Not going to university?


Andrew Shanahan, author of The Guide to Not Going to University, looks at some of the common concerns students have about alternative pathways.

Q: I don’t know what to do after finishing school.

A: Being unsure about your future is a growing problem faced by school and college-leavers. The lack of information about all the different routes available to them after school certainly does not help. As a recent City & Guilds survey showed – 75 per cent of school-leavers had been told about university but only 49 per cent knew about apprenticeships.

The best route is to take the time to sit down and discuss your options with family and friends, teachers and career advisors. Getting feedback allows you to determine what is best for you. 

The NotGoingToUni website presents a range of opportunities outside of the traditional university route such as distance learning, foundation degrees, gap years, voluntary work and advice on getting a sponsored degree, all of which offer routes to success.


Q: My parents want me to go to university but I don’t want to go.

A: This issue seems to be on the increase. Perhaps because of improved access to information over the internet, parents seem to be increasingly vocal. Although it may seem like your parents are moaning when they strongly encourage university, it is commonly because they are looking out for you and see the traditional route as the most successful. More to the point, they see other routes as “failing”. 

It is your responsibility to arm yourself with the facts and show them that although a university degree can provide solid groundwork for your career, there are many alternatives that offer future success.

For example, an apprenticeship provides on-the-job training while simultaneously gaining qualifications and earning a wage. Perhaps you could mention that one of the massive growth areas for apprenticeships is in those looking to take them at a later age – what seems to be happening is that graduates are looking at apprenticeships as a route into a career. So why not look at it the other way, get an apprenticeship and if and when you feel your career is held back by the lack of a degree, simply do the extra work to convert your apprenticeship into a degree. The advice archive and “be inspired” case studies on the NotGoingToUni website offer information about alternative career routes.


Q: I’m worried about university debt.

A: With the rise in the university tuition fees, student debt is reaching an all-time high with the average student (three year course) facing £53,000-plus for their higher education. It is completely understandable to see this as a scary figure and divert your thoughts from this route, but do not let it divert you from university altogether. Don’t forget that you will not have to pay back your debts until you are earning past a certain threshold – a point you are more likely to reach if you get a degree in the first place.

If you are still concerned, look at alternative ways to get a degree. Distance learning and sponsored degrees are fantastic ways to gain a university qualification with significantly lower costs. Distance learning allows you to study away from the university setting, living at home and therefore reducing transportation, maintenance and accommodation costs.

On the other hand, sponsored degrees are employer-funded learning as the sponsoring company will fund your studies and commonly offer you a job after university.


Q: Is there an apprenticeship that will suit me?

A: There are so many apprenticeship schemes that finding one to suit you is merely a matter of determination and searching. They are available at three different levels (Apprenticeship, Advanced Apprenticeship and Higher Apprenticeship) in almost any sector of employment. If you cannot find an apprenticeship associated with a company that you would like to work for, read Creating Your Own Apprentice Jobs on the NotGoingToUni website and enquire to see if you can start work as an apprentice.


Q: Do I earn money as an apprentice?

A: Yes. When working as an apprentice you will be paid a minimum wage of £2.60 per hour (rising to £2.65 this month) for at least 30 hours per week. As you progress through your apprenticeship, gaining additional qualifications, your wage will also rise. It is a proven fact that those who complete their apprenticeship generally benefit from earning £100,000 more than those without training across the span of their career.


Q: How do I get a job?

A: In the current economic climate, job vacancies are becoming increasingly difficult to find. Although difficult, securing a job is by all means possible; especially with a positive attitude and if you are motivated to find employment. Looking through newspapers, visiting job centres and online searches are a great way to find work, but gaining additional qualifications as well as relevant experience in appropriate employment make you increasingly desirable for future employers. 


Q: My parents don’t want me to take a gap year.

A: Gap years are incredible experiences that receive some unfair negativity from many parents, predominantly due to their misconceptions of such opportunities. If you are sure that a gap year is right for you, researching the available programmes, their benefits, and discussing these options with your parents is a great way to start planning. Although it may be a difficult conversation, talking to your parents is extremely important as their financial assistance and mutual support is useful for an enjoyable experience. 

Q: I would like to do a gap year, but where?

A: A gap year can take place almost anywhere on a local, national or even international scale. There is so much of the world to see and taking a year out to start exploring is a breathtaking experience. Volunteering, working and sightseeing are some of the possibilities available in various countries depending on what you would like to do. You should take a look at and for a few pointers and advice on where to start looking.


Q: Is an internship the same as an apprenticeship?

A: Internships and apprenticeships see individuals learn from qualified staff within an organisation, but there are some differences between the two. First, interns have the opportunity to experience a diverse range of roles within a business whereas apprentices often focus on developing a specific skill-set that suits one job. 

Apprentices will have a narrower field of expertise and train specifically for a role within a company although the broader range of opportunities available to interns may not offer the same level of training. Internships may be also unpaid, whereas apprentices have a minimum wage that must be met by their employers. Both internships and apprenticeships will have benefits for someone doing them and neither one can be seen as “better” per se – it depends what you are looking for.


Q: Do I have to take exams during an apprenticeship?

A: The answer to this question changes depending on the apprenticeship. Some apprentices will be required to sit formal examinations, whereas others will be assessed through their performance on the job. The only way to get a definitive answer is to read the apprenticeship specifications or speak to the organisation running the scheme. 

  • Andrew Shanahan is the author of The Guide to Not Going to University, currently available in bookshops and online (

Further information
Since it launched in 2008, has grown to become one of the largest sources of information on alternative career pathways for school-leavers.


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