Is university the best path towards a great career?

Is university the best path towards a great career?

It’s drilled into us at school: get good GCSE grades to get into college; get good ‘A’ Level grades to get into university and leave with a decent degree…

But is that the route every student should go down?

Apprenticeships and similar ‘learning-on-the-job’ courses are rising in popularity, particularly so given the competition for roles university graduates face when leaving education and with the millstone of debt they’ll undoubtedly have around their neck.

Thankfully, there are plenty of career choices that don’t require a degree to ‘get in’.

The police

Go back a couple of generations, and all you needed to get into the police force was to pass a basic written test and to be tall and fit. Fast forward and they’re slightly pickier with their recruitment expectations nowadays.

The general premise of force recruitment is still to meet a certain educational level and to be physically fit (they’re a bit more relaxed on height). Though this usually means good GCSE and ‘A’ Level grades, they will accept candidates without a degree. They even offer apprenticeships towards becoming a constable, should you wish to rise through the ranks.

The financial sector

It’s not that places like PriceWaterhouseCooper et al don’t want people with degrees; after all, finance is big business that needs people with sharp minds. However, they provide their own training and apprenticeships, for candidates to progress to degree-level and beyond within the firm. The benefit being that, once you acquire degree status through your apprenticeship, you’ll already have years of working experience under your belt, too.

Working on a nuclear plant

Again, though candidates qualified to degree-level wouldn’t be ignored, in such a niche industry, it’s easier to train new staff from the ground up. There’s very little practical knowledge that can be gained within a university environment about the field of nuclear energy, which is why it’s better to be trained on the plant itself, coupled with theoretical study.


The theory of marketing isn’t as creative or career-forwarding as working in the field itself, which is why a degree isn’t the be all and end all in this industry. In an interview, a marketer could be viewed to be as successful as their last campaign; if your experience is all classroom-based with no tangible evidence of your creative genius, you’ll be a less-attractive candidate than someone who’s come in from the bottom who has won new accounts, delivered engaging campaigns, and who already has a network of contacts for PR purposes.


Though qualifications are necessary to work in this sector, there are plenty of online courses and industry-specific accreditations to gain that don’t require entry to university. It’s also a role that is more easily transferred to than others; e.g. if your company sees that you’re a people person who’s expertly organised, they may recommend switching to the HR department and training whilst in the role.

Cabin crew

By the time a candidate leaves university, they may be considered an older worker if approaching an airline, given that it’s a role typically perfect for the young, glamorous and fully flexible amongst us, i.e. those that can fly out for weeks at a time on a moment’s notice.

Intensive training is given to candidates via the airline, and though a decent education is expected, a university degree is not.

Fashion designer

Like marketing, fashion design is very much ‘look what I can produce’ rather than ‘look what I know’. It’s a hands-on, practical industry that champions the unusual and never-seen-before, which makes the studying of other designers in your field a little redundant, unless it’s to help you understand gaps in design that you could take advantage of.

Anyone looking to work in the fashion industry would be much more interested in (and perhaps better off) being trained by a specific fashion brand or icon than a lecturer in a classroom.

Building contractor

There are many manual roles like this just begging to be filled, i.e. plumbers, electricians, scaffolders, gas fitters, etc.

As practical skills are currently in great demand, it could be a waste of three years if you choose to go to university rather than spend time learning your trade on-site.

Whilst many would champion the university life and route towards their career, if the confines of the classroom have never really worked for you, there are lots of options otherwise; this is just a sample of the opportunities out there.

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