What Now: Should I do a degree? An Apprenticeship? Help!

By Robin Paley Yorke and Sam Dunstan

Like creativity itself, choosing whether to do a degree or any kind of further training after school or college is subjective and the decision should be deeply personal. That’s why this article may not give you answers, but ask you some important questions that will guide your decision. It is impossible to even compare different degrees in different places, because unlike a clearer career pathway, such as becoming a teacher or joining the police, the value of artistic training is down to what you need to get out of it. If you’re leaning towards a career in the arts, you already know this, and probably don’t see a financial gain, or even if you do, that’s not what motivates you in choosing whether to do a degree or not. You’re doing it because it makes you happy, and this is where it gets tricky to really weigh up the pros and cons of what you should do next.

What are my Options?

After finishing High School, 6th form or College your options for training in a creative field are as follows:

  1. Go to university or an arts school to do specialised training in that subject

  2. Get some kind of apprenticeship or on-the-job training

  3. Start as a professional and learn as you go

Each of these paths have their pro’s and their con’s.

OPTION 1: Go to university and do a degree in that subject:

PROs:

  • More specialised training by professionals (no more maths and PE, it’s all that subject all the time)

  • You’ll meet like-minded people your age.

  • You get that University or Art School’s name on your CV which can open doors for you.

CONs

  • You’ll probably have to take out Student Loans. (Whilst these loans don’t work like normal loans and you don’t have to pay them off straight away, it is worth bearing in mind)

  • Even in a creative degree, you will still have essays and written assignments to do.

  • Depending on the size of your loan, you may have to work alongside doing your training, which can be stressful.

Another thing to bear in mind is that you might have to move away for 3+ years, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you feel about Doncaster. You might miss your friends, but you will make new ones from different parts of the country or world, which is an exciting way to open your mind.

OPTION 2: Get some kind of apprenticeship or on-the-job training:


PROs

  • You get to learn on the job, so no essays!

  • You’re getting paid while you learn

  • You are making industry contacts

CONs

  • You might be the only trainee or apprentice in the company

  • Not every creative field has apprenticeship opportunities (Acting, Drag, Music, etc)

  • You’re paid below minimum wage, so if you’re not living at home it can be expensive.

OPTION 3: Start as a professional and learn as you go:


PROs

  • You get to learn on the job, so no essays!

  • You can set your own curriculum and take specific classes or workshops for specific skills you want to get better at

  • You can make mistakes in a no pressure environment

CONs

  • You won’t make money straight away, or be able to get a loan so you’ll have to work another job.

  • No guidance from a mentor or more experienced person.

  • It can be very lonely.


Ask yourself: How do these make you feel? Which of the cons scares you the most? Which of the pros gets you most excited? Write down how you feel about these on some paper or use the voice recorder on your phone.

RESEARCH!

As mentioned in the above tables, some artistic disciplines don’t have apprenticeships or the degrees on offer only cover certain areas of study. How do I find the right degree? Which companies hire apprentices and trainees? You need to do some research. Unfortunately, creative careers are misunderstood by a lot of school teaching staff, so this is research you will have to lead on, but you don’t have to do it alone.

  • Talk to someone working in this field: If you know someone doing the job you want to do or follow someone on social media, why not get in touch with them? Send them an email or message and ask for a coffee, phone call or virtual meet-up. Worst case scenario is they say ‘no’ or ignore you. Best case scenario is they say ‘Yeah, sure!’ and you can get great guidance from someone doing that work (and you might even make a friend). They will be able to advise if a degree is a good option for your field of interest, which degrees or apprenticeships are best or what to do if you should just start. If you’re looking for someone local, check out the directories on True Tone and Creative Doncaster.

  • Use online resources: Websites like https://www.prospects.ac.uk/ are great tools to get advice on what different degrees are out there, how to apply for them and how to prep for the interview.

  • Talk to Universities and Companies offering these options: Perhaps you are looking at a school or company because of their reputation. Get in touch with them and find out what their course or training will entail. Will it be practically focussed (so great for improving your skill), knowledge focussed (great for improving your knowledge on the subject) or a balance of both. I would suggest that the place that teaches you the content you need is more important than picking somewhere because of its reputation.

Ask yourself: what do I want?

  • Do you want more training to improve your skills? If so, University or Apprenticeship might be the best option.

  • Do you want to meet more professionals in your creative field? If so, Apprenticeship or starting now might be the best option.

  • Do you want to have a known name on your CV? If so, University or Apprenticeship might be the best option.

  • Do you think you’re skilled enough, but need experience? If so, Apprenticeship or starting now might be the best option.

  • Do you want to see what things are like outside of Doncaster? If so, University or an Apprenticeship in a new city or town might be the best option.

Sit down and ask yourself these questions. Again, try writing down or recording your answers. Put them in a safe place, and give them a read in one week’s time. How do you feel about this now?

All this sounds a bit much – can I just take a gap year?

Absolutely! Although it might feel like it, there is no rush. The important thing is that you do what’s right for you, so if that means you need more time to think, research and plan then that is ok.

However, you need to bear in mind that if you decide to take a gap year, a lot of your friends may decide to go to university, do further training or start working, which may make you feel pressured to “do more”.

You also don’t want to waste a gap year. A Gap Year is an opportunity to experience the world outside of education, develop your skills and learn about yourself. Use the time to stay focussed; keep researching, practicing your craft, doing work in your creative field or something similar. If you want to be a musician or actor, a gap year is a chance to take lessons, do open mic nights or events and see what you still need to learn.


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