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If you're just about to do your GCSEs, you may currently be applying to either college, or for an apprenticeship, or hedging your bets and doing both. At 16, apprenticeships or college are your main options.
College courses are much more open and if you have much lower GCSE qualification or even none at all, it can be easier to get onto a practical course that you may enjoy. Apprenticeships are also great but do require some sort of minimum qualifications which may limit you. For anyone who is a bit unsure about which way to go, see our guide below.
Here are a few pros and cons.
Pro - You’re being paid to learn.
You're doing a proper job whilst learning about the industry you’re in. Although your wage may be relatively small, the minimum is £2.73 an hour, and you have to remember that you are at entry level and many of your friends will be getting paid nothing at all. You won’t be raking in £50k a year, as upsetting as that may be, but you could make around £150-£300 a week. But remember that you'll have to factor in travel costs, and if you've got to commute far, especially to London, this may eat into your budget. However, some companies may offer to pay for your travel, or you could be cheeky and ask your parents to help you out.
At the same time, at the end of the apprenticeship, you'll have gained valuable qualifications (and experience) on par with your peers at college, which you can then take with you when you apply for your first job.
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Pro - You bag that experience.
In an apprenticeship, you’re working towards a qualification in a sector that you are genuinely interested in working in. Furthermore, you'll learn valuable workplace skills needed when applying for your first job which those at college might not possess, that will you will use all throughout your career. Already having a portfolio of work and skills at such a young age will be very useful when meeting with future employers.
Pro - There’s loads of choice.
There are around 400 different types of apprenticeships at all different levels so there really is a wide range of jobs you could apply for. Apprenticeships are offered across many sectors including law firms, surveyors, media firms, retail etc. It's not all about construction! However, an apprenticehip prepares you for work in a specific area, so if you're not quite sure what you want to do or want to keep your options open it's better to plumb for going to college.
Having said this, an apprenticeship can’t open the doors to every job, for certain careers you will need a degree or a similar qualification. Likewise, your experience will not prepare you for lots of jobs after you finish. You will be qualified in a very specific area.
Con - You may feel left out.
Doing an apprenticeship may feel as though you are stuck in the middle, too mature for college, but far younger than your colleagues. If lots of your friends have continued to college, you may find that you're schedules never meet up - they're busy revising for exams at certain times of the year while you can't go out on a school night and come in with a hangover. And your workplace collegues might have families to get home to after work. This may mean that you loose touch with those around you, and if lots of your friends leave for university you may even feel as though you are missing out on the “university experience". But just remember, by the time you're 22 you will have a lot of useful experience and some savings (hopefully) whereas graduates may have virtually no experience and a shed load of debt!
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Pro - You can do a course that you are really passionate about.
As well as A Levels, college offers more practical courses, for example in hospitality and catering, makeup and beauty, or childcare. If you're still interested in doing something practical and not going to university, it's still a great step to learn about something you are really passionate about. If you haven't found your passion, w ith more of a rounded education, you'll be able to take your time to make a concerted effort to at college research what your future might look like, without making any rash decisions, which might make you a happier bunny in the long run.
Pro - It’s a smooth path to university
Colleges have dedicated higher education advisers who can guide you through your university application, giving you advice on your UCAS form, personal statement and which universities to apply for. If you are thinking of going to university, it's best to stick to either A-levels or BTECs, both of which will see you through to university, although try not to end up studying a programme of subjects that are too narrow. If you're currently doing an apprenticeship, the qualifications you receive might not necessarily be a passport to university, and you'll have to research them and understand the application process on your own.
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Pro - You will have more opportunities
Apprenticeships are only ideal for specific career paths, and in this way, studying at college gives you more opportunities. You can choose to study a few different subjects at the same time, even if you are interested in something more practical. This allows you to keep your options more open than in an apprenticeship which is usually very specialised, and get a feel for what you really enjoy and want to do in the future.
Con - You have no direct source of income.
Unless you have a little job on the side you'll have no income and constantly have to ask your parents for money. At least in an apprenticeship you're getting some sort of wage, however small. Furthermore, although your college course may be free, you may have to pay for equipment and materials, for example if you are studying food tech you'll have to pay for food, or if you're studying make-up and beauty you'll have to pay for your brushes and make-up.
If you’re still unsure about what's the right option for you, one thought is to apply for apprenticeships that offer college courses alongside them. In all apprenticeships you'll need to studying for qualifications, however these can be done in-house or at college. By applying through a college (often a college of technology) you'll gain that college experience, make friends outside of your course and feel part of a community as well as getting the work experience under your belt. If you are thinking of a doing an apprenticeship in September, which doesn't have a college element, how about asking them whether they can sponsor you to learn something on the side to complement your work.