With the rising cost of higher education, including tuition fees of up to £9,000 at English universities, it is well worth considering sponsored degrees. Not only do sponsored degrees offer financial support during your time at university, but you could also gain valuable work experience while you study, which will improve your graduate employment prospects hugely.
So what exactly are sponsored degrees, and what are the pros and cons of getting sponsored through university?
Sponsored degrees involve a company or organisation supporting you financially while you study. Sponsored degrees vary from an annual bursary of around £1,000 to £1,500, to a full salary from your chosen company. Many sponsored degrees also cover the cost of your tuition fees, so you could leave university with no student debt.
Sponsored degrees offer unrivalled opportunities for work experience in the holidays, or even part time while you study. You will generally be paid the going rate for this work, on top of any bursary or other financial support you receive. This means that while your fellow students are pulling pints and serving ice cream, for minimum wage, in typical student summer jobs, you will be earning a pro-rata professional salary and gaining hands on experience at a leading company.
You will also have excellent support and access to professional facilities to help with your studies, including that all important final year project. Many sponsored degrees include a mentor, who will follow your progress and be on hand to give advice and guidance when you need it.
In many cases, sponsored degrees also guarantee a job at the end of your course, lifting those final year worries about graduate unemployment, and avoiding the cattle market of the ‘milk round’ interviews. This peace of mind can help you to concentrate on your course and upcoming exams, without the distraction of job applications.
The main catch with most sponsored degrees is that you will be expected to work part time for the sponsoring company. This means that you will miss out on the long holidays and party lifestyle of many of your fellow students, and you may not get the fabled ‘student experience’ (although you won’t have the equally fabled student debts either).
Sponsored degrees mean that you will have to take life a little more seriously from the start, so they are not for everyone. If you are looking to go to university to broaden your horizons and open new doors for you, then sponsored degrees may seem a bit limiting, tying your hands and deciding your future from the start.
The more you get from sponsored degrees, the more commitment will be expected from you in return. For example, most armed forces sponsored degrees involve a commitment to between three and seven years service in your sponsoring branch of the forces. If you do not complete this time, you could be asked to pay back all or part of your sponsorship.
Other companies also have similar clauses, and it is important to remember that sponsored degrees are a contract between you and your sponsor, and that they will want something in return for their support. You should consider sponsored degrees very carefully, and make sure that you are ready for this commitment, and that you have truly made up your mind about your future career. If you change your mind halfway through, it could work out very expensive.
Offering sponsored degrees means that a company is guaranteed to get the pick of the undergraduates before anyone else. There is a great deal of competition for the best graduates and sponsored degrees tie you in early to the company. Sponsored degrees also mean that companies can be sure that their new intake will have appropriate training and all the skills and knowledge that they need.
Furthermore, because sponsored degrees usually involve spending time with the company during holidays, graduates will be able to hit the ground running, with a solid understanding of the company from the day they start full time work. Sponsored degrees save companies a lot of time in recruitment, training and orientation of new graduate staff.
One of the disadvantages of sponsored degrees is that your choice will be limited in both subjects and universities. It is highly unlikely that you will be able to pick your degree and institution, and then find sponsorship. The system usually works the other way around, with the companies who offer the sponsored degrees dictating the terms.
As you would expect, sponsored degrees mostly cover practical subjects, such as science and engineering, as these are the skills that companies need. Many top level firms in the City will offer sponsored degrees in accountancy and finance, but is unlikely that you will find sponsored degrees in subjects such as the arts or humanities.
You will also find that companies will only offer sponsored degrees at certain universities. This is often because the company has a strong link to these institutions, or because they will only offer sponsored degrees at the very best colleges in the field.
Most sponsored degrees schemes are widely publicised, and can be found through your school careers service, or by searching the companies directly online. You can also find out about sponsored degrees from your chosen university when you apply for your course.
If you cannot find sponsored degrees in your field, you could always try approaching companies directly. If you demonstrate enough passion and commitment to your subject and to their company, they may make you an offer of support, even if there is no formal programme of sponsored degrees.
You can find sponsored degrees from a wide range of companies, from Barclays Bank to BAE Systems, covering everything from retail, with Asda and Harrods, to engineering with the National Grid. Here is a list of some of the companies and organisations who offer sponsored degrees:
Not surprisingly, there is a huge amount of competition for sponsored degrees. Naturally, many students want or need the additional financial support, as well as the reassurance of having a job to go to after college. This means that you need to work hard on your application for sponsored degrees.
To be successful in securing sponsored degrees, you will need to demonstrate more than just an aptitude for your subject. The fact that you have a university place says this already. You must also show prospective sponsors that you are committed to your subject and keen to make a career in the field. You should also thoroughly research the company providing sponsored degrees, to demonstrate that you have a real interest in working for them and pledging the first few years of your career to them.
Remember, when interviewed for sponsored degrees, try and offer something different; some kind of added value in choosing you, rather than simply repeating what all the other applicants have to offer. In the same way as your personal statement for UCAS, you need to stand out and get noticed.
Sponsored degrees are common in all three branches of the armed forces – Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force – with graduates guaranteed a role as a serving officer at the end of their course. The three forces each have different sponsored degrees schemes, with special consideration for medical students who wish to pursue an armed forces career.
With all armed forces sponsored degrees, you will need to meet certain residency and nationality criteria, in the same way as any other applicant to the service. You will also have to pass an officer recruitment interview, and meet minimum medical standards to ensure you are fit for duty. Graduates will have to undergo further training in the officer training school upon graduation, such as the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, the Britannia Royal Naval College or RAF College, Cranwell.
The army offers Undergraduate Bursaries worth around £1,000 per year, with a bonus of £3,000 when you complete your officer training at Sandhurst. Graduates of army sponsored degrees are required to serve for a minimum of three years as an army officer. Click here for further details.
The Royal Navy provides sponsored degrees in the form of bursaries to students who wish to follow a career in the navy’s Warfare, Fleet Air Arm or Logistics sections. The bursary is worth £1,500 per year and once again you are expected to serve for at least three years as a Royal Navy Officer. Click here for further details.
The RAF will sponsor students from as early as the sixth form, as well as offering sponsored degrees. RAF sponsored degrees also come in the form of a bursary of around £6,000 in your last two years, and you will be expected to commit to serving as an RAF officer for a minimum of three years. Click here for further details.
If you are planning a career in medicine or dentistry, then sponsored degrees from the armed forces can be especially lucrative. Medical students, including doctors, nurses, dentists and vets can choose from the following sponsored degrees:
As well as the clear financial benefits of taking sponsored degrees with the armed forces, there are also a number of other benefits. Each service has its own university groups, such as the University Air Squadrons of the RAF, and these can provide a wealth of opportunities to experience activities and travel that would otherwise cost you a significant amount of money. In the RAF, for example, you may even get the chance to learn how to fly for free, while the Royal Navy and Army provide many opportunities for overseas expeditions, again at no cost for sponsored degrees students.
Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme (DTUS)
This scheme of sponsored degrees covers all three branches of the armed services, along with the Civil Service branch, the Defence Engineering Support Group. The scheme offers £4,000 per year in sponsorship, along with a guaranteed place as an engineer in the services upon graduation. You are expected to serve for three years in return for sponsored degrees.
Defence Engineering & Science Group (DESG)
This scheme is broadly similar to the DTUS sponsored degrees, except that the award is lower, at just £1,500 per year, and there is no commitment to serve in the armed forces. You will also benefit from paid work experience during the holidays. Click here for further details
While sponsored degrees may appear to be ‘free money’ while you are studying, and a ‘free pass’ into employment at the end of your course, they are not to be entered into lightly. Tempting though it may be to leave university with no student debt, and walk straight into a well paid job, it is not as simple as that.
Sponsored degrees involve a serious commitment that will radically alter your experience of university and often set your early career in stone from the very start of your course, when you may not really know what you want to do when you graduate. You need to think very carefully before making such a commitment. Money isn’t everything, and your interests, goals and ambitions can change dramatically during the three or more years of your course.
Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone, and some students have always known what they want to be and have geared their academic career in that direction since GCSEs. If this is you, and you are sure of your career path and dedicated to your subject, then sponsored degrees can be an ideal way to fund your studies and secure your future. If you’ve always wanted to be a doctor, for example, then the Royal Navy package of three years’ salary of over £15,000 while you study, and a guaranteed job starting at £53, 803, could be too good to refuse.
At the end of the day, whether or not sponsored degrees are right for you depends on who you are and what you want. So consider sponsored degrees carefully before you make your choice, and look beyond the money to weigh up all the advantages and restrictions that sponsored degrees involve.