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What are higher and degree apprenticeships?

What do you get if you cross an apprenticeship with a university education?

What are Higher and Degree Apprenticeships?

Higher and degree apprenticeships are a form of work-based learning that are available at a range of different levels, with level 4 being the equivalent to the first year of a foundation degree and level 7 being equivalent to a postgraduate, or master’s degree.

They offer a combination of a real job, real training and a real salary, and offer a real alternative to the traditional college or university route for those who want to gain a higher education qualification.

Fees are paid by the employer and there’s a high chance of continued employment once you’ve completed the course.


Click here for Amazing Apprenticeships – Support for Schools 

 NSSW guide to Higher and Degree Apprenticeships

Who are they for?

Higher and Degree Apprenticeships are a great option for those enthusiastic people who want to learn on the job while earning a living and a higher education qualification at the same time.

They are for anyone who is over 16, lives in England and is not in full-time education. You’ll usually need a level 3 qualification (A-level or advanced apprenticeship) to qualify, which means you’re likely to be at least 18. Entry requirements vary between employers but all require English and Mathematics at level 2. If you don’t already have these, some employers will allow you to complete them alongside your apprenticeship.

They are also for people with drive and ambition as undertaking a higher apprenticeship is no walk in the park. Remember, you’re going to be studying at a high level on top of working 30 hours each week.

How do they work?

Successful applicants will spend a minimum of 30 hours a week at work where they get to work alongside highly experienced professionals who impart their knowledge and skills required for the role.

You also spend time attending college or university, or a training provider. Each week could vary in structure, but your employer will usually decide this.

You also get your fees paid by your employer and a high chance of continued employment once you’ve completed the course.

How to apply

There are several different websites that advertise apprenticeship vacancies. It can be difficult to know where to start! Below is a list of the best websites to begin your search with.

You apply for a higher apprenticeship in the same way you apply for a job, by approaching employers instead of speaking to the training provider as you would with a traditional university degree.

The ‘Find an apprenticeship’ section on the government website is the main way of searching for higher and degree apprenticeships. You can search for vacancies in your area and filter them by level. Alternatively, if you know an employer who doesn’t currently recruit apprentices but would like to, you can direct them to the ‘Recruit an apprentice‘ section of the gov.uk website.

UCAS publishes a list of higher and degree apprenticeship vacancies you can apply for.

Prospects also publishes a searchable list of degree apprenticeships.

The Rate My Apprenticeship website has a list of the top 100 apprentice employers rated by school and college leavers.

The Amazing Apprenticeship website also includes a vacancy snapshot which shows you a number of vacancies in top companies and allows you to research them further.

Specific employers (particularly smaller businesses) will also advertise apprenticeship vacancies on their own website.

Myths and misconceptions

Apprentices are there to make the tea and coffee.

There are all sorts of misconceptions lingering around from the past. Some people think that apprentices are there to make the tea and coffee. This is certainly not true. Employers are investing a lot of time and money into you as an apprentice as they usually intend to employ you when you become qualified. It’s an investment for the company and not an attempt at getting cheap labour.

Apprenticeships are for people who have failed their A-levels.

This isn’t true, although in some cases it is possible to start some apprenticeships without A-levels. Most employers prefer 5 GCSEs, though, including maths and English (A*-C or 9 – 4 on the new grading system).

Apprenticeships are just for jobs in construction.

Although you can undertake a variety of apprenticeships in the construction industry, they are not confined to it. More and more employers are offering higher and degree apprenticeships in industries such as Business, IT, Retail, and many many more.

Wouldn’t I be better off just getting a job?

Possibly in the very short-term. But, gaining a higher education qualification is an investment in your future and it’s highly likely that it will lead to earning more money in the long-term, with better career opportunities and job satisfaction.

Apprentices will never earn very much

Apprentices must receive the minimum apprentice wage, which is currently £3.70/hour, which works out at £148 per week. Many employers, especially larger companies, choose to pay more.

Individuals with higher and degree apprenticeships could earn £150,000 more over their lifetime than similar individuals with Level 2 (GCSE) qualifications.

How will I be assessed?

Assessment depends on the style of apprenticeship you undertake.

If you take the older ‘framework’ style apprenticeship, you will be continuously assessed throughout your course.

If you take the new ‘standards’ style apprenticeship, you will undertake an end-point assessment which is facilitated by an organisation separate to your training provider and your employer.

Eventually, all apprenticeships will move over into the new ‘standards’ style, with an assessment at the end.

Things to consider

  • Apprenticeships are advertised on a rolling basis – you have to be on the ball and keep checking for vacancies.
  • Apprenticeships are very competitive – anyone can apply to them, including existing employees.
  • A danger of taking an apprentice position is that you could end up limiting your future prospects by pigeonholing yourself into one industry. Make sure you have done your research and are sure of what you want before applying!
  • As an apprentice, you will be working full time and will miss out on the ‘university experience’ that many people value.
  • Even though you do get to complete a lot of hands-on work, some apprentices are limited from engaging in some types of activities by legal or practical standards. Sometimes you are required to hold a license or certification for certain types of electrical, plumbing or construction work, which may hamper participation.

Case study: Tristan Boase

Tristan works as a lead engineer at Arcol UK. He felt as though going straight to University wasn’t for him. Fortunately, there was another way…

He completed a trade apprenticeship, and is now studying for a Foundation Degree whilst continuing to work.

His best advice: “Furthering your knowledge and skills is crucial to progressing, but there are different ways of going about it so find a style of learning that suits you”

How did he get here?

  • A-levels in Engineering, Electronics and ICT
  • Apprenticeship: NVQ levels 2 and 3 in Engineering: Turner & Fitter
  • FdSc Engineering at Cornwall College

Watch: Tristan Boase – Climbing the Ladder

Next Steps partner institutions that offer Higher and Degree apprenticeships:

University Centre Somerset
City College Plymouth
Cornwall College
Exeter College
Plymouth Marjon University
South Devon College
Strode College
Truro and Penwith College
University of Exeter
University of Plymouth 
Yeovil College University Centre

Find out more

To find out more about higher or degree apprenticeships, click here.





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