Since the sharp rise in tuition fees, we have seen more and more global firms create opportunities for sixth formers as they leave school. School leaver programmes, apprenticeships, sponsored degree programmes, higher apprenticeships…they are known as slightly different things but they all provide students with intense training, the chance to develop essential employment skills, make relevant contacts and gain a competitive salary.

This is great news and highlights the value that employers are placing in hiring forward-thinking, career-minded students. And so they should – you are all pretty impressive! We know plenty of students who have jumped at the chance to kick-start their careers by bypassing university and entering the world of work as they leave school.

Despite the myths, school leaver programmes are a respectable choice and shouldn’t be an after-thought or a back-up option for students who miss out on a university place. I am sure that you can tell that we are big fans of school leaver programmes, and this is why we work in partnership with top employers to ensure that the students, teachers and parents we engage with hear about why school leaver programmes are a respectable alternative. Don’t just take our word for it; we have school leaver Charlotte Wain from leading professional services firm EY to give you an insight into why she chose the school leaver route. Read her story below…

“When I started sixth form (which wasn’t all that long ago), I began to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Should I go to university? Should I look at alternative options? Should I just take time off and think about it?

After looking around a few universities, I began to feel apprehensive; £9,000 per year without housing costs, and carrying the burden of student debt over my head for the significant future – is that what I really wanted? I began to think about all of the people who hadn’t gone to university, but who had still gone on to achieve what I believe to be amazing things. At this stage, I realised that I had to look at alternatives. Here are some of the reasons why I chose to go down the school leaver route and some of the reasons why I love being on the EY School Leaver Programme.

Get a head start in your career

I was really fortunate that I wanted to train as an accountant – I knew that I could do this without going to university. There are many more jobs out there where university isn’t essential. If this is the case for you, then you should definitely research what is out there. If you choose to go to university to work in a career for which university isn’t essential, I would feel that I had just wasted a lot of time and money! Also, it isn’t absolutely certain that you’ll get a job in your chosen field straight after you graduate, but by choosing the school leaver route, you immersed yourself in your career from day one; you get your foot in the door and can continue to learn and grow whilst the graduates try to find jobs to suit them.

Gain on-the-job experience

Ever since I got my first part-time job at 16, I realised that I was good at learning through doing. I did well at exams – don’t get me wrong – and I had no problem studying for them either. However, whatever school leaver route that you go down, be it accountancy or plumbing, you will learn by being there every day. Experience is a very valuable asset and in the ever-changing (and sometimes gloomy) employment market, this can differentiate you from your competitors with a degree.

Gain an Internationally Recognised qualification

Most school leaver programmes offer students the chance to gain a valuable qualification (or several qualifications), which helps you to further your career and makes you even more employable. Not only this, but these qualifications are often internationally recognised which means that once all the hard work has paid off and you are qualified, you can work anywhere you want; the world is your oyster!

No Student Debt

Student debt is an issue for many students, and it was definitely a big cause for concern for me too. I didn’t like the thought of having to part with my hard-earned cash to pay off my student loan. More importantly, I loved the thought of being able to buy anything I wanted with my own money. With university, you pay to get your degree and spend years paying off your student debt. With school leaver programmes, you’re the one getting paid to study. It sounds a little bonkers, but that’s how it works. Your money is yours to do what you want with (shoes, car, handbags and more).

Independence

Going down the school leaver route requires a lot of gumption; it’s no easy decision but I guarantee that you will gain a wealth of skills along the way. For me, one of the most important skills that I have developed is independence. I worked hard, got myself a place on a highly sought-after programme, and I spend every day being the best I can be. I get to interact with clients and work on big deals. I am involved in some great projects and have the satisfaction of knowing that I am getting some excellent experience in my field of interest (and I get paid for it!). I don’t think I could be more independent if I wanted to be!

Why I love the EY School Leaver Programme

Since joining the EY School Leaver Programme, I’ve benefitted from all of the above points and more. I work in a very professional environment, dealing with clients every day. This has helped to grow my client portfolio and get me more involved in lots of different real-world experiences which you wouldn’t find in a text book!

There is often a misconception that school leavers don’t have a social life – those misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth. EY run plenty of social events to help you settle in and make new friends. I have met some amazing people since I have been here – we’ve had a laugh and a joke and I would consider them to be my equivalent to university friends.

Compared to everyone else in the office, I’m very young and this is often something which worries a lot of potential school leavers. The great thing here is that I am treated as an equal and I am given the same responsibilities and work as everyone else. As a result, I have learnt a lot in a short space of time, and I am constantly pushed to progress and develop.

These are just some of the things which went through my mind when I was making my post-sixth form choices. I guess there aren’t any right or wrong answers, but you’ll be making some big decisions so there is definitely a lot of value in thinking things through carefully. Remember, it’s your life, your future and these are your ambitions, so don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way. I definitely didn’t!

We hope that Charlotte’s story has given you some food for thought. If you’re interested in doing some further research, check out our nifty guide on Alternatives to University. If Charlotte’s post has sparked an interest in EY then follow them on Twitter or click here to read their profile. If you’re thinking that you’d like to apply to university, then check out my blog post from last week.