5 Reasons I Chose An Apprenticeship Over University
A great number of people dive straight into a university course right after finishing their college education. Couldn’t be me. I went through a few years of umming and ahing before I took my next steps after college. If like me, you weren’t sure what you were meant to be, where you were meant to go or how to get there - then read on, my friend. I might just have a solution for you. And if you’re already in the process of applying to university but still have doubts lingering, take a little break from that personal statement and just read on.
My Educational Journey
During college A-Levels, I studied Media Studies (super fun, highly recommend), Photography (had been into photography since age 13) & English Literature (I prefer to not think about this one). Upon coming up to the end of my two years of study, I had begun the painful UCAS application process. But soon after, I pulled out from the process - I can’t quite remember why.
I got wind of foundation degrees and started to consider one for my next step. If you’ve never heard of this, it’s like a university-taster but instead of paying £9,250 for the year-long course you pay about half of that. I then saw that one of my local colleges was offering foundation degree courses for free if you were aged 19 or under - so of course I applied, interviewed and got accepted onto an Art & Design Foundation Course (specialising in photography).
Toward the end of the foundation degree, I began the UCAS application process again. I paid for my UCAS application, spent hours torturing myself writing my personal statement, went for interviews with universities as far as Southampton and Bournemouth (I’m from the midlands so this was quite a trek each time), got an unconditional offer from my firm choice and then naturally - decided I wasn’t ready. I deferred my placement for a year.
During this time, I worked, and as the new academic year came closer, I decided once again that I wasn’t ready and called up to let them know I wouldn’t be going. All of that, just to not go. I’m a big believer in signs and listening to your gut, which hasn’t failed me once. This time I decided all of these backing-outs and deferring’s were signs I didn’t want to do it, so that was my end to the pain-staking university decision mess.
Now, onto the part of my life where things started getting better.
Feeling a little lost and not sure what my future held, I then realised I could still get a good career in the creative field I wanted through an apprenticeship. A few years ago, university probably would’ve been my only option. But it’s all changing now. I didn’t really know about all the benefits of an apprenticeship at this point, all I knew was that my little gut was pulling me towards it. It wasn’t until I began the apprenticeship, I started realising the benefits and how much good it had done for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I was off to a rocky start. The first apprenticeship I applied to was for a Digital Marketing role with a marketing agency in my local area. I did a month-long trial and found that this particular marketing agency wasn’t for me. I then applied to another apprenticeship that I’d seen advertised on the gov website. This was for a company in the beauty industry, as a ‘Social Media & Content Apprentice’ (My job was entirely content production but the college course I ended up doing was all marketing focused, so honestly, I have no idea what I was doing at this point).
I spent 8 months here, but then left due to many reasons to do with the company itself. In summary, the company had employed me for several months and were paying me the absolute lowest apprenticeship wage they legally could - which I found out was actually illegal at the time because I wasn’t an apprentice. Instead of signing me up for the apprenticeship with the local college, getting me enrolled on the course and then employing me - they did it the complete opposite way round and were illegally paying me £4.15 per hour for about 6-7 months because it took them that long to sign me up with the college.
After a combination of the colleagues in my office space, heavy workloads and ridiculously tight deadlines shattering my mental health - I quit. I was kind of exhausted at this point, but I knew that giving up wasn’t the answer.
FYI after I quit, I made a formulated spreadsheet working out how much money they owed me, sent it over to them and received every penny in backpay. If this ever happens to you, PLEASE don’t let it go. Get that dollar.
I know what I just told you has probably left you wondering why I’ve mentioned my negative experience in a blog about apprenticeships being great, and it seems like a huge put-off for apprenticeships, but don’t let it be. I just wanted to be completely transparent with you that sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs to find your job-prince*. The problem I just told you about that last job, had nothing to do with apprenticeships being bad - it was 100% to do with a sh*tty employer.
*Do not kiss your employer
So, without further ado, here’s my 5 reasons I chose an apprenticeship over university.
1. You Gain Experience in The Field Before You’ve Even Finished Studying
To me, it never made sense to go to university where I would be sitting listening to someone tell me how to do something, writing up thousand-word essays and then spend a smaller portion of time actually applying the skills they were teaching me. It makes so much more sense to me spending my time doing the job I’m looking to get qualified in.
I may be biased because I find it difficult to learn through listening or watching, so sitting in lecture halls and writing huge time-consuming essays feels like a waste of time for me - I prefer to learn through doing. I’d much rather spend 1 year learning all the practical skills I need on-the-job, instead of 3 years doing bits and bobs here and there with a bunch of essays and lectures in between it all.
If you’d like an unbiased opinion though, just listen to my recently-graduated-from-university boyfriend. To give you some context, he finished university a year ago (graduated just last week), applied for jobs over the course of last summer and when it came to me structuring this blog, I asked him which of my 6 reasons he thought was the most enticing about apprenticeships.
“For me it’s the part about gaining experience on the job. The most daunting thing for me was applying for a job after uni because I didn’t know what the employers expected me to know. So even now, it’s hard to learn new things at work because when asking questions, I have to go through the whole process of ‘should I already know this?’ and ‘What if I ask this question and they think “we’ve just hired this idiot”. At least with an apprenticeship, they know you’re going into it not knowing much about the subject. To the employer, you’re just some kid fresh out of A-Levels or something equivalent who doesn’t know a lot and they’re aware that you’re going to be asking a lot of questions and learning from them, but if you go into a job in your chosen field after uni - to the employer you’re like a big adult with a dissertation who should know their stuff.” -Kynan Gillie, Junior Software Engineer, boyfriend, pretty cool guy.
FYI, not every fresh apprentice is ‘some kid straight out of A-Levels or equivalent’, he just means that’s kind what an employer has in their mind (it’s a good thing). I started my apprenticeship weeks before I turned 21, that’s the same age as people graduating from uni who I went to school with.
I feel like I’ve rambled on a bit here, but my main point is that when you leave university you have to go through this anxiety-riddled process of applying to jobs. Not hearing anything back from people, getting turned down because they’ve hired someone with year’s experience, or it being an intern/graduate job with a list as long as your arm of essential experience needed for you to even be considered for interview (seen this far too many times from people on LinkedIn).
When you leave your apprenticeship (which takes half or even a third of the time it takes the get through uni), you already have four things:
● Your qualification
● One year's worth of experience
● A portfolio of work
● An employer reference
2. You’re Pretty Much Guaranteed A Job In The Field Afterwards
I’ve just spoken about how much easier it will be for you to find a job after completing your apprenticeship, but it gets better. In 99.9% of cases, you won't have to look for a new job after completing your apprenticeship because the employer will just keep you on.
When an employer takes on an apprentice, they’re looking to spend a year training someone up from scratch to become a part of their team and add value to their company, as well as giving someone young a chance at what they want to do. The only reason I could possibly imagine someone not having a job with the employer after their apprenticeship would be if you weren’t a good employee. If you just do your job as you should, you’re sorted and have nothing to worry about.
Another thing that worried me about university was that I had worked in many part time jobs over the years in the hospitality industry, where my colleagues were still working full time in that industry anywhere between 5 or 10 years after university. Some people had told me they regretted studying their course because they found it so hard finding a job or getting into the industry afterwards that they just never left their just-to-pay-the-bills-until-I-find-another-job job.
So, when you compare pretty much having a guaranteed job, to leaving university and having to start from scratch and find your first job - I don’t need to tell you which one's the no-brainer.
3. You Make Money Along The Way
Most people will say “but apprentices get paid so little”, which always really bothers me. If you go to university, you get paid nothing. I’d much rather be making something from my education than nothing at all. When you study at university, if you want to make money you have to give up your evenings and weekends for a part time or even full-time job - which just isn’t healthy at all. You need time to unwind and focus on your mental health.
As I said before, I’ve worked in the hospitality industry. I did it at the same time as studying for my foundation diploma - this sucked. I couldn’t make plans without saying “I’ll let you know when I get my rota” (which was forever changing days before my plans anyway or even hours before my shifts). It wasn’t just about plans though, it was about having no time for myself or to focus on my mental health. My time was just spent sitting in lessons, then outside of lessons was writing essays and doing coursework. Then outside of that time I was working my ass off.
Now I get paid for the full time studying I do, plus I get my evenings and weekends to spend time with people I love or doing things that serve me, my body and my mind.
Back to that “but apprentices get paid so little”. A lot of employers are paying higher than the standard apprentice rate and there’s always room to negotiate your pay. Before finding my current employer for my apprenticeship, I worked somewhere else that had given me a bit of experience to get myself into the current apprentice role. When I spoke to the employer about going into this job, I thought I was worth more than the average apprenticeship wage. So, I asked if I could get more money before I accepted the job, and they raised the annual salary on my job offer letter.
Go for it! If you don’t ask, you don’t get. The worst that could happen is they say no, and then you go about your day as normal. It only makes you more admirable showing people you know your worth and you're strong enough to ask for more when you think you deserve it. So go and ask them for more money and know that I’m here cheering you on when you do it, no matter the outcome.
4. You Will Be Looked After
I’ve seen a lot of people in tears on their private Snapchat or Instagram stories about their mental health being drained because of university and work life balance, as well as feeling that they don’t get enough support from the universities they study at.
After I found Apprentify and the Juice Academy, I feel like everything has gone uphill for me. My advice - don’t choose an apprenticeship where the employer is responsible for sorting out your education alongside the job (e.g. that employer I mentioned earlier where they had to enrol me with a local college). Sign up to an apprenticeship provider because it’s the only way you’ll get properly looked after.
I never really found that I could balance work life with studies and my mental health all at the same time - but since I’ve been on board with an apprenticeship through Juice, I’ve felt much more able to deal with things.
The job I initially got set up with at the beginning of my apprenticeship with the Juice Academy - I only stayed with them for 7 or 8 months. I had to leave due to feeling that the company wasn’t for me (I left on good terms, and I still speak with them!). I panicked because I was out of work and thought I was going to have quit my apprenticeship after all the hard work I’d put in. But this wasn’t the case, Apprentify and Juice both pushed hard to help me find a new employer - which they did. I’m now in the best job I’ve ever had. I feel super supported, and I actually really enjoy what I do every day. They say if you love what you do, it won’t feel like work - and this is absolutely the case for me now.
They have so much put in place to ensure that I’m supported in every area I need to be. We’ve had sessions on content production and marketing obviously, but we’ve also had sessions on things like crisis management and therapy.
Outside of sessions, I have a progress coach from Apprentify who has regular coaching sessions with me. These are completely in my hands. If there’s something that was covered in a session that I didn’t totally understand or just need explaining further, I can say “Hey Sharon, can we go through X in our next coaching call?” and that’s what we’ll do. Progress coaches also hold regular progress reviews with you and your line manager, these are to check up on if there’s any additional resources you need to further your development or skills in the workplace at the same time as making sure you’re happy at work.
A few months into the apprenticeship, I got diagnosed with autism. This was passed onto a learning support coordinator who works for Apprentify. She has monthly meetings with me to help me figure out my best way of learning, and can communicate with my progress coach, session tutors and host to ensure I’ve got the right learning support in place. I’ve never felt supported in education in terms of my learning difficulties, so it means the world that someone has listened to me and is actively helping me figure things out with regular meetings every month (shout out to Emily).
The end of your apprenticeship consists of an end point assessment (EPA), which I thought was super intimidating. But after having multiple EPA sessions with tutors who go through everything step by step, I feel way more at ease about it all. They talk through things like the marking system and give you examples of things you can do to get marks, and they provide you with plenty of documents to add notes to and connect your own work to certain marks.
In summary, it’s hard to fail at the end because they really prepare you for it. And if you feel uneasy and nervous, you can book sessions with your progress coach, or email coaches or tutors who get back to you in good time with helpful sources, information and explanations.
5. This Is The Happiest & Most Mentally Stable I’ve Ever Been
I never really felt that I was ever going to be in a place where I was happy with my job and happy with the balance of it with my personal life. But now I’m doing an apprenticeship, I have time for myself outside of studies, because my studies & my job are just one thing. I have time for my boyfriend and my family. I have a steady flow of income on a pretty decent wage whilst working towards a qualification in my dream career. And I’m doing something I love EVERYDAY surrounded by like-minded people and being PAID to do it. Work doesn’t feel like work. Ultimately that’s all I’ve ever aspired for with a career - and here I am. I truly am living my best life.
It’s your turn now, trust me - you won’t look back.
P.S the same way that university wasn’t for me, an apprenticeship might not be for you. Take the time to consider all your options and weigh out what might be the best for you. Try not to let partners and friends influence where you go. I know people that have moved to another city just to be with their partner or friends and have ended up breaking up with said partners or falling out with said friends. If you move away from people, you’ll still be a part of each other's lives and if anything, the distance will just show you how strong your relationship really is. If the relationship with that person is meant to be, it will be.
Emila Drag, Cohort 32, Junior Content Producer at Brazen PR