Launched in the UK in 2015, degree apprenticeships allow you to earn a bachelor’s- or master’s-level qualification through a combination of work and study. This guide takes you through the basics of degree apprenticeships - what they are, how to find one, and the pros and cons of doing them.
What are they?
Degree apprenticeships are a type of apprenticeship programme which allows students to earn a full bachelor’s (Level 6) or master’s (Level 7) degree. They combine working for an employer in a professional environment with part-time study at a university, and typically last between three and six years.
Just like other types of apprenticeship, there are no tuition fees and you’ll be paid a wage. This means that you could achieve a full bachelor’s degree without any student debt.
Employers and universities collaborate to shape degree apprenticeships around the needs of the industry. Because of this, you can be sure that everything you’ll learn is directly relevant to a future career in that sector.
Worth knowing: In England and Wales these programmes are known as degree apprenticeships; in Scotland, they are called graduate apprenticeships and, in Northern Ireland, they fall under the higher apprenticeships category. For more information on how apprenticeships are structured in your area, take a look at our guides on England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
What are the entry requirements?
Entry requirements vary depending on the programme and where you live. Below, you’ll find two examples of typical opportunities, but you can find more details on the qualifications you’ll need in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the relevant country pages.
Example 1: Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship with BT, London
“Three A Levels with a minimum of BCC grades (104 UCAS points). You’ll also need to have a minimum of five GCSEs at grades 9-4 including English and Maths.”
Example 2: Business Degree Apprenticeship with CGI, Edinburgh
“The preferred requirement is four Highers at Grade B or above including one in Maths, Physics or Computing (equivalent qualifications are accepted) unless you can show strong software programming or development ability through work experience or extracurricular activities. Also at least seven Scottish National 5s at grades 1-3, including English or Maths (equivalent qualifications are accepted).”
How do I apply?
- Search for a programme. Unifrog’s Apprenticeships tool allows you to search through thousands of apprenticeship opportunities. Once you have entered the subject areas that interest you, apply the filter ‘Degree apprenticeships’ to see those that will earn you a bachelor’s or master’s qualification.
- Apply through the employer. Applications for degree apprenticeships are made directly to the employer, rather than via UCAS. Click the green ‘Apply’ button next to each entry in your Apprenticeships shortlist to be taken through to the employer’s application portal.
- Attend an interview. Many employers require one or two rounds of interviews before accepting candidates. Take a look at our guide How to interview like a boss to get prepared.
Worth knowing: Applications for degree apprenticeships don’t follow the same calendar as applications for traditional degrees; each employer will have its own deadline. Many of the opportunities listed on the Apprenticeships tool might not currently be open for applications, but you can still shortlist your favourites and regularly check the company websites to see when they become live.
How competitive are they?
Launched in the UK in 2015, degree apprenticeships are still fairly new, so there aren’t that many places available. According to the Office for Students, in 2018, there were nearly 750,000 apprentices in England, but only 6,000 of them were working towards Level 6 and 7 qualifications.
This makes applying for degree apprenticeships pretty competitive. However, the good news is that, unlike traditional degrees, you can keep your options open by applying for as many as you like.
How much will I earn?
Degree apprentices receive a salary while they work and study. In the UK, the minimum wage for apprentices under 19 is £4.15 per hour, but if you’re over 19 and have already completed your first year, you’re entitled to the national minimum wage.
However, employers can choose to pay more. According to Glassdoor, the average annual salary for a degree apprentice in the UK is £18,083. A Level 7 Accountancy apprentice at ABF Ingredients Ltd earns £481 per week, which works out at £12.83 per hour.
Degree apprenticeships are also completely free, so apprentices will avoid the usual tuition fee debt that comes from a traditional university degree!
What are the benefits?
- Earn while you learn. No student loans, no tuition fees and, hopefully, no debt. You’ll be paid a salary by your employer, and the government covers the cost of the training.
- Gain a recognised qualification. You’ll complete the apprenticeship with a bachelor’s- or master’s- level qualification, equivalent to taking the traditional university degree route.
- Boost your CV. You’ll gain valuable workplace experience that’ll look fantastic on your CV and possibly lead to job opportunities.
- Make new contacts. Through your workplace experience, you’ll build up a network of contacts within your chosen sector.
Are there any drawbacks?
- Missing ‘the university experience’. A degree apprenticeship is great if you’re keen to get started with independent working life. But if you’ve always dreamed of freshers’ week, living in halls, and joining student societies, then it may not be the path for you.
- A more hands-on education. Some students might be excited at the thought of getting stuck in with hands-on experience and training. However, if you love exploring your subject in an in-depth, academic way, then a traditional degree might be more suited to you.
- A longer route to qualification. Most traditional degrees in the UK take three or four years to complete, whereas some degree apprenticeships can take up to six years to reach qualification. However, for some, this is balanced out by the fact that apprentices earn money and gain work experience while they study.
- A lack of options. As degree apprenticeships are only available in vocational subjects that require a high level of academia, the range of subjects on offer is narrower than that of traditional apprenticeships. The main subjects represented are Finance, Accounting, Business Administration, and Engineering, although more programmes are appearing each year.
We caught up with some students working towards their degree apprenticeships. Here’s what they had to say:
Ashok Hemmings went straight into a degree apprenticeship in Engineering after Sixth Form, working for Rolls-Royce and studying at Sheffield Hallam University.
“I chose a degree apprenticeship rather than going to university as the whole package seemed a lot better. It gives me real world experience and the same level of education while avoiding fees and being paid a salary. Being an apprentice lets me work with actual engine hardware which is always fascinating, plus I have a huge variety of tasks or roles to do so no day is ever the same!”
Jenny McHale completed her degree apprenticeship in Business Management. She worked for the BBC four days a week and the other day she studied at Pearson College London.
“I have always wanted to work in a creative industry and I wanted to further my management and leadership skills. I didn’t go to uni but have always wanted to do a degree. The combination of working in an exciting industry whilst completing a BA (Hons) in Business Management really appealed to me. My favourite project at the BBC so far has been to take the lead in producing some diversity and inclusion videos.”
Lukas Hughes is doing a Chartered Manager degree apprenticeship at Manchester Metropolitan University and Stateside Foods.
“I became a degree apprentice because I wanted to get work experience while continuing onto higher education. After some research, I found something that I was interested in - a management apprenticeship with a sponsored degree in Business Management. I would have chosen to study this at university, so deciding to go down this route was a no-brainer! I would be gaining four whole years of work experience in a growing business whilst studying for a degree without the tuition fees. As well as that, I’d be working towards additional qualifications.”