For those considering a future with a corporate brand – perhaps in finance, IT, construction, engineering or business management – you may be wondering whether it is better to apply as a graduate having first been to Uni? Or perhaps better to try for one of the new higher or degree apprenticeships straight from school?

We gather the local course and apprenticeship information together in the relevant careers rooms on and we’ve been taking a look behind the scenes to help explain what they are so you can make a more informed choice.

In the first of this mini-series, we are covering the academic element of these apprenticeships. And first …

A quick overview of most apprenticeship learning

An apprenticeship is a job with plenty of skills and knowledge training in the workplace, but enhanced by nationally recognised qualifications delivered by an external provider, such as a training company or college.

The majority of these are level 2 / Intermediate apprenticeships and level 3 / Advanced apprenticeships. And most include qualifications such as NVQs plus they offer Functional Skills qualifications in Maths and English if you still need to pass these subjects.

Unlike pure education, the majority of your time will be in the workplace. You then either meet your external training provider in work – they’ll come to you – or you attend college on pre-agreed dates; perhaps weekly, monthly or on block-release for 3+ months at a time.

The academic difference with higher and degree apprenticeships

Higher and degree apprenticeships are similar in that you spend most of your time in the workplace, learning from your employer and perhaps also getting job-relevant certificates and achievements for your CV. In IT roles, for example, this could be the SFIA professional competence as well as recognition by the British Computer Society (BCS) for entry onto the register of IT Technicians.3

However, higher apprenticeships also offer level 4+ qualifications and degree apprenticeships offer level 5+ qualifications, both of which can be delivered by a Uni or a professional body. More on this in a minute.

A few considerations

Not everywhere – not all universities and colleges offer higher or degree apprenticeship courses. It is probably better to find the right apprenticeship advert first and then weigh up all the benefits of the job, the employer, the qualifications and the Uni.

Study location – it may or may not be important where the Uni itself is located. You will be spending most of your time at work and either commute one day a week to the classroom – or potentially spend the whole of your first year away at the Uni studying full-time before returning to the employer to complete your apprenticeship. However, it is worth considering that the academic element of the apprenticeship may be away from home at a university that you perhaps hadn’t previously considered.

Online – the advert for a higher or degree apprenticeship will clearly state any study requirements (e.g. block release to a named Uni). And it may require full or part online study which is worth considering if this doesn’t suit your natural learning style.

Bespoke – some of the qualifications for these apprenticeships are bespoke to a single employer. They will have devised the specialist content in close collaboration with the Uni to ensure that it meets their specific requirements. As a result, you will have a degree from a recognised Uni, but have completed a very unique course rather than one which mirrors the mainstream degrees available.

Professional qualification – some of these apprenticeships do not include a Uni degree at all. Instead they enable you to achieve a specialist professional qualification – such as the AAT accountancy qualification (L4).

Entry criteria – as you are applying for a higher-level apprenticeship, be aware that these will require higher pre-requisites, such as A-level, BTEC or equivalent exam results. The degree apprenticeships could well also be looking for UCAS tariff points.

What sort of subjects can I study?

There’s a wide range – and a growing list – of possible degree subjects on a higher or degree apprenticeship.

It can help to take a look alongside the type of qualification you can do –

  • Higher National Certificate (L4) – e.g. HNC Civil Engineering or Software Development
  • Higher National Diploma (L5) – e.g. HND Construction in the Built Environment
  • Foundation Degree (L5) – e.g. FdSC/FdA Project Management or Applied Bioscience
  • Bachelors Honours Degree (L6) – e.g. BSc/BA (Hons) Chemical/Pharmaceutical Science or Digital and Technology Solutions.

There are also level 4+ Diplomas such as HR Management (L5), the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) Diploma in Management and Leadership (L5), the Diploma in IT Systems and Principles (L4) and the Paraplanner Standard (L4).

And there can be part-qualifications as part of a higher or degree apprenticeship, such as an LLB in Legal Practice and the Legal Practice Course elements required to sit the Solicitors Qualifying Exams.

Meanwhile, some of the training companies also deliver their own level 4 specialist qualifications, such as Firebrand who provide residential training at their own training centre and accelerated IT training so you’ll achieve certifications with partners like, ITIL and Microsoft faster.

Academic benefits of a higher or degree apprenticeship

Mortar board – assuming the qualification is delivered by a Uni, you can expect to complete an apprenticeship with a higher education degree and be awarded your degree with full cap and gown.

Workplace training – where you are studying for a professional qualification, it will usually be one which is also undertaken by graduates. If you started at 18, you will be on track to complete your qualification at an earlier age than the graduates – and you will have the added benefit of all that relevant workplace learning, and general ‘foot-in-the-door’ employment experience as well.

Increasingly local – We have local Unis such as UWE and UCW offering degree apprenticeships as well as employers in our postcode area such as Lloyds Banking Group, the MoD, Airbus, BAE Systems, BAM Nuttall, IBM, Capgemini and Rolls Royce. We’re huge fans of what’s already on our doorstep so these present fantastic opportunities with more on the way!

No student loans – you have the benefit of there not being any tuition fees – and so no need for a student loan – because these costs will be covered for you as part of the apprenticeship.

How do they differ to a traditional degree?

The line between a higher or degree apprenticeship and any degree is getting increasingly blurred as more and more courses offer employer contact time. However, one of the main differences is the amount of time spent learning in the workplace on an apprenticeship compared with mainly classroom-based courses.

Even with a sponsored degree, where a student will expect to spend above-average time with a sponsoring employer, this is period is typically restricted to internships or to a single year of a sandwich degree and therefore still considerably less than on a workplace-based apprenticeship.

However, there are signs that sponsored degrees are morphing into degree apprenticeships as the Government will then be part-funding the programme.

And finally …

There are details on degree apprenticeships on the UCAS website, and on the various .Gov websites with individual adverts on the Find an Apprenticeship website and local adverts with a BS or BA postcode in the relevant careers rooms on

If you are thinking ahead to one of these top apprenticeships – or even if you have already submitted your UCAS application and are also considering this option – make sure that you thoroughly research the amount of work involved as you would be in a job at the same time as studying for a qualification. It’s Your Future – Let’s Get It Started!

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