Apprenticeship v university

University is the right path for some people because it offers the chance to study an interesting subject in detail and gain a valuable qualification that opens up career options. University can also be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, filled with opportunities for getting involved in new things and meeting life-long friends. On the other hand, an apprenticeship offers a more direct path to those same career options, without the costs of going to university or the same intense competition for places. Apprenticeships are also perfect for people who are not keen on more full-time study after finishing their A levels and are eager to get out there and kick-start their careers.

It is important to remember that in the legal profession, you can have the same career whether you choose university or an apprenticeship, which means that your choice is not so much about where you end up, but how you get there – some apprenticeships even involve gaining a university degree.

Law apprenticeships lead to three possible careers – solicitor, legal executive or paralegal, all three of which are also available if you choose to go to university. The key differences between these three roles is discussed in more detail on pages 4 and 5 in “Career paths”, while the table below explains some of the key differences between the apprenticeship and university routes themselves.





Professional qualifications to become a paralegal, legal executive or solicitor. Completing the solicitor apprenticeship also involves gaining a law degree.

A university degree in one of hundreds of possible subjects which is widely recognised but does not include professional qualifications. For law, a university degree in any subject makes you eligible for the postgraduate professional courses you need to complete to become a solicitor, legal executive or paralegal.


None to the apprentice – the costs of apprenticeships are covered by the government and employers, while apprentices themselves are paid at least the National Minimum Wage.

With tuition fees standing at over £9,000 a year and living costs on top of that, many students leave university in tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of debt.


Eighteen months for the intermediate apprenticeship, 24-30 months for the paralegal apprenticeship and six years for the solicitor apprenticeship.

Undergraduate university degrees usually last three to four years.

Work experience

Full-time work in a law firm or the legal department of another company or organisation.

Optional work placements and internships – students interested in law should apply for work experience at law firms.

Social life

As an apprentice working and studying full time, you may miss out on some of the social opportunities that come with going to university, such as the chance to meet new friends among students your age from all over the world, participate in memorable extracurricular activities and enjoy the party and music scenes which are part of the university experience. However, offices often have great socialising cultures too, with plenty of activities to get involved with, and you are bound to make new friends as you meet people at the firm.

The opportunities for socialising at university are fantastic. From the societies covering everything from political debating to cheerleading, to inexpensive union nights and house parties, to the thriving music and arts scenes at most universities, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Career prospects

The ultimate destination for law apprentices and university graduates is the same – a career as a solicitor, legal executive or paralegal.