Find out how you can support your students to apply for a work-based option.

Do you have students applying for a work-based option post sixth form? Learn how you can support them fully along the way...

Understanding what’s on offer

It's easy to be confused by the details for the various work-based options for sixth form leavers. Here's a quick round-up:


Apprentices are employed by companies and spend around 80% of their time at work and 20% studying.

There are different levels of apprenticeship, with schemes lasting a minimum of a year and up to five or six years for some degree apprenticeships. To find out more about the benefits, download and share our  Higher and degree apprenticeships guide (18.87 MB)

Sponsored degrees

Sponsored degrees share some characteristics with degree apprenticeships, but there can be significant differences; notably, those on sponsored degrees don't have to be employed by the sponsoring company. 

In addition, the specific package on offer can vary from employer to employer: full-time or part-time study; bursary, salary or course fees paid. Our Complete guide to sponsored degrees (3.8 MB) explains more about this route and the different options.

School-leaver schemes

There are school-leaver schemes too, which are typically run by employers. These offer professional qualifications rather than academic ones. Such schemes are quite common in finance, professional services and retail management.

To confuse matters, you'll find the different terms used interchangeably. Students should focus on the detail of their chosen scheme to ensure they know exactly what they're getting.

Top tip: Students can apply for both university and work-related schemes if they want to keep options open.

Finding the right option

Applicants to all programmes will need to balance work and study, show they're ready for the workplace, and consider how they'll adjust to longer hours and shorter holidays than those at university.

When deciding which is right for them, students should consider:

  • How will their time be split between work and study?
  • What qualifications are on offer? 
  • How long is the scheme?
  • Will they be paid? 
  • Will they be employed?
  • Who will pay for any course fees?
  • What happens after the scheme?

We've devised some quick classroom activities to help students find out more about how apprenticeships work and how one compares to going to university.

What's the Apprenticeship Levy?

The term 'apprenticeship' is protected in law with standards developed by groups of employers. From April 2017, larger employers have paid into a fund which can then be spent on apprenticeship training.

The Levy is part of the Government’s plan to increase the quality and quantity of apprenticeships and it is hoped this and other changes will contribute to greater availability and awareness of this route.

Applying for an apprenticeship: A two-year timeline

Each company offering an apprenticeship has its own application process and timescale, so Key Stage 5 students will need to be on the ball to avoid missing out.

Year 12


Students should start to look at what might be on offer the following year.  

They should make a note of any schemes that interest them, recording application deadlines, and looking at ways to contact the organisations and find out more about them.

Vacancies can be found in UCAS' apprenticeship search.

Top tips
  • For most schemes, students will apply directly to the employer. 
  • Encourage your students to check start dates closely, as some opportunities begin before the end of the school year. 
  • Suggest they follow companies on social media for the latest news on recruitment; they could even make contact with employers this way.
  • Students should also search websites of local employers and local universities for relevant opportunities.

Some of the most competitive schemes receive hundreds of applications per place, with employers looking for the full package of qualifications, skills and experience.

Students should look out for summer schools, site visits and insight days to build experience and knowledge, and test out ideas about jobs.

Deadlines for some summer schools fall as early as January, but insight days don't tend to be booked quite so far in advance. Information on these events can be found on some of the websites listed above. 

Making early contact with a specific company before applying can pay off. Experience in all forms can be beneficial. Volunteering, part-time work, specific hobbies and interests or helping out family and friends might be relevant too.

Year 13


Students could start by writing a job-focused personal statement which highlights their selling points and relevant skills, but is also backed up with evidence. Remember this will be different to a UCAS personal statement (likely to be more subject-led) and can be adapted and targeted later to suit the needs of a specific vacancy.

Students would benefit from preparing a CV, using it as an exercise to identify what might give them the edge. Now might be a good time to have a mock interview or to ask a professional to check over CVs or sample statements.

Top tip: Most post A level programmes ask for at least two A levels at grade C, with some demanding three of the highest grades.

Application time

One of the challenges of work-based schemes is that there is no fixed application time or method of applying. Students will need to keep looking and applying from autumn onwards to make sure they don't miss out. 

Registering with and regularly checking the websites listed above should help. This is where the research carried out in Year 12 should pay off too, as students will have an idea of the types of vacancies that might be coming up, and when. 

The recruitment processes of large firms can be very similar to graduate recruitment, involving online assessments, online interviews, presentations, recruitment centres and so on. Smaller firms might follow a less structured process, including recruiting later on in the year.

Top tip: A bit of creative research into a company really helps when targeting an application.

Download our  Higher and degree apprenticeships guide (18.87 MB)