One size does not fit all - Is university the best route for your child?
Updated: Dec 2, 2022
By Simon Reichwald.
As one of the most searched for content areas on our app is “stress”, we wanted
to offer some information to the parents of the young people that use our app on
the different options available after school.
Pressure to follow a certain path can cause untold stress and it is really important
that our next generation move forward into a career path that is right for them.
In 2019 12 million working days were lost to work-related mental health
conditions and it is important that our future doctors, film makers, journalist,
chefs and care workers are all set up to thrive in this exciting next chapter of
If Covid-19 and lockdown has taught us anything, it is that so many things we
thought were absolute, are not, and that the world will change as a result of
this...so there is no better time to evaluate those traditional norms of going from
school, to uni, to the world of work!
Go back 20+ years and ‘education, education, education’ was the mantra from
Government and part of that was encouraging all young people to go to uni; 50%
was the target set.
As a result, higher education numbers exploded, and for a number of years now,
there have been almost 2.5 million people studying in Higher Education, with
c400,000 graduating each year in the UK.
And for some more stark numbers:
the biggest 400 graduate recruiters, in the UK hire just 10% of that graduating class.
students leave uni with an average of £50k of debt
75% get a 1st or a 2.1
Bottom line is being a graduate and ‘doing well’ academically, does not make you stand out in the job market.
Meanwhile, apprenticeships have had a huge makeover, now the knowledge &
skills training has been designed by employers. Apprenticeships are available to
graduate and post graduate level (awarded by a university), they are available
across all industry sectors (they are not just manual, blue collar roles as they
were in the past), and employers pay for the apprenticeship training, through the
Apprenticeship Levy, so no tuition fee debt and at the end of a higher or degree
level apprenticeship and a salary that equates to a graduate salary.
Those big graduate recruiters have been ramping up their apprentice numbers,
growing c50% per year in 2018 and 2019, (far greater growth than with
graduates), with starting salaries between £14-20k, straight out of school or
Why have employers been doing this? Employers need new employees with the
right skills and apprenticeships deliver that; employers want new hires with
experience, apprenticeships build that, and finally apprentices stay longer than
And if you wonder if these apprenticeships are easy to get onto or lower level
than the university route, to secure a higher or degree level apprenticeship you
need to do well academically, grades of 'BBB' or higher for a degree level
apprenticeship is not uncommon.
So, with all this going on, is the graduate route dead or dying and will it be replaced by apprenticeships? No, but are there now credible options post schools and college for young people?
I am not saying don’t go to uni, but I am saying fully explore both options. For
young people who learn best by doing, or who know what they want to do in
terms of a future career, then an apprenticeship may well be a great route. But
don’t underestimate the challenge of working and studying as an apprentice.
And what about the university route?
Having spent 25 years recruiting grads and apprentices, in my experience there are 3 reasons to go to uni:
Your child loves the subject, enjoys studying it & the academic ‘stretch’
Your child wants to go off into the world, develop independence and enjoy the additional perks of going to uni (E.g. exploring sports clubs and societies and student events)
Your child thinks uni will set them up for a great job, that will have a great starting salary
However, if the view is that going to uni is the only way to get a great job and starting salary, then it's worth remembering that uni cannot provide that (for certain). In fact, the data shows that graduate salaries buy less now than they did 10 years ago.
If your child does go to uni, then they need to do well academically, grow their work experiences, skills and commercial awareness whilst at studying, and finally they will need to be prepared to compete very, very hard for a great grad job (employers receive at least 2 or even 3 times more applications for grad roles than apprentice roles).
By understanding more about the options available after school, we hope that
your child goes on to enjoy a happy future, whatever path they decide to take.
About Simon Reichwald.
With over 25 years’ experience in graduate and school leaver recruitment in the
UK and Europe, Simon works with many of the largest graduate & apprentice
recruiters, In September 2017, Simon was appointed Honorary Vice-President of
the Institute of Student Employers (what was the Associate of Graduate
Recruiters – AGR) with a brief to shape the apprenticeship strategy for the 350
employer members and in November 2017 was made Honorary Teaching Fellow
as part of the ‘Leaders in Residence’ programme at Lancaster University.