Not Going to Uni: 10 Alternatives to University

Young man sitting on stairs with laptop

This article contains links where CareerAddict may earn a commission on qualifying purchases.

Are you not sure what to do after your A-levels but 100% positive you don’t want to go to university? Whatever your reasons – whether you don’t have the time or money to commit yourself to full-time study, you simply hate the idea of being in a classroom or you just want to head straight into the world of work – not going to uni isn’t necessarily a bad thing (if you’re worried a lack of degree education will make you less hireable). In fact, there are many other options you can explore to jump-start your career.

Take a look at these 10 key university alternatives for some inspiration.

1. Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships have a bad reputation, largely due to the lack of understanding of what’s on offer. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not just for school leavers wanting to work in manual labour jobs. In reality, there are more than 250 different types of apprenticeship programmes, ranging from accounting to hairdressing and journalism to law, and are available to everyone regardless their age.

These programmes are a great way to gain a qualification while getting hands-on experience as well as a decent wage. And they’re probably the most lucrative alternative to university: research shows that apprentices can earn up to 270% more over their lifetime than their university graduate counterparts.

2. School Leaver Programmes

School leaver programmes are also often known as higher apprenticeships and don’t differ that much from than normal apprenticeships. They provide A-level students the chance to gain practical experience while working towards a professional qualification, as well as earn a salary, though this varies from one programme to another.

They’re typically offered by FTSE 100 companies like Barclays, Royal Mail and Tesco, and can take anywhere between 3 and 7 years to complete. As they’re viewed as the more ‘elite’ school leaver opportunities, competition is tough and most employers require 240+ UCAS points either via A-levels or equivalent qualifications.

3. Gap Years

Taking a gap year is a great way to buy yourself some more time if you’re unsure about your options after A-levels. There are many things you can do during a break from education, including:

  • Travel the world
  • Volunteer at a local charity or even abroad
  • Get a job and start saving some money (this is perfect if you do decide to go to uni)

Ultimately, taking a gap year can help you develop the skills that employers want, raise your cultural awareness and increase your work experience, and thus give your CV a huge boost.

4. Self-Employment

Flexible hours, independence and the potential for a higher salary are just a few of the many benefits of self-employment. Of course, there are downfalls to starting your own business: you won’t receive sick or holiday pay, your income can be irregular and you could work much longer days than the typical employee. And that’s all in addition to the daily pressure of having the business’s failures and successes rest with you. But if you’ve got a great idea, an entrepreneurial flare and a determination to succeed, you might just be the next Richard Branson.

5. Work Experience

Gaining some work experience will most definitely look good on your CV and might come in handy if you end up deciding to go to university. It shows employers that you’ve experienced a professional environment and that you took the initiative to start building your skillset, while it also provides you with the unique opportunity to confirm whether or not a potential career is suited to you.

Work placements can last anywhere between a couple of weeks to a whole year, and some might even pay (especially longer ones), though this will generally depend on the employer and the type of placement you undertake. It’s a good idea to attend work experience fairs, where you will be able to connect with employers. You should also consider sending speculative applications, as well as searching for suitable placements on the internet.

6. Internships

Internships are similar to work placements in the sense that they try to help you build up your experience and develop your knowledge, as well as ‘test the waters’ to determine whether a specific industry is right for you. They tend to last a little longer than work placements, though.

Not all internships are paid, and many involve a lot of coffee and tea-making and errand-running, but they will look great on your CV. They can be just as competitive as a ‘real’ job, and you’ll have to fill out an application and attend an interview. (Make sure you check out our comprehensive guide on how to prepare for a job interview.)

7. Sponsored Degrees

If your decision for not wanting to go to uni is financial-based, you might want to consider doing a sponsored degree. They’re, essentially, school leaver programmes, though they provide you with the opportunity to work towards obtaining a degree while being financially supported by a company, either with annual bursaries or a full salary.

You’ll need to research the different companies in your chosen industry offering such programmes, though it’s important to understand that you won’t really have a say in what university you attend or what course you do. You could attend university on a part-time basis (once a week, for example) while working for the employer or you could attend university full-time and work for the employer during the holidays.

8. National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs)

NVQs are work-based qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that are achieved though assessment and training. They’re designed to help people demonstrate their skills and prove their competency in their desired role or career path. There are five NVQ levels:

  • Level 1: Equivalent to GCSE (grades D-G) qualifications
  • Level 2: Equivalent to GCSE (grades A*-C) qualifications
  • Level 3: Equivalent to AS and A-level qualifications
  • Level 4: Equivalent to Higher National Diploma (HND) and bachelor’s degree qualifications
  • Level 5: Equivalent to master’s degree and doctorate qualifications

You’ll study at the level that’s right for your particular job role and level of experience, and progress accordingly. NVQs are generally studied part-time and can either be taken as a stand-alone qualification or as part of an apprenticeship.

9. Online Courses

Online courses offer you the opportunity to supplement your education, gain new knowledge and expand your skillset – all from the comfort of your home (and behind your PC screen, which is ideal if you’re not a very outgoing person).

There are literally millions of courses available on the internet, ranging from web design to event planning and email marketing. Depending on the course provider, and your chosen course, you’ll be able to gain a diploma or certification upon completion. An added benefit is the fact that they usually take less time to complete than a degree course and are much cheaper in the long-run.

Explore online courses on Coursera here

10. Entry-Level Jobs

The most obvious alternative to university is to head straight into the world of work – no detours, no diversions, just go straight into a job at the bottom and work your way to the top. For example, many large supermarket chains offer their staff the chance to train to a managerial position.

Many entry-level jobs don’t even have any minimum requirements other than your being physically and legally able to work. You simply need to be willing to stick it out and work hard to climb the ladder to the top.

Did you decide against going to uni and follow any of these alternative routes to a successful career? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with Year 12 students preparing to leave school about the many different options available to them? Join the conversation down below and let us know!

Meanwhile, if you’re still a little confused about life after school, check out our comprehensive guide on planning for the future.