Most young people think that they need to know exactly what they want to do with their lives as soon as they leave school and jump straight into university. Moreover, there seems to be a common misconception that goes something a little like this… ‘Without a degree, you’re going to amount to nothing’. Sound familiar?  

However much you believe this to be true, it couldn’t be more wrong. I am a firm believer that you get out whatever you put in – to anything! Some might argue that to just be a ‘romantic’ notion, but it’s not, and I’ll tell you why.  

While higher education might feel like the right thing for some, it isn’t the case for everyone. In fact, only around 40% of school leavers even apply to degree courses in the UK each year.  

Sure, there will always be certain industries of job roles that absolutely require degree (or higher) level training. These include:  

  • Medicine, nursing, dentistry and other related fields.  
  • Sciences. 
  • Veterinary Science. 
  • Engineering. 

If your dream is to chase a career in one of these areas, then there isn’t much else that you can do other than earn your degree. But choosing not to pursue higher education does not automatically set you up to fail. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t paths into those aforementioned careers, though. While doctors and consultants will, without a doubt, need qualifications to obtain their license to practice, there are other medical roles available to people on an entry-level basis. Want to be a nurse, but don’t want to go to uni just yet? Consider becoming a Health Care Assistant. Interested in paramedics? Start at the bottom and work your way up vocationally. 

The options available to those wishing to seek a fulfilling and successful career without spending years and tonnes of money on a course that may or may not end in a job once you’ve graduated are plentiful.  

If you’re undecided about university or your plans have changed, there are other options after secondary education, such as apprenticeships, gap years, overseas study, and more. 

Alternatives Career and Progression Avenues to Getting a Degree

Now more than ever, employers want to see what life skills and experience potential hires have to offer. And while a first-class degree is mighty impressive, it doesn’t always constitute to practical experience, passion for the job or a good cultural fit for the candidate or the business. 

For every postgraduate scheme in place, there are just as many apprenticeships and other vocational options available for people who find it easier to learn on the job or want to get that all-important experience that could never be gained in a classroom. 


An apprenticeship is a programme designed to train you in a specific field while you work. You’ll spend around 80% of your time attending a job and the other 20% in a classroom doing the theoretical stuff. They combine hands-on work and real-life experience with classroom learning,  

You’ll earn a salary, and your course fees will be covered by your employer and the government. You just need to be willing to manage your time between work and study. 

There are many different apprenticeships you can apply for depending on your existing qualifications across a broad range of different industries. 


Traineeships are courses that prepare you for an apprenticeship – great if you are unemployed or have little to no work experience. The courses usually run for anything between 6 weeks to 6 months. 

School Leaver Programmes 

School leaver programmes are apprenticeships that are aimed at students in year 13, but some cater for 16-year olds who have finished their GCSEs. The courses for students who leave school at GCSE level are intermediate or advanced apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships for those with A-levels. 

These programmes are a middle ground between full-time employment and higher education. 

Schemes like this offer a healthy balance between work and study. Companies sponsor, or part-sponsor students to study towards qualifications that are relevant to the business or industry they work within. They will work for the company that is sponsoring them on a full or part-time basis. 

Additional Qualifications 

Some jobs may require certain skills or qualifications that don’t necessarily warrant a full university degreeLook at websites such as Udemy which offer an array of courses from beginner to expert in an abundance of fields and topics. These may just give your CV the boost that a would-be employer in your desired field is looking for. 

Gap Year 

Of course, you may still like the idea of university but feel like the world needs to be explored before you continue with a few more years of study. If this is the case, a gap year (or 2) is always a viable option to help you decompress before you jump straight back into learning again. 

Gap years not only give you the opportunity to make some amazing memories, but you’ll have the chance to meet new people, learn new skills and gain valuable experiences that may well help you on your way to your dream career. It will also give you time to figure out exactly where you want to go and work on a killer CV and cover letter or higher education application to pursue a degree. 

The Path to a Successful Career 

It’s safe to say that there is value in whichever route you choose to take and that it isn’t a necessity to have a degree to get to where you want to go. Ultimately, you need to decide on the best option for you as an individual and how that will affect your pursuit of a happy and successful career. Either way, you’ll knock the socks off any employer if you put your all into your learning and work. Just don’t tell yourself that you won’t succeed if you don’t do things ‘the right way’. There’s only one ‘right way’ and that’s the best option for you and your goals. 

Want more from our blog? Check out this post on skill mismatches