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Young Britain Works–Academia vs. The ‘Real’ World

July 3, 2012

The below is a blog post discussing the alternative options to University that I wrote as part of the Young Britain Works volunteer initiative at Microsoft. Young Britain Works is run by Interns as an extension to the wider ‘Britain Works’ Microsoft campaign to get 500,000 people across the UK into jobs within 3 years. You can find out loads more by visiting the Young Britain Works Facebook page.

Speak to anyone who is at or has been to University and nine times out of ten you’ll get the same response – “Do it!” But the reality is that Uni just isn’t for everyone. Some don’t like being away from home, others can’t handle the workload or step it up to the next level, however what is sure to be the biggest deal breaker for the foreseeable future is the cost. No matter how much your mates might tell you the nights out are great and the government might tell you there are affordable repayment plans, £8000+ a year is a lot.

This means that in a couple of months’ time there will no doubt be many more people opening their A-Level results without then hurriedly checking the UCAS website to make sure they’ve secured their Uni place. If you’ve decided you just can’t justify the cost, what’s next? What other realistic options are there?

Well, one thing is for certain, the very worst thing you could do is nothing! Nobody can deny a summer sitting at home playing Xbox and scrounging off the rents was great whilst at School, but now the real work starts. This can take many forms, all of which we’ve covered on the Young Britain Works Facebook page before in some shape or form, so I won’t dwell on them too much.

  • Enrol on a vocational College course
    It might be that what you want to do with your life just can’t be taught by academics and text books. There’s a massive range of courses available for everything from Civil Engineering to Acting which often include an element of work experience too. Try taking a look at the ‘Education’ section of your Local Council’s website.
  • Apply for an Apprenticeship
    An apprenticeship differs from a college course in that you are an employee of the company where you’re carrying out your apprenticeship, earning a wage and gaining loads of practical skills along the way. Take a look at earlier YBW posts from Zac at Inframon for his experiences and head over to
  • Just get a job!
    There are plenty of full-time jobs out there that only require your A-Levels alongside the ‘soft’ skills like teamwork that people always talk about. Take a look at or one of the many job sites online for a whole range of opportunities.
  • Go it alone
    Nothing else tickle your fancy? It might be that you have some unique talent that you’ve been developing in your spare time, so why not take the opportunity to make money from what you can already do, who knows where it might take you.

There’s no rule that says you have to make a decision right away, in the meantime you can build your CV and gain great experience in loads of ways. This is by no means an exhaustive list; let us know your own ideas in the comments!

  • Volunteer
    The word ‘volunteering’ instantly conjures up images of litter picking or scrubbing graffiti, which whilst all worthwhile pursuits in their own right aren’t necessarily everyone’s idea of a good time. Why not try working the summer festival circuit or even going abroad and helping on one of a range of different projects?
  • Keep on your part-time job
    It’s great to still have some money coming in while you make your mind up, and you’ll be picking up all those key skills that you’ll need when you apply for your first full-time role.
  • Take a gap year
    Increasingly employers are looking outside of someone’s work experience to make sure they’re hiring a well-rounded individual, so not only will a gap year be an awesome experience, combine it with some volunteering and it can help when you get back home too.

There are countless examples of people who have never been to University, or been and dropped out, but continued to be a massive success. Everyone knows the Alan Sugars and Mark Zuckerbergs of this world, and these are great people to aspire to be like. However it is also important to remember that you don’t need to be a business genius with a whole heap of luck to not go to Uni and make a success of yourself, because there are millions of everyday people who have done just that. All you have to do is pick the right path for you and commit to it.

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