Level, or T-Level, there are a wide range of professional roles that would be more than happy to take you on without a degree.

And just because you've gone straight into work after college, it doesn't mean you can't study for qualifications later on. Lots of people decide to go to university later in life - either using their existing experience to do a 'top-up' degree, which takes a year, or taking the time out to do a three-year undergraduate degree. Or you can study for professional qualifications in areas like marketing, accounting, HR, and computing, after you've worked in your chosen field for a few years and gained 'on-the-job' experience.

Take a look at apprenticeships

If you're worried about paying university tuition fees, or if you simply want the best of both worlds, why not consider an apprenticeship.

There are tons of opportunities in lots of sectors, from construction or engineering, to healthcare or management. Higher and degree apprenticeships mean you can study for a higher or degree qualification while still getting paid to work in your chosen profession.

You can apply for a higher or degree apprenticeship while you're still at school or college. First you need to find an employer running an apprenticeship scheme in the field in which you want to work. You can do this on the GOV.UK website.

You'll need to attend an interview, as with any job. If you're successful, you'll not only be in paid employment, but you'll be given the time to work towards a university qualification at the same time. And you'll be earning some money without having to pay any tuition fees.

Set sail with a career at sea

If you're looking for a job which will take you all over the world, the chance to leave education debt free and a well paid career with some great prospects, a career in the shipping industry could be for you!

There are a range of exciting careers both at sea and ashore. While many people who join the Merchant Navy will aim to reach the ranks of captain, chief engineer, or chief electro-technical officer, others may choose to work ashore in areas such as logistics, law and finance, for example.

So, if you're looking for an alternative to university, it might be worth exploring joining the Merchant Navy for a career at sea.

Find out more about a career at sea and how to apply for a cadetship.

Do something different

What about a gap year? Taking a year out to go travelling, volunteer, do an internship, or try something different is a great way to really think about what you want to do, and could help you make a better-informed decision.

Taking a gap year could help you gain valuable work experience and develop your transferable skills, not to mention increase your confidence and independence before taking the next step to uni.

Make sure you plan, though - what you want to achieve, finances, how will it benefit you in the long run. has some good tips for planning a gap year.

One thing to note: if you're thinking of applying to uni and then taking a gap year, you'll need to find out if you can defer your place for a year. You'll need to show that your gap year is constructive and that you'll gain something from it that'll benefit your degree studies.

If you've opted to do something related to what you'll be studying, this may help strengthen your case. After that, it's up to your chosen university to assess and decide if they'll allow you to defer.

Do what's right for you

Basically, there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. What's important is that you do what feels right for you. And not because all your friends are going to uni or getting jobs, or because your mum and dad want you to. By taking the time to research the best way to get to where you want to be, you'll be in a great position to take that next step, in whichever direction it may be.

Tasks for this week

  • Research what qualifications employers in your chosen profession are looking for. You might find that degree-level education isn't as mandatory as you'd expect.
  • Have a look to see if you can learn your trade 'on the job’ or do an apprenticeship. Experience in the workplace is invaluable.
  • Look at alternatives to formal education. This could be a gap year, a career in the maritime industry, volunteering, teaching English as a foreign language, or any other worthwhile opportunities that may come your way. These kinds of experiences can contribute towards your education, growth and employability in all sorts of unique ways.