During high school, Megan Cox thought she would continue the well-trodden path of completing her HSC and then enrolling in an undergraduate degree before beginning her career.
"I didn't think you could be successful without going to university," she said.
After attending a future of female leadership forum, Megan discovered an interest in IT, leading her to professional services firm PwC's High Apprenticeship Program.
"I really loved the idea that I could work and study at the same time," she said.
The two-year program sees high school graduates obtain a Diploma of IT while working for PwC. Megan applied and was accepted, starting in 2020.
Megan was one of many high school leavers starting an apprenticeship last year. In 2020 commencements reached a five year high.
Universities have seen a more mixed response. The University Admissions Centre (UAC), which handles admissions for universities in NSW and the ACT, saw an increase of 10,000 domestic students applying between 2018 and 2020. The Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC), which processes applications for universities, TAFEs and independent colleges in Victoria, saw a drop in applications over the same period.
For those accepted to higher study in 2020, classes and training were disrupted by lockdowns. For Megan, this meant her classes and work had to be conducted from home.
"It was hard because I had just started building connections with all of my cohort," she recalled.
To fill the gap, Megan started virtual lunches and drinks to stay connected to her fellow apprentices at PwC.
"I didn't want COVID to ruin the fact that we had just started to be friends."
Approaching the end of her program, Megan is glad she decided to pursue an internship.
"By the end of this program, I will have two industry-recognised qualifications and two years of work experience, whereas my friends at university will have two years of learning," she said. "It's going to make me stand out and look a lot better on the resume."
Applications made to University Admissions Centre (UAC) for NSW and ACT and Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC) for Victoria over the past three years.
- UAC total applications 2018: 59,143 2019: 64,443 2020: 69,602
- VTAC Total applications 2018: 68,457 2019: 64,506 2020: 65,332
- UAC year 12 2018: 38,964 for NSW - 2,263 for ACT 2019: 39,132 for NSW - 1,844 for ACT 2020: 41,287 for NSW - 1,874 for ACT
- VTAC year 12 2018: 52,280 2019: 49,590 2020: 50,780
- UAC Non-Year 12 applicants 2018: 16,177 2019: 15,083 2020: 14,552
- VTAC Non-Year 12 applicants 2018: 16,177 2019: 15,083 2020: 14,552