All You Need To Know About Apprenticeship vs University

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 14 September 2022 | Published 29 September 2021

Updated 14 September 2022

Published 29 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Apprenticeships and universities are popular options for higher education and training. Employers tend to highly value both degrees and apprenticeship programmes and provide you with experience and qualifications that remain desirable as you progress in your chosen field. By understanding the key differences between them, you can make an informed choice about which path is best for you. In this article, we discuss the key differences between an apprenticeship and university.

Related: The complete guide to national vocational qualifications

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a programme of long-term training that is completed under the supervision of an employer. An apprentice receives wages for work completed while in training, which allows them to learn the skills of a job or trade while earning. You can supplement practical work experience by evening classes or other tertiary education.

Apprenticeships are traditionally used to teach individuals particular trades or skilled jobs. While working, suitable, experienced and qualified personnel teach the apprentice the practical and administrative aspects of the trade. The endpoint of an apprenticeship is the receipt of certification or licensing or certification that permits an apprentice to work their trade independently.

Read more: Higher apprenticeships: everything you need to know

What is a university education?

University education is a form of structured higher or further education that leads to the award of an academic degree. The programme of learning provided is delivered by academic institutions known as universities who are able to confer a degree when all academic and administrative requirements are satisfactorily completed.

Students can choose from a wide range of courses which are usually delivered over a period of two or more years. University education may be undergraduate, leading to the award of a first degree, or postgraduate, where a previous degree has been completed before a particular degree programme.

Read more: A beginner's guide to earning your undergraduate degree

Examples of university degree programmes

Here are some examples of the subjects studied at university:

  • Medicine: This is an up to six-year university degree programme that leads to the qualifications necessary to become a medical doctor.

  • Law: Undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses in law offer an in-depth study of domestic or international law that can lead to training as a barrister or solicitor.

  • Biology: A biology degree is an academic degree conferred for studies in the biological sciences.

  • Mathematics: A degree course in mathematics provides the opportunity to study and participate in research in the field of mathematics and computer science.

  • Art: Arts degree programmes include advanced study and technical training in art's various areas and disciplines.

Examples of apprenticeships

Here are some examples of common apprenticeship programmes:

  • Carpentry: A carpentry apprenticeship provides structured on the job training in woodworking in a variety of settings. The apprentice works under the direction of a professional carpenter.

  • Electrician: Electrician apprentices usually complete courses with examinations at a college while undertaking an extended period of supervised work with a suitably qualified electrician.

  • Construction: Apprentice builders learn a variety of construction skills on building sites under the direction of a foreman.

  • Agriculture: These apprenticeships are concerned with different aspects of farming, including training in livestock handling, growing crops and land management.

  • Accountancy and bookkeepin**g:** These apprenticeships are completed alongside academic training, providing a route to becoming a chartered accountant.

    Related: Four different types of apprenticeships (with FAQs)

Apprenticeship vs university

Weighing up apprenticeship vs university is not always easy as both provide in-depth learning and training that lead to verifiable qualifications. The primary focus of a university degree is the acquisition of academic knowledge. Apprenticeships offer practical work-based training. This means that an employer evaluates the skills and qualifications gained in different ways.

Here are some of the key areas in which university and apprenticeships differ:

Training structure

The degree courses undertaken at a university provide a highly structured programme of learning which builds academic knowledge in a chosen field over several years. The first year of learning in a traditional degree is usually foundational. The second and third years provide the opportunity to build and extend understanding of the subject through research and authoring of dissertations.

Apprenticeships are centred around the roles and responsibilities of the job or trade the apprentice is working. The working day and progression over the months and years of the apprenticeship are determined by the employer. As an apprentice progresses in their specific field, key competencies required for independent working are signed off by the employer until they have met the requirements for completing their apprenticeship or relevant certification.

Learning experience

Student life is very different in routine and responsibilities from entering the workforce as an apprentice. Students are to be expected to attend lectures, seminars or tutorials while undertaking self-directed learning in the subject they choose to pursue. Universities have a vibrant cultural and social life that students can participate in outside their academic activities.

Apprentices gain experience in working at their trade or within a particular industry by undertaking full-time work within the business hours of their employer. There may be group training or courses outside of working hours, but an apprentice primarily remains with their employer.


A significant difference between the two forms of learning is that apprentices are paid a salary, whereas university students pay the university for their tuition. In the UK, university tuition fees are covered by a loan paid directly to the university and paid back incrementally once your income exceeds a certain threshold.

Apprentices are paid a salary that meets the minimum wage requirements for apprenticeship set out by the Government annually. Rates of pay vary for apprentices aged 16 to 18, and those who are 19 and over are paid according to the national minimum wage. Apprenticeship salaries are lower than a full-time salary to reflect the cost to the employer of training the apprentice.

Job opportunities following university or an apprenticeship

Apprenticeships provide high rates of post-training employment. This is understandable because the employer has invested in ensuring that the apprentice is suitably trained to carry out their required work. Many apprentices simply transition to being a full-time employee that can work independently and earn a higher salary.

Graduates also have good employment prospects, as employers place value on the completion of an academic degree. The rates of immediate employment post-graduation can vary widely, with graduates of degree subjects like nursing or medicine directly entering employment. Graduates of other subjects sometimes take time to find a career position in the field of their choice, especially if they fail to enter a graduate-entry programme. Some degree programmes include work-based training or internships, which can lead to an offer of employment.

Career objectives

Apprentices and university students often differ in their career paths, necessitating the distinct difference in the education and training they undertake. An academic degree may be a requirement of careers like teaching or a necessary step for pursuing a career in research via a PhD. Many but not all leading professionals require completion of a degree, though the routes to starting careers in sectors like finance or media are increasingly becoming more diverse.

Skilled trades can only be learned through sustained access to the practical skills that build expertise. Apprentices usually commence their training as an alternative to academic study and continue working in it long term once established in their trade. College and even university-based teaching are increasingly integrated into apprenticeship programmes, allowing apprentices to earn credits towards the award of a degree.

Related: Internships vs apprenticeships: similarities and differences

Earning potential

Salaries for apprentices and graduates exceed the pay of those who have not completed higher education or training. The national average salary of an apprentice is £19,485 per year. The national average salary of a new graduate is £26,699 per year.


The amount of one-to-one or small group tuition provided on a university course varies. Many courses are primarily lecture-based, with a tutor assigned for academic and pastoral support. Apprentices usually work closely with a supervisor or small team, meaning they receive a lot of input as they build their skills.

Peer group

University students are educated as a cohort of class or entrants to a particular course each year. This provides a shared experience that forms a natural transition from the school or college environment. Apprentices are usually accepted to work individually or in small groups, meaning that daily interactions are primarily with other, more senior employees.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌


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