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A-level students: university 'not the only option'

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 19 August 2010

There are plenty of opportunities to set A-level students on successful career paths that do not involve a university degree. Here Channel 4 News takes a look at alternative routes and speaks to a former apprentice about her experiences.

Apprentice opportunities for A-level students - David Cameron meets an apprentice during a visit to Manchester

More than 170,000 students will miss out on a place at university this summer. So what do you do if your grades do not secure you that coveted place at the university of your choice?

Most people know about clearing. But other, lesser known options exist, including apprenticeships, entrepreneurship and employer funded study schemes.

Some professions that are generally seen as open only to graduates are in fact accessible to those without degrees.

Many legal firms are now taking on non-law degree candidates as trainees and students who do not want to go to university can also enter the profession through the legal executive path.

The same applies in accountancy where you can qualify on the job through the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

And there are many successful business people never went to university including Sir Alan Sugar, Bill Gates (perhaps the most famous Harvard drop-out), Sir Philip Green and Sir Richard Branson.

Recent statistics showed that university leavers can expect to earn £100,000 more in their lifetime compared with people that leave education with their A-Levels.

But a recent report carried out by Steven McIntosh, University of Sheffield, revealed that  those who who take the vocational route can also benefit from higher earnings.

The net present value of benefits over costs for completing an apprenticeship is estimated to be around £105,000 at a Level 3 and around £73,000 at Level 2.

Lifelong learning the key to success:
Sarah Clover, communications director for, does not regret doing an apprenticeship instead of pursuing a university education.

She fears that the current cost of studying means that students are pursuing "education for education's sake" and says the route to success is more about your attitude to learning.

"It's about having focus and a willingness to learn new skills," she says. "That's the key to success."

While she did not do A-levels or a degree, Ms Clover beat off stiff competition to win a highly sought after place on the British Gas scheme. While there she studied a range of vocational subjects including customer services and management.

Ms Clover says she was academic, but felt that studying her favourite subjects wouldn't be the best route to a fulfilling career.

"I continue to love English and History, but I can buy books with my earnings to further my interest in those subjects."

She is keen to emphasise that university is not the only route and advises people who have missed out not to panic: "The world doesn't end just because you have not got into university."

The website has been set up to help young people make informed decisions about their future by showing the opportunities that exist outside of university.

It is keen to stress to those that have not got a place at university that there are many excellent alternatives open to them which they may not even be aware of.

Its ‘Results Day Survival Guide’ outlines top ten survival tips for A-Level results day, as follows:

  1. Plan ahead: Discuss with someone you trust your options depending on your gradesand plan your response for a best and worst case scenario.
  2. Make contact: Make sure you have phone numbers for both your firm offer and your insurance university choice in case you narrowly miss the grades you need. 
  3. Focus on your situation: Focus on your own results and don’t get dragged into the dramas.
  4. Get connected: See if you can arrange to have someone next to a computer in case you need to check clearing websites or the UCAS site in a rush.
  5. Top up your mobile: Whether or not you get the results you want you’ll either be spending a long time celebrating or commiserating and that means credit.
  6. Take your time: Whatever your results, there is plenty of time for you to consider what you actually want to do.
  7. Don't be swayed by the crowd: When lots of people are doing one thing it can take a lot of bravery to say you want to do something different – if uni doesn’t sound right for you, don’t do it!
  8. Don't panic: Find somewhere calmer to get things together. Taking five minutes to get yourself together can stop you making a rushed decision.
  9. Pat yourself on the back: You've just completed nearly two decades of constant education. Enjoy what you’ve achieved but never stop trying to develop yourself.
  10. Chill: For optimum results champagne should be served between 8 and 10ºC.

Ms Clover told Channel 4 News: "Our guide aims to inform worried students, and parents, that there are many great alternatives to higher education. With the huge rise in university applications, rejection is unfortunately a possibility for many. The key message we want to convey is ‘don’t panic’, as there are many avenues open to young people."


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