Careers expert reveals other paths you can take instead of university

What if your child DOESN’T want to go to university? Careers expert reveals the next steps that are just as valuable as a degree – and insists taking a gap year CAN boost their job prospects

  • EXCLUSIVE: Edd Williams, 40, from Manchester is a careers expert
  • He says hands-on experience is just as valuable as having a degree 
  • He is author of the book ‘Is your school lying to you? Get the career you want’ 
  • Talks through different paths such as gap years, internships and college

While many students head straight off to university after receiving their A-levels, higher education is not suited to every teenager.   

A recent report from the OECD suggested that almost a third of graduates are currently working in jobs that do not require higher education, and research has also shown that the majority of employers favour experience over degrees.

Careers and academic consultant Edd Williams, 40, from Manchester, has offered advice on the other valuable paths open to those don’t feel suited to higher education. 

He said: ‘It’s important when advising your teen that you understand what the changes mean, what those options are and hopefully by doing that we can dispel a few myths along the way.’

Here Edd reveals the different options available, which could prove a lot more fruitful than spending the next few years studying, not to mention amassing more than £50,000 debt on average. 

While many students trundle straight off to university after receiving their  A Levels, higher education is not suited to every teenager (stock image )


Despite the outdated misconceptions that prevail, that these aren’t academic and are only for brick laying, mechanics, fridge repair and so on, nothing could be further from the truth. 

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Yes, of course there remains many opportunities in the more practical side of things. But increasingly more and more high profile companies are offering apprenticeships that are almost like junior graduate schemes. 

Many of the big accountancy firms are now offering apprenticeships, and even architecture is getting involved with RIBA backing the Trailblazer scheme. 

Everywhere you look opportunities are cropping up, and if your teen has had enough of school and study this can be a great opportunity for them. 

Edd Williams (pictured) 40, from Manchester, is a careers and academic consultant and says there are plenty of options that are just as good as university 

They learn on the job, they earn a small wage, gain valuable experience, pick up qualifications (Advanced or Higher apprenticeships), and often it can lead to a job afterwards. 

Also available are degree apprenticeships which follow a similar path of learning on the job. But the provider will also pay for you to study alongside this, and you will gain a degree from the university partnered with the business.

One of the downsides of apprenticeships is that not every sector is offering them as yet. Arguably they are much more competitive than universities with fewer providers and places available.  


Many teens will have made their A Level decisions based less on a future career or academic path, but on what they enjoyed, where they performed academically based on GCSEs, or even arbitrarily so they can continue to sit with their friends. 

Post A Levels or BTECs, there remain a number of options available at FE colleges where they can choose courses that potentially will serve a future career, or lead toward further study. 

Mr Williams pointed out companies sometimes prefer hands-on experience to a degree. Stock image

These include Practical Vocational courses that cover a variety of industries including plumbing, engineering and hairdressing amongst others. 

Alternatively access courses are available and are aimed at preparing students for university in the future such as an art foundation course. 

Equally, Higher National Diplomas (HND), Certificates (HNC) or foundation degrees combine are a mix of vocational work and study, aimed at preparing the student for the next step, whether that’s joining the work force or further study.


To many, internships mean a cynical opportunity for big companies to get young people in to work for free and do jobs they don’t want to do themselves. This, of course, remains a risk. 

However, with the likes of KPMG and PWC offering schemes – and many other financial, accountancy and marketing companies offering opportunities – it’s a great way to break into a business, understand what the reality of the job entails before committing to it, and also getting on the business’ radar. 

If these same businesses are offering apprenticeships (which, remember can open at any time in the year) then by distinguishing themselves on an internship they could boost themselves to the top of the queue.

Even if the internship doesn’t lead immediately to the next thing, they will have learned more about themselves, where their interests lie and what they can offer. Most importantly, they will be able to demonstrate on any future application the kind of real world experiences that have informed their decision to apply, which is likely more compelling to a reader.

Of course, other options remain outside these key five, such as simply joining the workforce and training on the job, online courses, starting their own business and anything else that might occur to them. I have highlighted these five as the safest and most practical routes. I believe that training and experience are key to both progression and self awareness.

If A Levels didn’t give your teen the training and experiences needed to access their next step for whatever reason, options remain within FE that can help bridge that gap between what they’ve done and where they want to get to. Education is also free up to the age of 19, so this can be easier on the pocket than other alternatives.

Gap years

I know, I know, it sounds like a year long jolly whilst they ‘find themselves’. 

Or, it could be a formative experience that will give them interesting things to discuss – new experiences to help shape their world view, new skills learned, new languages, new perspectives. 

It may sound a bit fluffy, but actually when applying for an apprenticeship or university or indeed anything, a young person with a clear sense of purpose and self that is backed up by experiences that inform those views, is much more attractive than someone who is basing their decisions on a sense or feeling, rather than hands on exposure to a field.

A gap year spent well can be valuable for adding depth and interest to a CV or application. There are many excellent gap year providers offering opportunities to work with charities and projects in extraordinary places. These type of structured gap years can help give them the freedom to better understand their interests, aptitudes and skills, but with the safety net of a reputable company ensuring their wellbeing and development. 

It could be an entire year away or even a couple of shorter opportunities, taken over the course of the year with work in between. 

Either way, don’t despair. Sometimes having that seawall between school and the next thing is necessary to give them the time and perspective to figure out what makes sense for them, which again is better than a false start at university. 

Even if you haven’t applied for university this year you can still think about it and apply next year, Mr Williams said. Stock image

University next year

Firstly, just because they haven’t applied this year doesn’t mean to say it’s off the table forever. At the age of 17, being asked to make decisions about your future can be incredibly daunting. Some are lucky enough to know precisely what they want, but many aren’t. 

Sometimes it takes longer to understand what path they may want to take. It’s much better to pause and take stock than start something, incur debt and drop out because of a decision made in haste (first year drop out rates are around 6-7 per cent). 

Naturally, for many professions a degree remains a must have, rarely people want doctors who are untrained but enthusiastic amateurs, but for many others alternate routes in are available. 

Edd Williams is author of the book Is your school lying to you? Get the career you want. Get the life you deserve –  available now via Amazon or Ortus Press at £11.99. 

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