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University vs. School-leaver programmes – E4S video series 2

15 Jul 2014

This week is a special for school and college students as we discuss a subject that has been constantly requested since we began our YouTube videos back in 2013 – the value of university vs. school-leaver programmes. We cover what industries are best supported by each and give a quick in-depth analysis of some of the areas you’ve asked about, including financial prospects, lifestyle differences and insight from recruiters.

You can check out the video here: University vs. school-leaver programmes

And, as usual, you can find the transcript below:



Hi guys, I’m [presenter, company role], and thanks for tuning into [NAME]. Each week, we’ll take a quick in-depth look at areas of the student job search to give you the insight you need to find your ideal job.

This week, we’re going to be covering school leaver programmes; which industries are supporting them, what kind of opportunities you’ll receive and, perhaps most importantly, how they compare with university.

If you’re in your last year of school or college, you’ll undoubtedly be spending a lot of time thinking about what you’ll want to do afterwards. Much of the discussion will be centred on university but there are many benefits to be found from school leaver programmes. These programmes aim to give young people a substantial step on a career ladder and develop valuable work experience, but it can be daunting to consider an alternative to university. We’re going to go through a step-by-step comparison of some of the areas you might be thinking about including the money and future financial implications, lifestyle and experience and how it may impact on your future work.





There is a lot of discussion around the cost of university, with tuition fees rising to £9,000 and several institutions including Oxford lobbying for this to be raised further, and talk of the average graduate accumulating as much as £50,000 debt by the time they leave university, it is no wonder that many are considering alternatives.

School leaver programmes have you starting work and earning immediately, with the average starting salary of someone on a school-leaver programme around £10-15,000 although many provide salaries as high as £22,000. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll have the added incentive of not accumulating the kind of debt many students build up at university.

As mentioned, current university students will amass an average of £50,000 in debt by the time they graduate, almost double that of graduates from 2011. However students are not required to pay back their student loans until they earn £21,000 or more. It is also worth considering that the average graduate starting salary is £24,500, considerably more than that of a school leaver.


Money is all well and good, he says condescendingly, but what about your long-term career plans? University has traditionally been seen as the first stepping stone to getting into a prestigious job but it is no longer the only course of action. School leaver programmes are specifically intended to give young people the opportunity to engage with industry and develop alternative qualifications. For example, accountancy and finance firms Grant Thornton and PwC’s school leaver programmes will also help young people acquire their Association of Accounting Technicians qualifications and Association of Chartered Certified Accountants qualifications, respectively.

Universities, on the other hand, can provide a greater degree of flexibility. Numerous companies including Lloyds Banking Group and Enterprise Rent-a-car offer graduate schemes look for graduates who have achieved a certain grade over a particular subject, but you’ll miss having extensive experience in the working environment, an increasingly common complaint from recruiters regarding graduates entering the market.


One factor that is increasingly talked about is the student experience. Several universities campaign extensively on how satisfied their students are including Swansea, East Anglia and Leeds, which have all ranked highly in the Times Higher Education student survey under experience, and this can provide opportunities to develop your employability. University is a great environment to immerse yourself in your non-academic interests – something far more valuable than is otherwise apparent, as employers look for well-rounded employees with a variety of backgrounds. You’ll receive a degree of freedom and responsibility most young people are unaccustomed to and this can be a great opportunity to hone your self-discipline and motivation outside of the confines of a more tightly structured daily schedule associated with employment or FE education.

School leaver programmes don’t tend to offer the same kind of flexibility or lifestyle, however it needn’t mean you’ll miss out on the university experience as many offer young people the chance to study at university during your placement. There are more restrictions: the choices of universities is far more limited, as are the courses. You’ll be expected to study a vocational degree relevant to your programme and the number of school leaver programmes offering opportunities of higher education are small – generally found in finance, engineering, construction and retail. You should also take into consideration that school leaver programmes take longer to complete than degrees, with many lasting five to six years.



It’s fair to say that school leaver programmes are a considerable alternative for young people who are perhaps disenfranchised with the idea of university and are looking for something more ambitious to full-time work. While it is more structured and perhaps more intensive than higher education, several industries are looking more and more into school leaver programmes to supplement their graduate recruitment in an attempt to reach young talent at an earlier age.

The finance sector is considered one of most prolific industries regarding school leaver programmes, and several of the “Big Four” firms including PwC, Deloitte and EY are unabashed with their enthusiasm for school leaver schemes.

Richard Irvin, head of student recruitment at PwC, commented that school leavers on the programme may develop even faster than graduates, while EY’s Liz Bingham, managing partner for talent, stated that school leavers “often show more loyalty in the long run”. While head of student employment Rob Fryer, Deliotte, was a little more reserved, stating that school leavers require two extra years to develop compared to graduates, “after that, you wouldn’t know the difference.”

You might have noticed throughout the video, we’ve tried to avoid stating which is best – a false dichotomy if ever there was one. Ultimately, the choice between school leaver programmes and university is on what can best help you reach the career you want, and along which route you want to take. As Accenture’s Kate Newton states: “The core skills are the same: the ability to communicate, problem solving and collaboration, whether you’re a graduate, apprentice or intern.”



Thanks for watching [E4S video series]. You can check out the first series for more information on the student jobsearch including CV writing, the interview stage and enhancing your employability.

If you have any questions, you can get in touch by posting a comment below, sending us a message on Twitter @e4scouk and Facebook at facebook.com/employment4students or by emailing us at [email protected]

For the latest student jobs, visit us at www.e4s.co.uk.

Thanks again, and we’ll see you next week.

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