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University vs apprenticeships: a Mumsnet guide

Deciding whether to study a professional qualification through an apprenticeship or go to university can be a tough choice - here’s our guide to help shed light on the pros and cons of each, and why a degree apprenticeship might be the right choice for your teen.

By Rebecca Roberts | Last updated Feb 17, 2023

Apprenticeships with Lloyds Banking Group

If you’ve landed on this page, our guess is that you have a teenager in the household who is currently trying to answer one of life’s biggest questions, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” They’ve reached the point where they now have to answer this question, but understandably - they may be struggling to decide what’s best for them.

With their sixth form or college education now in the past, they could be unsure which path to take next. Thankfully your teen needn’t panic, as there’s a few options available to them at this stage. In this guide, we’re going to give you an in-depth look at two of the main ones available: a university degree, or a degree apprenticeship.

Both routes give the opportunity to complete a full bachelor’s degree but equally, both have pros and cons. So we’ve consulted our Mumsnet forums and dug out real advice from parents who have gone through this experience with their teens alongside expert advice from Lloyds Banking Group.

Here’s our guide on university versus degree apprenticeships, and why choosing the latter might be the best choice for your teenager.

Qualification levels: a quick overview

  • Intermediate apprenticeships: Level 2, equivalent to GCSE

  • Advanced apprenticeships: Level 3, equivalent to A levels

  • Higher apprenticeships: Levels 4, 5, 6 and 7, equivalent to foundation degrees and above

  • Degree apprenticeships: Levels 6 and 7, equivalent to a Bachelor’s or master’s degree

Differences between a degree and degree apprenticeship

We must stress that an apprenticeship offers a very different journey to achieving a qualification compared to the university route. Primarily because in an apprenticeship, you are technically more of an employee than a student. It’s important your child (and you) understands this fundamental difference. If they wish to experience ‘student life’, choosing an apprenticeship won’t be the correct path for them.

Alternatively, if your teenager knows what career path they’d like to pursue (while avoiding student debt), a degree apprenticeship is certainly the best option.

Degrees at university

If your teenager settles on attending university, they’ll have the opportunity to study a wide range of subjects, although admission to some courses may be dependent on the subjects they’ve already studied at A-level.

Unlike apprenticeships, a university degree provides more time for your child to figure out what they want to do for their future career, all while studying a subject of their choice, indepth, allowing them to gain a variety of transferable skills which will be useful across a wide range of industries later.

After all, the primary focus of a university degree is the acquisition of academic knowledge, whereas apprenticeships offer practical, work-based training.

Intermediate and advanced apprenticeships

For teenagers, intermediate apprenticeships are the first level available and are equivalent to GCSE qualifications. These apprenticeships often combine on-the-job training with studying, and apprentices work towards work-based learning qualifications, like an NVQ Level 2. These courses can be mixed with key skills in English, Maths and ICT if required.

There are Level 2 courses available with companies like Lloyds Banking Group, who offer an intermediate apprenticeship in Financial Services, providing teenagers with the same level of real work experience alongside their qualifications.

Intermediate courses last around 12 months, but there’s no set time limit to complete training.

Advanced apprenticeships are equivalent to A levels, and provide students with the opportunity to build practical experience in the workplace to develop their skills. They are the second level of apprenticeships and can last up to 24 months. Popular sectors include mechanical engineering, beauty, hairdressing, carpentry, joinery, and others.

Higher apprenticeship

The most well-known version of an apprenticeship that you’ll likely be familiar with is a higher apprenticeship. These nationally accredited courses provide opportunities for individuals to ‘earn while they learn’, and are available to teenagers aged 16 or over.

These types of apprenticeships are effectively a real job, so individuals need to meet any criteria set out by the employer alongside gaining their qualification. Entry requirements are different depending on your employer and which industry you’re entering.

Higher apprenticeships are available in England at levels 4, 5, 6 and 7. Level 4 apprenticeships are equivalent to the first year of an undergraduate degree, or a Higher National Certificate (HNC). A level 5 apprenticeship is equivalent to a foundation degree, or a Higher National Diploma (HND).

Level 6 apprenticeships are equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree, and a level 7 is equivalent to a master’s degree.

“Why aren’t apprenticeships more common place…? Surely training on the job is just as valuable as going to universities?”


Degree apprenticeships

Last but not least, there are degree apprenticeships. Launched in 2015, this latest model is rapidly becoming a popular choice both by teenagers, mature students and companies.

Degree apprenticeships are primarily targeted at 18 to 19 year old school levers, as an alternative route to gaining a degree. They’re a great choice for anyone who is unsure about university due to high tuition fees and student debt, and they’re also suitable for mature students returning to education.

Degree apprenticeships combine both higher and vocational education, and fully test an individual’s workplace competence as well as their academic learning. Completing a degree apprenticeship gives your teenager the opportunity to gain a paid-for undergraduate or master’s degree while getting industry experience and earning a salary at the same time.

“Degree apprenticeship all the way. No debt and learning skills whilst training will put them in a better position for employment.”


They’ll spend most of their time working, and they’ll also study part-time at university. For example, your teen might go to university for one or two days a week, or in short blocks like a week at a time. Overall, they’ll spend around 20% of their time studying, vs. 80% of their time working.

Degree apprenticeships are available in lots of industries according to UCAS: from hands-on fields like nursing, engineering and teaching, to more office-based roles like business administration, finance, and law. In fact, for people wanting to train as a doctor, a new Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship launched in July 2022, enabling apprentices to access undergraduate medical education and the same training as traditional routes.

Great examples of degree apprenticeships are like those provided by Lloyds Banking Group.  Apprentices can develop skills, knowledge and experience in areas like cyber security, financial services, accountancy and software engineering, all whilst getting a good salary and gaining a recognised qualification.

Apprenticeships with Lloyds Banking Group

Pros and cons of degree apprenticeships

Naturally there are pros and cons to choosing a degree apprenticeship should your teenager wish to take this path instead of university.

Pros of degree apprenticeships

  • Your teenager will get real-life experience working alongside their degree

  • Their degree is fully paid for, so there’s no cost to them or you

  • They’ll be paid a salary like a normal employee

  • A great choice for teenagers who know what career they’d like to pursue

Real-life experience: apprentices can experience real-life scenarios in their chosen field, putting them at an advantage over, say, someone who has joined the industry following their university degree. They effectively have a head-start in their industry.

Earn while you learn: your teenager will have a secure income, earning a salary while also avoiding student debt that full-time university students face.

More opportunities available: degree apprenticeships oftentimes lead to full-time employment, and workers may have better access to careers that offer competitive pay and room for advancement.

Great for teens who know what they’d like to do: while a degree apprenticeship may be more specific than a course at university, they can be a better choice for individuals who have an idea of what industry they’d like to work in and the type of career they wish to pursue.

Become more specialised in their chosen field: apprentices working with companies like Lloyds Banking Group will become experts in their field more quickly, advancing their skills and building a strong network to fast track their career.  It would really appeal to teenagers who benefit from applied learning, the opportunity to put into practice straight away what they are learning.  They are good for people who want to progress their career quickly and get into the workforce right away.

“It's an excellent route to a secure job... Apprenticeships are no longer just for non-academic 16 years old school leavers.”


Cons of degree apprenticeships

  • Need to balance working and studying at the same time

  • They may be limit their career options

  • Apprentices don’t always get the traditional ‘university experience’

  • Application takes place outside of UCAS

Limited to certain fields: changing career paths down the road could prove more challenging for your child should they decide to switch industries.

Balancing work and studying: unlike full-time university students, who can get out of bed by 11am to attend one lecture for the day, an apprentice will - as we’ve mentioned - be an employee, and expected to behave as so. That means clocking in and out like everyone else, working normal hours on their dedicated work days, all while squeezing in studying in evenings and in their allotted study days.

Doesn’t provide the ‘university experience’: if your teenager yearns to experience ‘university life’, this option isn’t for them. Apprentices are employees, with real jobs, earning a salary - but while studying on the side.

Meet Amy, a degree level apprentice in Lloyds Banking Group

Apprenticeships with Lloyds Banking Group

Currently, Amy is a second year degree apprentice working in commercial banking at the Lloyds Banking Group, and this year, was voted Lloyds Banking Group - Degree Apprentice of the Year.

Amy shares: “I became an apprentice to gain a head-start in my  career; to gain the tools, experience, and qualifications required to succeed in my career and also aid in various aspects of my personal life.

“I did apply to university as it was mandatory at my school to apply as a minimum. However, I had no interest in going unless I didn’t get into an apprenticeship. The career that I wanted within Finance had better opportunities for me than going to university and I would rather have the experience and degree (through an apprenticeship), than simply the degree.

“It is a great way to gain a bit of a head start, I have no student debt and also am able to apply everything directly, rather than forgetting what I have learnt over three years. Overall the apprenticeship has placed me in a stronger position in respect to confidence, leadership abilities, knowledge, and networking within my career in comparison to graduates coming from university. Apprenticeships are most definitely the best option for those seeking to gain a head start in their career.”

How to apply for a degree apprenticeship

According to the Office for Students, your teen needs to apply for a degree apprenticeship in the same way they would apply for a job - by finding opportunities and submitting an application.

Generally, they would include their CV and a cover letter. If your child is also applying for university, they could also use their personal statement as a starting point for their application.

It’s worth noting that these days, more and more companies like Lloyds Banking Group are using a strength-based approach in their recruitment process. They consider opportunities where individuals can build on what they’re naturally good at, and where their passion lies, rather than looking at past experience. For apprenticeships such as theirs, applicants complete a mixture of online tests and virtual challenges as part of their assessment, and there’s lots of guidance available throughout the process.

When to apply

Like other jobs, employers advertise degree apprenticeships throughout the year, and there is no application cycle like there is with university. The vacancy should state when the application deadline is, and when the apprenticeship is due to start.

As an example Lloyds Banking Group do recruit all year round but also focus on an Autumn intake for school leavers with vacancies being advertised from November.

A good time to look for vacancies is National Apprenticeship Week which tends to fall in February every year.

Where to apply

You can find degree apprenticeships in a few different ways:


The government’s ‘Find an apprenticeship’ service is the main way to search for a degree apprenticeship. They also have helpful details on degree apprenticeships, here.

2. Employers and providers

Specific employers will advertise their own apprenticeship opportunities, through well-known jobs websites like LinkedIn or through their own sites. Many will also advertise at job fairs, so it’s worth arranging time to visit local fairs to scout available roles.

3. Mumsnet

It’s worth checking out our own Mumsnet jobs board as quite often, companies advertise their available roles and apprenticeships.

4. Prospects

A website that provides a searchable listing of available degree apprenticeships.

5. Rate my apprenticeship

A website which publishes a list of the top 100 employers of apprenticeships rated by school and college leavers.

6. Amazing apprenticeships

This website shares apprenticeship opportunities with major employers, including Lloyds Banking Group.