Leaving School With More Choice and Less Stress

By 17 December 2021No Comments

Annie Button, an independent writer, has written about the choices you can make after leaving school. Read more here.

Leaving School With More Choice and Less Stress

Things can feel a little bit stressful when the final few months of your school life are edging ever closer. While many of your peers may be choosing college courses, receiving offers from top university choices and writing personal statements, you might have decided that’s not the path for you.

Guess what? That’s absolutely fine! We have to walk our own path in life and that means following the career that suits our interests and skills.

Fortunately, there are plenty of options for school leavers, such as apprenticeships and training schemes. Let’s take a deep dive into how you can leave school with more choices and less stress.

Take your time before deciding

To use a sporting analogy; life is a marathon, not a sprint. That’s not to say it’s constantly tough and feels never-ending but that it’s okay to pace yourself and take time over decisions. When approaching the end of your school career it’s important to take a step back and consider where you want your life to head.

Sometimes students can feel pressured to go to university by their parents, teachers or friends. Others feel the need to go to uni because it’s the ‘norm’ and what everybody else does. Ask yourself where you want to be in 10 years and whether a degree is something you need to achieve that goal. Explore alternative routes that could get you to where you want to be.

“Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to make a decision straight away”, says Jessica Murray, at Save the Student. “Writing down the answers to these questions on a piece of paper and then reading them a few days later might help you gain some perspective if you’re struggling to decide if uni is the right choice.”

University isn’t the be-all and end-all

There are many great things about going to university but there are also plenty of reasons not to go. For instance, going to university can be expensive and it can take many years to pay off your student debt.

It also takes time to complete your degree and at the end of that period, you may find your job opportunities limited. Some industries are very competitive and graduate jobs are not guaranteed.

Finally, employers often expect more than a degree from their potential employees. Internships and life experiences are taken into consideration by employers so a degree on its own might not be enough. Alternatives like internships, gap years and apprenticeships are great ways to leave school without the stress of applying for university.

“Apprenticeships don’t solely focus on passing an exam, they focus on providing students with the skills and knowledge they need at the time they need them”, says Carl Bennett, director of TradeSkills 4U. Those practical skills can stand students in good stead for the rest of their lives.

Apprenticeships are a great pathway into work

Finding your way into the working world is much easier if you have qualifications behind you. Apprenticeships are a great way of gaining hands-on experience of a job while studying at the same time.

They have become a popular choice among school leavers in recent times. “UCAS revealed in April [2021] that over half of students looking to apply to higher education in 2022 were interested in apprenticeships”, said Julia Belgutay of tes. Apprenticeships allow students to learn their craft from the classroom and then put those skills into context in the workplace.

There are two types of apprenticeships; full-time and part-time. Full-time apprenticeships offer hands-on work to students for approximately 30 hours per week. The rest of your time will be spent learning, either in the classroom, your workplace or online. Most full-time apprenticeships will see students at work four days per week and studying for the other one.

Part-time apprenticeships split your time between working and learning a bit more. They often take longer to complete, and part-time apprentices will typically take between four to six years to qualify. Full-time apprenticeships are commonly completed in three to five years. 

Besides duration, there are also four main types of apprenticeship level to consider.

Apprenticeship levels explained:

  • Intermediate apprenticeships; level 2 qualifications equivalent to GCSE passes
  • Advanced apprenticeships; level 3 qualifications equivalent to A Level passes
  • Higher apprenticeships; lead to level 4 qualifications and above
  • Degree apprenticeships; level 6 or above and involves gaining a university degree

Consider a gap year

You don’t have to rush into anything and if some extra thinking time is what you need then a gap year is a great alternative. Opting for a gap year allows you to gain some experience of the world and how it works before choosing to head down a career path. You may even find the job and life of your dreams while taking some time out.

A productive gap year can also set your CV apart from the competition for job roles in the future. Prospective employers will be impressed if you have managed to plan and organise your time away from studying so well. This can show your ability to set yourself goals and achieve them, which is great practical skills to bring into any job role.

If you decide that university is for you but you’re not quite ready, tailoring your gap year to the subject area you wish to pursue is a great idea. Not only does this give you some experience of your course material, but it’s also great reading for prospective employers down the line.

Things to consider:

  • What you want to do with your gap year
  • How you can fund it
  • How it will impact what you want to do afterwards

Internships offer instant employment opportunities

Internships allow school leavers and ambitious professionals to gain experience and learn new skills by spending time in a company. You might like to think of an internship as an extended period of work experience.

This time spent within a company gives you a better understanding of what it’s like to work in a particular job or industry. It offers you the time to try something new and decide if you like it or not, however, it’s unlikely you will get paid for your time. As much as 70% of internships in 2018 were unpaid and in 2020, 43% of students undertook an unpaid internship.

An internship could save you the trouble of panicking and choosing a university degree that you are unsure about. Internships allow you to rule out certain industries or job roles without investing too much time. Undertaking an internship might see you working for a company or shadowing a professional from within it.

Things to consider: 

  • Some internships are unpaid, particularly for competitive industries
  • What is your aim of gaining experience through the internship?
  • A good alternative to finding entry-level jobs


If you are approaching the end of school and you don’t think you will acquire the grades to qualify for an apprentice, all is not lost. Firstly, you still have time to study hard and improve on your predicted grades. Time is on your side and you don’t have to lose sleep fretting about something that hasn’t happened yet.

Secondly, if you don’t get the grades or experience required for an apprenticeship you can embark on a traineeship. These are available to school leavers between the ages of 16 and 24, commonly lasting between six weeks and a year.

Traineeships are short courses that give students the required skills for an apprenticeship or full-time work. Students on a traineeship won’t get paid but they do get contributions to their expenses. On top of learning invaluable skills for the next part of your career journey, traineeships also help students improve their core English and maths skills.

Entry-level jobs for instant access to work

If you feel like further education isn’t for you then you can always start working right after school with an entry-level job. These roles typically don’t require many qualifications, and in some cases, none are needed.

Entry-level jobs allow you to enter the world of work right away but can also be treated a little like a gap year. Taking some time to just earn some money and get used to thinking about paying bills and budgeting is invaluable life experience. If you find that you love the industry you are working in right out of school then you can pursue a career that way.

McDonald’s, Virgin Media and Santander are some of the UK’s top entry-level employers for school leavers. Starting at the bottom of a company and working your way to the top is certainly possible in the largest organisations in the country.

Many successful people left school without going on to further education, which is proof that it’s not for everyone. Some examples of successful entrepreneurs who either didn’t go to university or finish their degrees include Richard Branson, Walt Disney and Lord Sugar.

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