Don’t rule out alternative routes to a degree in finding your career of choice

With A-Level results day comes that moment when thousands of young people will be opening the results that will lead to the next big step in their lives.

Many will make the choice to go to university – though they may not know which campus they will be heading to as yet. Others however will be considering an apprenticeship or vocational qualification as an equally valid route into the workplace, and perhaps one that more should consider.

Vocational qualifications are an option misunderstood by many. Recent research by The Student Room found only 11% of young people feel ‘fully informed’ about apprenticeships, while 40% say they have received ‘very little’ or ‘no information’ about them. Not getting enough information on apprenticeships and other vocational qualifications can lead many young people to believe that university is the only route for them if they want a successful career. However, it is more than possible to start a career in highly-respected professions such as law, public relations and accounting by undertaking a vocational qualification or apprenticeship.

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With student satisfaction with their overall university experiences falling, vocational qualifications make for a compelling alternative – indeed nearly half of graduates have told AAT that they would have had better career prospects if they’d gone down the vocational route. Many employers are looking at this as a good way of getting staff that are well trained and who will be able to get to know the business over time and be a good fit. The government has also set a target for businesses to create three million new apprenticeship positions before the year 2020, so there will be more and more opportunities for anyone wanting to do an apprenticeship in the next few years.

Students who study an AAT vocational accounting qualification instead of going to university after their A-Levels often find that when they meet other colleagues their age who went to university, they may be less confident in the workplace, and less sure of their practical skills. This is because when studying vocational qualifications, you learn in a practical, real-world environment, where you can apply your knowledge immediately. This can be a better way of learning for those who may not have been as academically focused and who don’t always enjoy learning from a book all the time.

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University is a worthwhile experience and undoubtedly remains the best choice for many academic-minded students. However, with tuition fees now set to rise to up to £9,250 in 2017, many may now be wondering whether they can afford to take on debts necessary to afford those fees. With a vocational qualification, you will be earning a salary while you learn, meaning that you could be saving money rather than building up debt. In addition, a recent study by the Intergenerational Foundation  has recently found that there may no longer be a ‘graduate premium’, where university graduates earn more over a lifetime than non-graduates. This is because any extra earnings are wiped out by the increase in tuition fees and increasing costs of being at university. The loss of the graduate premium should make people think about what the reasons they are going to university are, and whether the potential debt will make it worth it.

Thinking carefully about your future after you receive your results is essential. Some graduates can end up with regrets because of the route they took after their A-Levels – and indeed nearly two thirds told us if young people were better informed about the extent of the debt university education brings, then many would opt to take a vocational route instead.

To guard against this, you need to ensure that the path you decide to take is the right option for you, your personality, and your future goals.

Photo: Roselyn Raphel is an architecture graduate who struggled to find employment after completing her degree. This made her realise she needed to look into other qualifications. Roselyn currently works at Asda and is studying for her AAT qualifications. 

A version of this article first appeared on the Huffington Post

Mark Farrar is the Chief Executive of AAT.

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