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Alternatives to full-time study

Whether it’s time, money, or one of the dozens of other potential obstacles, full-time study isn’t always the best option for those looking to earn a degree. If you’re facing this problem, then worry not; there are plenty of other ways of studying at degree and other levels.

Alternatives to full-time study aren’t restricted to school-leavers; they’re open to older people returning to education, those who were unsuccessful in obtaining a full-time university place, or those who simply decided to take a break and not attend university straight away.

NOTE: If you are planning to re-apply to universities, UCAS do not allow you to re-use a previous application form and normally you must re-start the application process from the beginning, including paying the application fee.

Read through our guide to the alternatives to full-time study, or jump to the option you’re looking for:

Studying part-time

A large number of the full-time degree courses offered by universities and colleges can also be undertaken on a part-time basis, allowing you to fit your study around other commitments.

Financial arrangements for part-time courses are different to those for full-time study and you should contact the relevant funding body for your area to establish what financial help may be available (Student Finance EnglandNorthern Ireland, Scotland (SAAS), Wales).

The Open University is one of the best-known provider of part-time and distance learning, but most of the UK's universities also offer alternatives to full-time study.

UCAS do not offer a central admissions service for part-time courses, so applications for part-time courses must be made directly to the relevant institution.

You should also contact the university or college direct to find out about vacancies, entry requirements and to discuss fees and funding.

Search for part-time courses on our course chooser.

Degree apprenticeships

Engineering apprentice
iStock.com/shironosov
Engineering is just one of the many fields in which
degree apprenticeships can be taken

Degree Apprenticeships (similar to Higher Apprenticeships) combine the academic aspects of a university degree with the practical experience of an apprenticeship.

They are part of a government plan to help young people learn and develop workplace skills that employers look for, but simultaneously gain a full degree at a partner university. Programmes can last from one to four years, with a minimum of 30 hours of work a week.

Why do a Degree Apprenticeship?

  • You will be in full-time employment but will still graduate like a standard university student, just with more practical experience. The theoretical and practical work will help boost the other. This will make you highly employable after the programme finishes.
  • There are no university fees or debts! Training and tuition costs will be covered by the government and employer. Degree apprentices are not eligible for student loans, and you must therefore cover your own living costs. However, you will be earning money as part of the scheme – up to £300 a week.
  • You will usually get the benefits of a normal employee – for instance, you will receive contributions to a pension, have access to leisure facilities etc.
  • The entry process can be very different to university admission. In some cases, you might not need specific qualifications.

The majority of Degree Apprenticeships focus on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), however there are others available:

  • Aerospace engineering
  • Aerospace software development
  • Automotive engineering
  • Banking relationship manager
  • Bespoke tailoring
  • Chartered legal executive
  • Chartered manager
  • Chartered surveying
  • Construction
  • Defence systems engineering
  • Dental technician
  • Digital and technology solutions
  • Electronic systems engineering
  • Financial services
  • Healthcare assistant practitioner
  • Laboratory science
  • Licensed conveyancer
  • Life and industrial sciences
  • Nuclear science
  • Operations manager
  • Outside broadcasting engineering
  • Power systems
  • Product design and development
  • Public relations
  • Solicitor
  • Surveying
  • Technical support engineering

These are primarily aimed at school leavers aged 18 to 19, but Degree Apprenticeships are also suitable for 16 to 18-year-olds and mature students. This includes those who have already completed a lower-level apprenticeship and wish to enhance their career prospects through further study.

Tips for applying and interviews

A number of institutions offer Degree Apprenticeships, but you will need to apply through the employer. To apply visit employer websites or search and apply through the government’s official apprenticeship service.

  • Do enough research – Determine what exactly the employer wants out of a candidate, and demonstrate this in your application. Be prepared with plenty of relevant knowledge of the role and industry. This will help you to impress at an interview.
  • Focus on your skills and experience – This doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to the role you are applying for, but anything appropriate will look impressive on your CV. Especially any extra-curricular activities (such as volunteering). Be ready to talk in length about this at an interview.
  • Show off your passion – An employer wants someone who believes in the role/company, who believes in themselves, and who is willing to learn. Along with your knowledge, skills and experience, remember to sell yourself with your enthusiasm also!

See what's available for your country: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

Distance learning

Distance learning study, by its very nature, is usually also part-time study. For more information on distance learning, look here.

Search for distance learning courses on our course chooser.

Foundation degree courses

Although similar in name, foundation degrees are not the same as the foundation year that can be taken at the beginning of an undergraduate degree.

Foundation years are taken at the beginning of some undergraduate degree courses to provide an appropriate academic background for degree-level entry, whereas foundation degrees are university-level qualifications designed to equip students for a particular area of work. This is often done with the support of employers from that sector, combining academic study with work-place learning.

Foundation degrees can be studied full-time or part-time over two years, or longer.

Upon graduation some students choose employment or progress to further professional qualifications, while others take the opportunity to undertake further study (usually around a year) to progress to a full honours degree.

Full-time foundation degrees taken at a university or college in the UCAS scheme have to be applied for via UCAS; for institutions not in the UCAS scheme or for part-time study, you should apply direct to the college offering the course.

Read college profiles or search for foundation-level courses.

Taking a gap year

Some students decide to take a year out before starting university. Find out more about gap years here