Apprenticeship vs. College – we look at the pros and cons

22-Jul-2022 12:10:04 / by Anne Roberts


For most school-leavers, going to college is the natural next step after the Leaving Cert. However, with the cost of living concerns mounting amongst students and parents, some are questioning whether going to college is an affordable option.

Thankfully, there are many other options available for those looking to get a third-level qualification that don't involve financial stress, thanks to the government's investment in the development of degree-level apprenticeship programmes over the last seven years.

The Insurance Apprenticeship was Ireland's first level-8 programme and launched in 2016. The programme allows participants to study remotely for an honours degree with ATU Sligo while earning a full-time salary, working in insurance. Providing all of the academic benefits of going to college without the high costs.

However, third-level education is about more than academics, so here we look at how the Insurance Apprenticeship measures up against a traditional college experience.


1. Cost


The results of TU Dublin's latest cost of living guide show that the average cost of going to college for students living away from home is over €13,000 a year.


The apprenticeship is a clear winner when it comes to cost.

  • Apprentices receive a reduced student charge for their degree, at €600 per year instead of €3,000.
  • Books and class materials (listed at €666 per annum on the cost of living survey) are all covered as part of the apprenticeship programme.
  • You will also earn an entry-level salary – which means you get to skip that ‘cereal for dinner’ phase and have the funds to really enjoy student life!


2. Qualifications


Anyone who has been through the CAO process knows there is a huge variety of courses and qualifications on offer at third-level. Some school leavers know exactly which route they want to go down, while others can take more general Arts, Business or Science degrees to keep their options open.

Some courses also offer elective modules to allow you to broaden your horizons and learn about areas completely outside of the subject you are studying.


Graduates of the Insurance Apprenticeship will earn three separate qualifications – two professional ‘designations’ that enable them to work in general or life insurance and one BA honours degree.

These qualifications cover a wide range of subjects, from technical insurance knowledge to business modules such as data analytics, marketing and law. Apprentices also receive training in 'power' skills such as negotiation, communication and critical thinking.


3. Work experience


Some college courses may provide work experience options, however many do not. Most students need to resort to part-time or weekend work to support themselves financially and add some experience to their CVs.

Many students also undertake summer internships to ensure they have enough relevant experience to secure a job after college.


One of the major advantages of doing an apprenticeship is that you are already working. So you gain valuable, practical experience throughout the course of your study and are better equipped to understand how your learning applies to your everyday role. At the end of the programme, you’ll not only have three qualifications under your belt, you’ll also have three years of work experience over the other graduates leaving college.


4. Social life


There’s no denying that the social side of college is a key attraction for many. Universities and Institutes of Technology give students access to a range of clubs and societies that allow them build their network and attend events like Student Balls or class parties.


Having a full-time job while studying towards a degree will naturally mean you’ll have less time for socialising. However, insurance is a sociable industry that allows you to build up a network of colleagues and friends, particularly when you’re on the apprenticeship programme.

You will be divided up into groups with whom you’ll complete your online lectures every week. In addition, you will have full group sessions with your fellow apprentices every semester.

As part of the programme, you will also become a member of either The Insurance Institute (general insurance) or LIA (life insurance and financial planning). One of the membership advantages of The Insurance Institute is that you will also become a member of a Local Institute close to where you work, and they all host various social events throughout the year. Also, since you’ll be earning a salary, you’ll have the funds to really make the most of it.


Are you interested in becoming an apprentice and earning a level 8 degree while you work? Register your interest and see who's hiring on →