1 in 3 A-Level Students Choose Professional Training Over University
August was A-level exam results month in which thousands of young adults across the UK found out how they did in their A-Levels, and what their possible next life step could be. For many, expected results have been achieved and their first choice university awaits. For others, though, the results may have not gone their way.

According to a recent survey we conducted of school leavers across the UK, over a third of students plan to do professional training or an internship should they not get into their first choice university. Meanwhile, 35.9 percent plan to resit their A-level exams and 28.3 percent are looking to go through university clearing. The survey took responses from 501 young male and female A-level students from across the UK.

A-level results survey

Whilst the highest proportion of people still wanted to retake their exams, we were surprised to see that more than a third (34.2%) of young students would choose to seek either professional training (21%) or an internship (13.2%) if they didn’t get the results they wanted.

Considering the hike in tuition fees, is there a trend for taking the route of professional training over a university degree? UCAS admissions services says 424,000 places have been offered at universities this year, up by 3 percent from last year. Yet despite this, many of the students who don’t get their choice of university on results day seem set on taking the corporate route.

We spoke to Joseph Broun, 18, from Lincolnshire about his plans post A-level results: "I’m still not quite sure what I’m doing yet as my grades haven’t quite been good enough to get into my main choice this year. I’m thinking about just taking a gap year and maybe trying to get an internship if I can. The careers service at my college did talk about professional training and I would think about it as an option. My older brother didn’t do a degree but he now works for a graphic design company.”

Alice Wade, 17, also had this to say about university: “Some of my friends are going straight to university, but a lot of people I know think it’s elitist and expensive. I think the excitement of university is starting to fizzle out.”

Could it be that the excitement of going to university is indeed fizzling out, perhaps due to the exorbitant costs and the fact so many job candidates now hold a degree? We recently did a study that examined the ROI of different university courses in terms of total career potential earnings, asking whether the payoff is worth the years of investment.

According to Steve Warren, managing director at Activia, “the modern focus on university degrees is missing the point for a lot of young people. There are different ways of learning and the academic environment isn’t suitable for many, particularly amongst young men.

“At the basic level, an NVQ apprenticeship is a great way to acquire skills, work-related experience and a qualification, with Level 4 being the equivalent of a Foundation Degree. We notice that a number of A-level students seek our year-long NVQ apprenticeship as it often fast tracks them seamlessly into a meaningful professional role.”

Men more likely to seek professional training

The results of our survey show that young men are more likely to seek professional training than women. 35 percent of men would either look at an internship or corporate training as a route to career prospects, whilst 28 percent of women would consider this.

University survey - men

University survey - women

More women in general tend to go to university than men due to the fact they achieve higher grades at A-level. This year nearly 80 percent of girls' entries were graded A* to C, whilst just 75 percent of boys.

According to this year's university application figures, the difference in application rates between men and women across the UK have also been the widest on record, with young women in England being 36 percent more likely to apply than young men.

London and the South-East most keen on professional training

If we look at regions, the North West, which includes Greater Manchester and Liverpool, had a higher number of people wanting to go through university clearing and ensure they get a degree, with just 29 percent opting for the corporate route. People in the South East, on the other hand, are slightly more likely to find internships or professional training (31%).

University survey - north west of England

University survey - South East of England

Opportunities to do internships and professional training appear to be perceived as an attractive and more ready available option, particularly in London and the South East. With so many university places on offer, this year certainly is a “buyers’ market” for young adults who choose university is the best option for them.