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Sponsored Degree Programme vs. University Route

If you’re keen to earn a degree before you head into a full-time finance career but you’re unsure of your options or university fees, then here’s the lowdown on your main options…

You currently have two main routes to consider if you really want to pursue degree study: the traditional university route or a sponsored degree programme. Sponsored degree programmes are a relatively new concept, but they are quickly becoming well established as a career route, and opportunities to undertake one are growing. The finance industry is one of the pioneering industries for sponsored degree programmes, as well as apprenticeships and school leaver programmes. 

Both options are credible routes and will set you up for a career in the finance industry with room for career progression. Each will offer you a slightly different experience and funding options, so you’ll have to decide which might suit you best. 

University route

If you choose the university route, then you could select from a huge variety of courses that will last between three or four years. You could opt for a finance related subject which would possibly present you the widest graduate opportunities within banking, finance or accountancy. If you follow your interests with a non-finance related degree then this won’t stop you from taking on a career in finance as a graduate, however bear in mind that there are some graduate programmes, such as in some areas of financial analysis, actuarial or technology, which will require specific degree-level technical skills.

The traditional university route means that you’ll have pay university fees (currently set at £9,000 per year), but there is support for funding available through Student Loans and university scholarships and bursaries for a first-time undergraduate course. You will have to pay what you’re lent back, with the interest, though this will only come out as a percentage of your monthly pay once you are earning enough to qualify for repayments.

The university route takes you into full-time study. This means that you’ll have to organise all of your work experience yourself and take responsibility for finding opportunities to develop other transferable skills and industry knowledge whilst you’re also studying for your degree.

People do this in a variety of ways, from part-time jobs and volunteering, to internships and work placements. What’s important is that you make efforts to gather relevant experience from an early stage and make the most of your summer holidays with internships. Employers are much more likely to favour graduates with work experience in such a competitive market.

You could opt for a course that includes a compulsory year in industry/placement year. This means that in your third year you will work full-time for a firm. You’ll receive a salary and learn lots of new skills on-the-job. A year in industry could potentially lead to a graduate job offer if you perform well.

Firms will advertise their placement year vacancies, and you’ll have to go through an application process not unlike a graduate job application process. 

Sponsored degree programme

Sponsored degree programmes offer a blend of full-time university study and work placements with a sponsoring firm. One of the main differences with a sponsored degree programme is that your sponsoring firm will pay for your university fees (as long as you perform to the required standard in your exams) and will often provide a bursary too to help you out with your living and study costs. Lovely!

There will be some restrictions on the courses you can study and where you study. Understandably, it will be for a course that’s relevant to the industry in which the sponsoring firm works and the type of knowledge and skills that will be necessary for a role in that industry. So if you’d like to pursue a non-finance or technology related subject, then this option may not offer what you’re looking for right now.

Your time will usually be split between university and the workplace. In the first year, for example, you’re likely to do a full year at university, perhaps with a paid placement with the firm during the holidays, and then work placements during holiday periods throughout your degree and even a full year or two out to spend working full-time at the sponsoring firm. This option is likely to take a little longer to complete compared to a standard degree as you’ll have those working periods as well as your time at university. On completion, however, you have a degree plus plenty of work experience, and even potentially the offer of a full-time job.

A sponsored degree programme will allow you to pursue a role in banking, accountancy, consulting or technology within the finance industry, and a degree on top of the work experience you gain on one of these programmes could open up further options to you outside of those fields once you graduate.