What do Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Alex Ferguson and David Beckham all have in common? Contrary to what you may think, all of these celebrities didn’t pursue conventional education, and many of them did not even attend university. And yet they are some of the most well-known and successful people in the world. For many 18 year olds about to leave secondary school, the conventional path of higher education doesn’t seem attractive, and these celebrities are testament to the fact that alternative routes could offer equal success.

With similar intentions to Bill Gates when he went straight to working on software in his garage, many teenagers look to immerse themselves in the world of work immediately after sixth form. This is where the opportunity to complete degree apprenticeships comes in. Degree apprenticeships are programmes which combine working for an employer and obtaining a full bachelor’s or master’s degree. They are offered at many universities across England and provide the opportunity to gain valuable work experience at prestigious companies such as Rolls Royce, Barclays, PwC and Airbus whilst gaining the same qualifications as a conventional university student.

A common worry for many students entering higher education is money. However those who undertake a degree apprenticeship have their full university fees paid for by working for their employer, so can leave university with absolutely no debt. On top of this, apprentices who do more work than is required to meet their fees are paid, so can acquire money for themselves. By working with a company for six or seven years during their education, apprentices are able to cultivate valuable relationships and connections with employers. As a result, many go straight from their apprenticeship to working full time with the company they were mentored by. However this doesn’t have to be the case, and from completing a degree apprenticeship students gain indispensable skills which are highly valued by other employers. Because apprentices have already had experience of the workplace, they are often at a better position than many university graduates.

These programmes also have the benefit of flexibility; students can organise their time studying around their work hours. As a result, this post-18 route may become more popular among Sixth Form students who are wary of the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the next few years of education. This does not mean, however, that taking a degree apprenticeship is any easier than other routes. Because they provide the chance of working with widely respected firms, degree apprenticeships are highly competitive and require candidates who have a good academic record and who can demonstrate self-discipline, independence and maturity. Completing such a course also demands excellent time-management and determination to balance work and education. Richard Branson certainly worked tirelessly to make his name in his industry, and hopefully as the celebrity success stories demonstrate, hard work in an area which isn’t necessarily conventional might just pay off.