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A-level results not great? There are alternatives to university…

Legal apprenticeshipsStudents across the UK nervously opened their A-level results today. If you missed out on a university place because you didn’t get the grades you wanted, it’s natural to feel disappointed. While you could try going through clearing, it’s worth considering all of the options – including the many vocational alternatives to university.

Why think twice about uni?

Having a degree may help you enter the career of your choice, but it doesn’t necessarily make finding a job any easier. There are 85 graduates applying for every job (in some cases as many as 211), according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters – and a fifth of graduates were unemployed or in low-paid jobs six months after leaving university in 2013. No surprise then that many young people are considering vocational alternatives to college.

‘With the average student debt rising to £45,000 and a degree no longer a guaranteed pathway into finding a job; university is not the attractive option it once was. The reality is graduates are ending up in menial and low-skilled jobs for which a degree is just not necessary,’ says Jane Scott Paul, Chief Executive of the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT).


Last year there were a record 1.4 million applications for apprenticeships and the Government is set to double the number of placements to 400,000 in England by 2020.

The advantage of apprenticeships is that you can earn while you learn and will have your feet on the career ladder sooner – so once you finish training you’ll have considerable work experience which puts you ahead of university leavers (and no debt).

There are three levels of apprenticeships: Intermediate, for which you may need two or more GCSEs; Advanced, which may requires five GCSEs at grade C or above; and Higher Apprenticeship, for which you generally need a minimum of two A-levels. Training schemes usually take one to four years to finish and provide a formal qualification at the end.

For more information and opportunities visit The National Apprenticeship Service.

Accounting apprenticeship

In the case of accountancy, following an apprenticeship route into the profession means a school leaver can become chartered much more quickly than a university graduate – at little or very often no cost to themselves, according to Jane Scott Paul at the AAT.

The AAT offers three qualifications, which allow you to learn practical skills to prime you for the workplace, from basic finance administration skills, preparing final accounts, through to complex management accounting tasks. There are no entry requirements. To find out what course to take, visit AAT Skill Check.

Legal apprenticeships

If a career in law appeals, having the right A-level grades or UCAS points isn’t everything, according to Mark Morris, Career Guidance Practitioner at CILEx. ‘Legal businesses look for talented, keen individuals who will thrive in a professional environment as they look to nurture and invest in their apprentices through to higher positions within the company.’

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) offers a number of legal apprenticeships which can lead to qualification as a lawyer with further study. The Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship in Legal Services is aimed at those aged 16 or over.

There are no formal entry requirements, but many employers expect a high standard of literacy and numeracy e.g. GCSE grades A*-C. The Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services is aimed at those with good GCSEs and some A-levels – however A-level law is not a necessity and applications are not based on UCAS points.

Retail apprenticeships

The retail industry offers a variety of on-the-job training courses – from graduate-style management courses run by big supermarkets to apprenticeships in fashion and retail buying. Entry requirements vary depending on the level of the apprenticeship – some set minimum UCAS points, others don’t require any A-levels.

For example, you’ll need GCSEs in Maths and English (grade C or above) and 240 UCAS points or equivalent to enter Tesco’s one-year Trainee Management Programme. To join Marks & Spencer’s 18-month management training scheme you’ll need two A-levels or equivalent.

Engineering apprenticeships

While some apprenticeships are notoriously low paid, engineering placements are the second-highest paying category, after Team Leadership and Management.

For example, Network Rail’s Star Track engineering design scheme offers a starting salary of £14,000, while Rolls Royce Higher Apprenticeship offers a staring salary of up to £11,530.

The National Grid’s ‘alternative to university’ Engineer Training Programme comes with a starting salary of £23,500, rising to £30,150 within two years.

Careers that don’t require a degree

Finally, there are careers which don’t require a degree which you can enter without taking the apprenticeship route. For example, if you’ve thought about entering the police force, Thames Valley Police requires applicants to hold two A-levels, grade A-C or the equivalent or higher (160 UCAS points). Find out more at

Aptitude is generally considered more important than qualifications to become an air traffic controller. You’ll need five GCSEs (A-C) including English and maths, and training takes one to two years to complete. You can expect to earn £29,157-£32,496 on first validation. After three years, salary can rise to more than £40,000 and with experience, £90,000 is possible. Find out more at

Image: © Gina Sanders –

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