University or apprenticeship? The £100,000 question on National Apprenticeship Week

5 February 2024

 Young women sitting at a desk with a tablet in her hand and laptop and stationary on the table.

As National Apprenticeship Week kicks-off, research by the AAT has emphasised the financial significance of the choice at hand.

AAT’s Salary Survey published in January, showed that accounting apprentices could expect to earn an average starting salary of almost £20,000 studying Level 2 apprenticeships, with 71% of apprentices saying they also received salary increases after starting.

This would offer an earning potential in excess of £50,000 over three years, while ever-increasing university costs mean graduates in England would then be finishing their courses with an average of £50,000 debt– a combined total of £100,000 - leaving many school leavers to assess whether the university route offers the best return on investment in the current climate.

AAT’s latest research also indicates that a staggering 7 million working adults in the UK are considering a career change in 2024, with 37% of those citing earnings as their main motivation.

With AAT accountants earning an average of £35,000, once they have advanced to professional membership after completing Level 4, apprenticeships or skills-based qualifications may be equally as tempting to these adults looking to make a pivot in their careers  This would set them around the UK average salary, with still plenty of room to progress and even work towards chartered status, showing the clear rewards in the accounting pathway.

Among those looking to change career, 16% are looking to begin their own business ventures, in an economic climate when accounting skills are more vital than ever as a foundation for successful entrepreneurs.

Anthony Clarke, Business Development Manager at AAT said:

“This new research coming as National Apprenticeship Week arrives really underlines the importance of making informed choices about education and careers. We’ve seen in the data that 61% of school leavers feel pressure to go to university, which is really surprising in 2024 with all the options available to make a great salary while pursuing individual passions.

“Among adults apprenticeships or skills-based qualifications also provide a great route to changing and enlivening careers. We’ve seen that 21% of those wanting to make a career change don’t know what steps to take, making it all the more vital that we are vocal about the range of options and how AAT pathways can be the doorway to a rewarding accounting career or even a successful journey into entrepreneurship and enterprise.

“We’re proud to be supporting so many apprentices already and celebrating their work over the coming weeks. It’s great to hear not only their individual stories but also tangibly see the impact they’ve had for their employers in helping their businesses to thrive.”

More information on accounting apprenticeships and AAT qualifications is available here.


AAT Salary Survey

  • The AAT salary survey was undertaken by an independent market research agency, Caledonia Market Research. The data was gathered in August 2023 and the response sample consisted of 8,563 respondents.
  • Level 2 apprentice average salary: £19,500
    Level 3 apprentice average salary: £21,000
    Level 4 apprentice average salary: £23,000

Further AAT research

  • An average Level 2 apprentice salary over three years would come to £58,500 (£54,342 after tax)
  • Research A for AAT was carried out online by Opinion Matters throughout January 2024 amongst a panel resulting in 2,000 nationally representative UK adults (aged 18+) responding.
  • Research B for AAT was carried out online by Opinion Matters throughout January 2024 amongst a panel resulting in 500 UK children aged 14 – 18 years old, who are still in school, responding.
  • All research conducted adheres to the MRS Codes of Conduct (2010) in the UK and ICC/ESOMAR World Research Guidelines. Opinion Matters is registered with the Information Commissioner's Office and is fully compliant with the Data Protection Act (1998).