College Leavers – Alternative Options to University

With the cost of attending University rising year on year, what are the alternatives? Our guest post this week covers a variety of options open to students.


Due to the increase in University Student Loans (it will now cost £9000 per year to attend University) and the higher A level requirements to gain a place at any of the best universities (Oxbridge applicants have to achieve 3 A’s or 2 A’s and an A* to gain a place), many College leavers are considering alternative options to University.

Some Uni’s have been criticised recently for running so called “Mickey Mouse” courses that hold no value with employers and provide students with little to no skills relevant to real life work. At the same time however, the vast majority of skilled job positions require applicants to be educated to degree level to even be considered for the interview process. So what are college leavers to do?

If you left college and chose not continue into higher education, or are considering doing so, don’t despair. There are alternative opportunities out there. Many options could in fact equip you with more desirable skills than a University degree.


Depending on the industry you’re looking to enter, many companies offer internship opportunities. Internships offer the valuable opportunity to gain an insider’s look at the industry you hope to be a part of. Whilst most internships are unpaid, the skills gained are invaluable and if you use the time wisely and make a good impression you could gain valuable connections through networking.

One advantage of internship programmes is that they specifically take on young and inexperienced people, so you won’t have to compete with older and more experienced applicants in many cases.

Internships vary in length, some only last a few weeks, and others can be for several months. No matter how long you work for, internships look great on your CV, and you could even be offered a permanent position if you prove your worth.


There are some industries which you simply couldn’t learn the required skills for sitting in a lecture hall at University. Valuable trades such as plumbing, electricians and mechanics often take on school and college leavers in order to train them for a career within their company. Apprenticeships usually have an edge on internships as they are often paid. Whilst the salary will begin fairly low, apprenticeships regularly work towards a qualification, which is intrinsic to proving your skills and legitimacy when working a trade.

Recently the Government has introduced an incentive which encourages broader industries to take on apprentices, so you could find one working within the council, or in an office-based role such as a receptionist or admin assistant.

Training Courses

There are options to suit every career path when it comes to training courses. They teach valuable transferable skills from computer training courses to secretarial or PA courses and even management, bookkeeping and finance. There are a myriad of career training schools to choose from in the UK and again they offer skills which cannot be taught at University, and are very desirable to employers.


Volunteering doesn’t necessarily mean helping the old ladies at your local charity shop (although this is as good a volunteering potion as any!). You will find that a lot of charities in numerous sectors offer volunteering opportunities, from conservation with the National Trust to fundraising with Amnesty International. Depending on your interests you will undoubtedly be able to find a volunteering option that will enable you to gain valuable experience in your desires industry whilst giving something back.

Olivia Lazenby is director of creative operations at She is full of ideas for improving employability, and blogs regularly with tips and advice for job seekers.

Like this selection of alternatives to university? For more ideas on what to do after you leave school, check out our pick of gap year ideas.

Image adapted from Crossroads