Choose what’s right for you: Graduate programmes vs. Apprenticeships

Struggling to decide what path is right for you? Apprentices and graduates from EY share their experiences to help you make that all-important choice.
Kim Connor Streich
Kim Connor Streich

Choosing your path post-education isn’t always cut and dry. On the one-hand you may want to go down the ‘traditional’ route of studying at university and entering a grad programme; you’ll have a breadth of learning materials at your fingertips, and of course there’s the opportunity to partake in societies, charities and work experience – all highlights of the overall university experience.

On the other hand, apprenticeships offer both an education and salary hand-in-hand. You’ll learn tangible and practical skills to progress your career. In addition, apprenticeships now offer students the chance to gain qualification standards equal to an undergraduate or masters degree, meaning you’ll be on equal footing to graduates but without a hefty loan hanging over your head.

Truthfully, there is no right choice. It all comes down to your preferences and what you’re looking for from your formal training. We took a sneak peek into the lives of several EY employees – both apprentices and grads – to learn about their own personal journeys and career routes.

So hear from Jessica – Tax Advisor, Marium – Digital Apprentice, Luke – Assistant Tax Advisor, Andrew – Assistant Tax Advisor and Violina – Transaction Diligence Executive to help you decide which route is best for you.

Questions to ask yourself


Being in the last few years of school or sixth form can involve a lot of outside pressure about your next steps. Your family, school and friends may all wish to steer you in one direction for some reason or another, but what you have to remember is that your decision is the one that matters. Start by thinking about what you want from your life for the next few years.

Are you prepared to commit to training for a very specific career, or would you rather spend your time studying to help broaden your options? Is earning a salary as soon as possible vital, or equally are student loans a deal-breaker? Think about your social life; where do you think you’d thrive better?

Andrew trained on the EY graduate programme in Tax, following several years working after leaving school, before studying Accountancy and Law at university. He has some reassuring advice for anyone who is currently at a crossroads in their early career choices: “I think the main thing to realise is that you are not stuck or confined by the choice and will gain something regardless of what you choose.”

Jessica went down the apprenticeship route, and thinks that this type of training can actually offer the best of both worlds if you play your cards right: “I’m a strong believer that I didn’t miss out at all by not going to university, so research well and pick the route which is best for you as opposed to what your friends are doing.”

The benefits of each


Each method of learning comes with pros and cons. Apprenticeships obviously come with the huge caveat of being not only student loan-free, but earning a salary from day one and gaining the opportunity to start saving for the future. Not only that, but apprenticeships at EY – amongst other companies – can allow trainees to obtain a degree as part of an apprenticeship programme in a related field.

For Marium, this was a huge selling point in choosing her role. She also believes that undertaking an apprenticeship hasn’t narrowed down her future options, stating: “the work I’m doing involves a mixture of technology and consulting. This has allowed me to see different types of work and has opened my eyes to many different career options in the future.”

On the other hand, studying at university allows you to develop your knowledge in a subject you love, whilst allowing you to build transferable skills that will come as vital in your future career. You’ll have longer to research and discover what you’d like to do post-education, and of course you’ll gain those classic student memories that will last a lifetime.

Andrew felt like this more traditional route was the right move for him. “The graduate programme was the next natural stepping stone after university. It also provided a route to chartered accountancy.”

What can you expect?


EY offers trainees on both programmes a variety of opportunities across many different fields, alongside competitive salaries whichever route you chose. If you’re wondering what life at one of the Big Four is like, Luke dispels one of the biggest myths out there: “Most people think accountancy is boring and mundane, but a lot of what I do is interesting and forever changing.”

The company values five ‘future skills’, one of which Violina uses a lot on her grad programme: “Despite the technical focus of my job, my everyday experience requires a high level of emotional intelligence – both in the context of my EY team and in a client environment.”

Both options will set you up for a successful future. As Jessica puts it, “When I decided I wanted to go into tax I had truly no real idea of how vast and how many sub-fields there are. There are always more qualifications that you can pursue should you want.”

Your choice therefore could come down to the area you want to build your career in. Apprenticeships at EY consist of two types: business apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships. The former houses three areas for you to specialise in – Assurance, Tax, Transactions – whilst the latter consists of two types: Digital and Technology and Business Leadership and Management. To train on any of these programmes, you’ll need three A-levels or equivalent, and a thirst for knowledge in the role you’re applying for.

Meanwhile, the grad programmes offer opportunities in six areas: Actuarial, Assurance, Consulting, Tax, Technology and Transactions. To train on a grad programme, you’ll need a degree – but rest assured that if it’s not from a Russell Group university, you won’t be at a disadvantage. However, depending on the role you’ll be doing, you may need a degree in a particular subject, such as a STEM-based or technology one. Therefore, if this is the route you want to take, be sure to carefully consider what you want to study at university, and what doors this subject opens up for you.

If you want to compare apprenticeships and graduate programmes at EY specifically, check out the comparison tool on their website. They also have a useful visual on weighing up your options between apprenticeships and university, check it out here!

Ultimately, there are a number of factors at play when choosing between apprenticeships and grad programmes, but the main ones we suggest considering are: your preferred methods of learning, the experience you most want, your finances and your future career opportunities. Weigh up the pros and cons of each. Do your research and speak to people who are currently in the role you’re thinking about; first-hand accounts can be incredibly helpful when deciding.

Whatever choice you make, you’ll be certain to set yourself up for a thriving career!

You can find out more about EY’s future skills  here, and more about their opportunities for students  here.

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