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Steps to Success » Lifelong Learning

Alternatives to University: What Are My Options?

Many people believe the end goal of education is getting into university and that success is defined by this. However, it isn’t the only option. There are many paths to take after school, and the idea of ‘success’ is different for everyone. It’s worth considering all the options before you choose your next steps.

Explore some options:

Taking a gap year – If you’re not sure about your course or about going to university at all, taking a gap year can really help. In this time, you can reflect on who you want to be and develop interests you may never have had time for. Undertaking a challenging project can also strengthen a future university application. Take the opportunity to travel, pick up hobbies and consider what path you’d like to take next.

Apprenticeships – Many organisations offer apprenticeships. They combine work and study, which is the best of both worlds for those who want to keep learning but are tired of the classroom. With this path, you have a paying job and regular on-the-job training. At the end of the apprenticeship, you may have a job lined up, a new qualification, or the opportunity to pursue further studies.

Joining the workforce – Further study isn’t for everyone. Entering the workforce gives you a bit more financial freedom as you can start earning now. You can find an entry-level job in an industry or company you’re passionate about and work your way up. If you find out later on that this isn’t for you, it’s always possible to choose a different route, and the skills you’ve learned at work will be transferable and useful. Look for jobs advertised online and at fairs.

Associate degrees – If you’re interested in pursuing education in an academic setting without signing up to a long, intense course, an associate degree may be for you. These two-year courses enable you to develop a range of skills and knowledge in your chosen area that can lead to well-paid jobs. They also provide a pathway to further education, and many graduates go on to be admitted to bachelor’s degrees at university. Many universities offer associate degrees as a pre-university course.

Higher diploma and diplomas – Diplomas are vocational programmes that are 1-2 years long and provide students with practical knowledge and skills. Unlike associate degrees, diplomas provide students with specialised knowledge to pursue a career in their chosen field. VTC and HKU Space are some of the providers of higher diplomas.

Diploma Yi Jin (DYJ) – The Diploma Yi Jin programme allows school leavers to develop a range of generic skills and knowledge in subjects such as Chinese Language, English Language and Mathematics. Graduates can enter further education or join the workforce. The qualification also meets the requirement for some civil service positions. Find out more on their website.

Starting your own business and being self-employed – Perhaps the least considered option, starting a business is a possibility if you are business minded and have a viable idea. You may also choose to work as a freelancer. You can choose your own hours and make your own decisions. If successful, you may earn more than those on other paths. However, this is a riskier and more stressful path than some of the alternatives suggested, and your income may be irregular.


If you are still unsure of your options and which one is right for you, speak to your i-Learner tutor. Our tutors have seen students take many different paths and are well placed to help you. They can walk you through your options, provide more information, and ask the right questions to help you decide.