A-level results day: The alternatives to university degrees that will get you the best jobs

Not everyone goes to university after A-levels
Not everyone goes to university but it can be difficult to know all the different option available Credit: Alec Doherty

If you’ve been through GCSEs and then A-levels, it can feel as if you’re on an educational treadmill – next stop, university degree. But if your exams didn’t go to plan, you might find yourself forced to push the stop button on the conveyor belt and consider alternatives to university. However, this choice can be a positive one – and it’s one that many school leavers are making.

It seems that as they assess the possible benefits versus the lifetime of debt that university now incurs, a significant number of students no longer consider a degree to be worth it. And the world is changing quickly, meaning that attitudes around ‘jobs for life’ and even the question of which careers might still exist within the next five to 10 years can make the idea of committing to a three or four-year degree a challenging one.

Add in findings from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) – that only 52 per cent of university leavers manage to secure a graduate job six months after finishing their course – and perhaps it is unsurprising that many people are looking at the alternatives.

There are many routes into exciting and fulfilling careers Credit: Alec Doherty

But if university doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion, what are the other options for getting out and on in the world?

Firstly, if you’re worried you don’t have the right skills or qualifications to head straight into employment – if your exams haven’t gone well and you have no real work experience – you could consider an apprenticeship. You work and study side by side, developing skills (and frequently industry qualifications, too) through on-the-job training and classroom instruction, and earn a salary for your efforts.

Apprenticeships are available across a wide variety of fields but it does help if you have a clear picture of what you want to do, or at least the sector you want to work in. They come at different levels, from Degree Apprenticeships to Higher Apprenticeships.

A Degree Apprenticeship (level 6) is an ‘earn while you learn’ pathway to a full bachelor’s and then a master’s degree. Higher apprenticeships provide an opportunity to gain Level 4 qualifications or above, with most apprentices gaining an NVQ Level 4, HND, or foundation degree and some offering the opportunity to progress up to Level 7 (which is postgraduate degree level). 

Search for an apprenticeship to suit your current qualifications and future aspirations on the UCAS website and GOV.UK.

More companies are now offering school-leaver programmes – again, giving you the chance to work, study and earn. Whether you’re employed on a part-time or full-time basis, you could expect to emerge with a bachelor’s or foundation degree, a Higher National Certificate or Higher National Diploma, and you’ll be paid for both work and study periods (which are often split into separate blocks).

With programmes ranging in duration from months to years, you could ultimately find yourself in a similar role to someone seeking graduate employment after university – just via a different route. There are school-leaver programmes at all sorts of companies, from BP to KPMG, and many schemes offer a guaranteed job on successful completion.

Of course, you also shouldn’t discount the possibility of simply heading into an entry-level job and earning a wage straight away. Many leading companies are moving away from a degree requirement – including internationally renowned businesses like IBM.

And if you don’t want to work for someone else but you do have an amazing business idea, it’s not too early to head down the entrepreneurial route, either. Look at the Entrepreneur First programme for support and investment, from which school leavers are by no means excluded.

​Do you have any questions about your A-level results? Whether it's about remarks, retakes or a general 'what if'​, Hannah Morrish, education community manager at The Student Room is on hand to answer your questions.

Leave them in the comments section of this article from 10am on August 15, ​and the answer will be published within the article.