University vs Apprenticeship:
Which One is Right For You?

See also: What is Learning?

University has always been a common option that many school-leavers opt for after deciding on their career path. It is an excellent study path for many careers and provides you with a wide range of knowledge.

However, with the rising price of university degrees, apprenticeship programs are becoming a popular alternative to university.

Apprenticeship programs differ from university in a number of ways. Apprenticeships offer a learner hands-on experience in their chosen field, which can be a massive relief for students who do not enjoy the classroom environment. This can be a great option if you don’t want to go to university and are looking to dive straight into the workforce.

Read on to learn the main differences between university qualifications and apprenticeships so that you can make an educated decision about your future.

Learning Type

As an apprentice, you are given the opportunity to learn by ‘doing’ which can give you a richer and better understanding of the practical aspects of your role.

  • Apprentices are constantly learning new skills on the job, and have the opportunity to apply their learning every day.
  • University prepares you for the workforce, but you normally wait years before you actually are able to apply your skills.

University involves learning a lot of theoretical knowledge which can vary in applicability to your field. This is usually carried out in the form of lectures and reading, and assessed through verbal and written assignments. Exams are also conducted for most units depending on what you study, and these form a large portion of your grade.

University can give you a great foundation of knowledge to work from and is a very supportive environment with many resources for students to enhance their learning. Many degrees also incorporate the opportunity to undertake work placements, which can further consolidate your knowledge and give you the opportunity to put your skills into practice.

See our page on Learning Styles for more information.


There is no doubt that apprenticeship courses provide you with a more specific set of skills as opposed to university.

Apprenticeships put you to work immediately, and therefore need you to learn the required skills as quickly as possible. You are constantly exposed to the work environment every day, and this helps you to pick up the required knowledge for the job.

University, however, provides a broader set of knowledge. You are still taught the key skills required for your career but, along with this, you are also taught the theory behind the concepts you are learning. You may be expected to take electives outside of your discipline, which can be a good learning opportunity for those looking to venture out but can be a hindrance for those who are only interested in learning the required skills for their career.

University knowledge is also said to be outdated, particularly in the field of IT and digital, because the rate of progress is so fast that most of the skills you learn in your first year of university are already out of date by the time you graduate.


University vs Apprenticeship: Which One is Right For You?

There’s no getting around it, university degrees have always been the more expensive option in comparison to alternative study options. To many people, “student debt” vs “no student debt” is the tiebreaker for this argument.

University can be quite a gamble on your future. Few students have the funds available to pay fees outright, meaning the majority of them are forced to take out lengthy student loans. In the best case scenario, their future career will enable them to pay off these loans. However, a lot of university students end up in entry-level jobs that did not require them to have degrees.

In comparison, most apprenticeship courses are usually undertaken as a full-time job, which means you receive work entitlements such as leave. Apprenticeship students pay for their qualification, not their experience. Work placements undertaken in university, are usually part of a required unit. This means that most university students have to pay for the opportunity to experience the workforce.


For many, university is the most enjoyable time of their life. It is a time of little responsibility, many opportunities to pursue new interests, and a rich social environment in which to make new friends.

However, it is very easy to get caught up in this lifestyle, and many university students squander away precious years in which they could have been networking within their field and building on job skills.

Apprenticeships integrate the work and study environment together, which means students are able to experience the full-time work lifestyle while studying. Apprentices have weekends free to socialise and partake in enjoyable activities without having to worry about the pressures of assignments to complete.

Funding the Lifestyle

Money is also less of an issue for apprenticeship students because they earn while studying. This enables them to have more freedom to do what they want in their free time.

University students tend to have more free time, but less money to do the things they want to.


University is a massive amount of time to give up for your education.

Most degrees take around 3-4 years to complete if you are studying full-time. In this time, many students opt for a part-time or casual job but obviously can only work very infrequent or limited hours.

Apprenticeship training can be completed within one year, giving apprenticeship students at least a three-year head start on those who go to university. In this time, they are also earning full-time wages, without the worry of paying back a hefty debt.

They also have an advantage on university students in that they receive the opportunity to build good network connections. In this time, they are also able to work their way up the career ladder, which is something university students cannot do.

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Deciding the best study option for yourself can be a difficult process.

There are so many choices (e.g. university, apprenticeships, TAFE courses etc.), which all approach learning differently.

However, there is no “right” or “wrong” choice, your choice should simply be based on what your career goals are, and which form of education will enable you to meet them.

About the Author

Caroline Schmidt writes the blogs for Kangan Institute. She is passionate about education, careers, and giving advice to students of all ages.