A-level results 2017: What if I don't want to go to university?

If academia turns you off, there are plenty of alternative routes for furthering your career, write Euan Blair and Sophie Adelman

Euan Blair & Sophie Adelman

News article image

You’re smart, ambitious and committed, but you’ve decided that university isn’t for you. Perhaps you prefer learning by doing rather than classroom-based learning or perhaps you’re savvy enough to realise that getting paid while studying is better than ending up with nearly £60,000 of debt. Maybe you’re a parent with a child who doesn’t love studying but who lights up when they talk about the YouTube channel they launched or who spends hours writing code for a new video game. Or perhaps you’re a teacher of students with huge potential who would benefit from taking an alternative path because they just don’t thrive in a classroom environment.

Increasingly, young people are actively choosing different routes to starting their career of choice. The rising cost of higher education is creating a financial barrier for many and a real psychological barrier for others. Many young people don’t want to wait to start their careers and don’t see the value of spending another three or four years in a classroom. University applications have fallen for the first time in several years as the current mismatch between the cost and long-term benefits of their offering comes under increasing scrutiny.

Employers are also recognising the value of hiring school-leavers with fresh ideas and a desire to get stuck in. A whole range of blue-chip organisations, from the "big four" accountants to Penguin Random House, have dropped a degree requirement from their roles. At WhiteHat, we partner with some of the coolest, most exciting employers to work for; from tech startups like MOO and JustGiving, to large global corporates like Nomura or BASF, all of whom are launching school-leaver apprenticeship schemes. Starting your career with cutting-edge training at a recognised brand is something every parent can be proud of.

So, what are your alternative options for starting an amazing career? 


An apprenticeship is a full-time job, but one in which you’ll spend 20 per cent of the time on training and personal development. You receive a salary and gain a nationally recognised qualification (and often an additional professional qualification) that will set you up for success for the future. You can do apprenticeship qualifications in everything from digital marketing to accounting, cybersecurity to software engineering. So you no longer need a degree to land your perfect job at Google, Net-a-Porter or Mishcon de Reya.

Entry-level jobs

Many organisations offer entry-level roles to school leavers, some with outstanding training programmes. You’ll get paid at least the minimum wage for your age group and will have the prospect of progression and future pay rises if you perform.

Gap year

This isn’t a long-term solution but taking a gap year and gaining some important life skills – be it learning a language, volunteering or working your way around Australia – could help you decide what to do next and will give you some fun experiences to share with your friends.


Starting your own business is an exciting prospect for many young people, although you’d probably want some financing support and advice. Organisations like Entrepreneurs First and Startup Bootcamp bring together aspiring founders, help them grow an idea into a business and support them through their early stages and even beyond.

'A whole range of options'

There are a whole range of options available away from university, and it’s important you identify the one that suits you best. If you’re still not sure, you can always combine multiple options. Why not do an apprenticeship for a year before then going on to university? You don’t need to close the door on anything aged 18. There has never been a better time to accelerate your career without spending three years in a university lecture hall. As with all things in life, you get as much out as you put in. Being committed, staying humble and focusing on learning will pay dividends, and allow you to impress employers prepared to invest in making you a future leader.

Euan Blair and Sophie Adelman (pictured below) are co-founders of apprenticeship provider and tech start-up WhiteHat

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow Tes on Twitter and like Tes on Facebook

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Euan Blair & Sophie Adelman

Latest stories