What options are available at Higher Education level?

Students must first make the decision of what form of higher education they would like to go into:

  • University
  • FE College – HE Course
  • Apprenticeship
  • None – None – some students will not want to go into any form of higher education, and although this is completely their choice it’s worth discussing the benefits of HE with them. It’s important that students understand all of the different options available to them, so they can make an informed decision about whether to continue with higher education.

Once they’ve made this decision, they must think about what subject they’d like to study, and where they would like to do it. Let’s look at these options on more detail. Click on the accordion sections below to find out more.

Although we aim to give you a broad and full understanding of Higher Education, a lot of this information is related to The University of Manchester. Others universities will be very similar in some aspects, and different in others, so please consider this as you read the information below. We’re also not experts in FE or degree apprenticeships, so we’ll give you lots of links out to other organisations to help explain them in more detail!

University based degree study

This is the most common form of higher education, and students will receive a ‘Bachelor’s degree’ through going to university. A Bachelor’s degree typically take 3 years to complete, but this can vary depending on the course and whether students choose to study abroad, do a year in industry, or complete an integrated masters.

University is not only known for the qualification received, but for the all-round student experience that is available to them  when they attend university. This includes the chance to live away from home, join societies, and meet people from all over the world. University is seen as a ‘stepping stone’ into adult life, where you gain a lot more independence and responsibility but have a huge support network behind you, including financial support, careers support, disability support, and much more. More information about the benefits of university can be found in the ‘What are the benefits of HE?’ section below.

What can you study at university and where?

In choosing to go to university, students will be able to choose from approximately 90,000 different courses across 400+ institutions in the UK alone. Students should do research into the range of different courses available to them, as universities will offer some  courses that they have never heard of before, but that they may find very interesting. The best place for students to find this information, and to think about where they would like to study, is through the UCAS search tool.

What are the benefits of going to university?

We have separated the main benefits into three categories: Personal and Academic, Financial and Career Opportunities, and Social and Cultural.

Personal and academic benefits

  • Studying something they love – With over 90,000 different courses for your child to choose from, students are able to find a subject that they are passionate about, and develop a love of learning
  • Opening their eyes to new opportunities – university allows students an opportunity to explore subject areas that they are interested in, and find out about careers and opportunities they may never have heard of before.
  • Venture out of their subject area – University will allow your child to venture outside of their immediate subject discipline and study other things that are of interest to them, for example languages, sustainable living, and other skills (e.g. leadership). This is different at each institution, but the opportunities available at Manchester include our Stellify Award (‘making a difference to the world’), and our University College of Interdisciplinary Learning (which allows students to take modules from across the university, no matter what degree they are studying).
  • Personal and Skill development – University will allow your child to develop personally and professionally, and build on a wide range of different skills; confidence, team work, communication skills, critical thinking, independence, and many more.

Financial benefits and career opportunities

  • Increased number of opportunities – Young people are now entering a highly competitive job market, and many jobs now require applicants to have a degree.
  • Higher earning potential – Statistics provided by the Department of Education show that working-age graduates, on average, earn £10,000 a year more than those who have not got a degree.
  • Certain careers require a degree – In order to get into some careers, individuals must have a degree, and this may have to be in a specific subject. This is to give them skills and knowledge that is not taught on all degrees. For example: doctors, dentists, vets, teachers, etc. A comprehensive list can be found here
  • Career Support and Work Experience – University is seen as a stepping stone into the job market, and students at university will be provided with a lot of support in getting them to their chosen careers, including finding work experience and internships, writing job applications, and having mock interviews. All careers services are different, but you can view the University of Manchester’s careers department here, which lists all the services that they provide:

Social and Cultural Benefits

  • Meet new people – University will allow your child to meet  new people from around the world and experience new cultures, attitudes, and perspectives, but also find new people with similar interests to them. It pushes students out of their comfort zone to make new friends.
  • Try a new hobby or continue with something you love – Universities host a huge variety of clubs, societies and sports that you child can get involved in, and with such a big list they are sure to find something that interests them. To see a list of the societies and activities available at Manchester, visit the Students’ Union page here.
  • Independent Living – At university your child will have the choice to move away from the family home or their local area, should they want to. The majority of students who choose to move away from home will stay in university-owned halls of residences in their first year, where they can experience independent living (cooking, cleaning, managing money) whilst also having support.
  • Get involved in the community and volunteering – Universities will have volunteering teams, that will support students in getting involved with the local community, as well as giving back to those in need.
  • Study Abroad – As part of most university courses students are able to spend a year, or a semester, studying in a different country, through universities being linked.



Studying HE at an FE college

There are a growing number of FE colleges across the UK that now teach higher education qualifications; these include  Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and Certificates (HNCs), Foundation Years, and in some cases, full degrees. Colleges will be linked up with a university that offers the given course, but will focus on teaching students the skills and knowledge needed for a particular field. They tend to focus more on practical skills and vocational routes into given careers.

What can you study at an FE college?

FE colleges will teach a wide range of HE courses, including Business, Administration and Law, Education, Arts and Media, and Technology. To find out more about the courses on offer, follow this link.

What are the benefits of studying at a college?

Some students will choose to study at an FE college as the class sizes are less crowded, the overall size of the institution is smaller, and this gives them the opportunity to study from home and reduce additional expenses.

This video from Greater Manchester Higher explains this all really well. Take a look:


UCAS also provide lots of info on what it’s like to study for a degree in a HE college  in their studying at UK College section. Click here to read more.


Studying a degree apprenticeship


A degree apprenticeship is a great way for your child to gain the skills, qualifications, and experience needed to get into a specific career. They will combine work, training, and study all whilst earning a wage of their own (‘earn while they learn’).

What does it involve?

An apprentice will spend the majority of their week in work (a minimum of 30 hours), where they will focus on learning to do the job. They will learn from colleagues, attend training sessions, and will be buddied up with someone more senior who will monitor and review their progress. For the rest of the week (usually one day), they will attend a college, university or alternative training provider, where they will complete assessments to test both their academic learning and occupational competence.

Who are apprenticeships for?

Apprenticeships are a great alternative to university. They  are designed for students who have a clear idea of the career that they want to pursue and are therefore willing to do a vocational pathway to their chosen career. Students  must be ready to be in the workplace for the majority of their time, and they should prefer a more practical and hands-on approach to learning.

What are the benefits of an apprenticeship?

Apprentices will gain a head start in their chosen profession and gain a full degree without needing to pay student fees. They will also be paid a full wage whilst still studying.

What should people consider when thinking about an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are hard. Students must be well organised  and able to cope with the competing demands of work life and academic study at the same time. They will be required to adjust to longer hours with fewer holidays than at school, and may have to travel for the right opportunity.

Where can I find out more information about apprenticeships?

There are a huge number of webpages designated to finding out more about apprenticeships, but here are a few that we would recommend looking at:

Affording Higher Education

A quick overview of student finance

Read more