You stand at a crossroad with two different journeys ahead — which should you choose? The decision of whether to go down the academic route or the vocational route is a tough one. Most students will find that they come up against this issue soon after they have completed their GCSEs or A-Levels. Determining what the next steps are is a highly personal decision and should not be taken lightly. Here’s what you should know.
What’s the Difference Between the Vocational and Academic Routes?
Put simply, vocational pathways include apprenticeships, internships and vocational courses such as CertHE, diplomas, ELCAS, HNC, or even HND courses. These are usually specific to a certain industry or job role. Young people can gain a higher level of employability when they choose to go down this route. What’s more, these options are often funded and allow people to earn money as they gain education.
The academic route is usually an undergraduate degree, followed by a master’s degree and even a PhD. Young people undertaking these degree courses can open the door when it comes to graduate jobs and professional roles. The career progression for people with traditional degrees is often faster than it would otherwise be. At times, having a degree in your arsenal will allow you to ‘leapfrog’ to a higher position in your career.
Vocational Route: Pros and Cons
In 2017/18, more than 814,000 people in England undertook an apprenticeship following new funding from the government. Vocational routes are specific to certain industries and often allow people to train while they also earn a living. Here are the pros and cons.
Pro: Suited to Specific Sectors
If you’re certain of the career you want, you might find that a vocational course or qualification suits your needs. This route is specifically tailored to certain industries. That means that the skills you will gain during your studies will suit the job role that you have chosen. In some cases, this may also mean that you can get a fast-track when it comes to your career, in a solid role with a high salary and no degree. Since you are learning the exact traits you need, you may get ahead quickly.
Con: Limited Skills
On the other hand, learning a specific skill set could be somewhat limiting. If you later decide that you would like to pursue a different career, you will likely have to retrain or undertake a completely new qualification. Needless to say, either of these options will prove expensive and time-consuming in the long-run. For that reason, you should ensure that you consider whether a vocational route suits your future plans well enough.
Pro: Variety of Assessments
Traditional testing methods don’t suit all learners. Intelligent people often find it hard to undertake exams, which can make getting the qualifications they want a difficult feat. If that scenario sounds familiar, taking on a vocational course could be a good move. When you gain skills in this way, you will be tested in a variety of ways. For example, you may have to undertake practical exams or get graded while you’re on the job. If you find it hard to succeed academically, it could be worth looking at vocational options instead.
Con: Unrecognised Courses
While many of the vocational approaches — such as apprenticeships and courses — will be recognised by their given industries, you have to take extra care here. Since there are seemingly endless options available in this sector, the qualifications and certificates are not always as acclaimed as they first appear to be. When you’re looking into your choices, ensure that you research whether the certificates are nationally recognised.
Academic Route: Pros and Cons
Last year, Britons collectively achieved more than 777,000 qualifications in total, marking a 3% increase on the previous year. It’s true that more and more people in the UK are seeking out higher education to progress their career. Since there’s a broad range of ways in which people can study and a variety of degrees available, choosing this route could be a smart move for your future. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.
Pro: Recognisable Qualifications
One of the biggest advantages of choosing an academic qualification is the fact that they are nationally — and sometimes internationally — recognisable. For example, if you achieve a 2:1 degree in History or English, a potential employer will understand you qualification completely. You won’t have to explain your degree syllabus or its merit.
Con: Expensive Option
Of course, a higher education degree often doesn’t come cheap. If you’re studying on-campus at one of the more acclaimed universities in the UK, your annual fees may be around £9,000, according to UCAS. While there are student loans which will cover this amount, that level of debt could be off-putting to some potential students. It’s worth considering all the options, including online courses, before making a decision.
Pro: Develop Varied Skills
Undertaking an academic degree can unlock key expertise including analytical skills, research techniques and debating methods. Each of these can be applied to a whole variety of different careers. That means that you will walk away with a set of transferable skills, which should open up a range of doors for you. When you study a vocational course, the skills that you obtain will be specific to a certain career. However, when you undertake an academic course, you may find that there are more available options.
Con: Difficult to Obtain
Not everybody has an academic mindset or approach to learning. While some people take to this sector of study with ease, many find it hard to follow an academic syllabus. For that reason, it’s fair to say that the academic route is not for everyone out there. This type of education involves heavy reading loads, using refined research skills and writing well. Should you struggle in these areas, it could be more beneficial to look at vocational routes.
The choice is yours! There’s no right answer when it comes to this question and, of course, it’s important to remember that everyone is an individual. When you’re making your decision, be sure to weigh up the pros and cons first. Figure out which of these options suits your lifestyle, your learning style and your career aspirations.