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Higher education at 18+

Types of HE level courses (Level 4+)

There are lots of different types of higher education level courses. 

Higher education means any nationally recognised qualification which is at Level 4 or above (A Levels, Level 3 Applied General Qualification, T Levels and Advanced Apprenticeships are Level 3). 

A Higher Education level course starts at Level 4 and progresses to Level 8 but Level 6 is a degree level.

There are different pathways and they can be delivered in different contexts:

  • Foundation Years, Honours Degrees, Honours Degrees with a placement year, post graduate degrees. These courses are typically studied in a university setting and sometimes in a college.
  • Higher National Qualifications like Foundation Degrees, HNCs and HNDs, and Access courses that can prepare you for a degree. These courses are typically studied in a college of further education or a college university centre but are also offered by some universities.
  • Higher Apprenticeships and Degree Apprenticeships. Although you will be mostly in the workplace you might also have part of your qualification delivered through a college or university.

Find out more about the different types.

Higher education courses typically delivered at a university

Degrees with Foundation Years (different from Foundation Degrees) 

A Foundation Year is an extra year of study at the start of a university course. It allows students who don't meet the entry requirements to acquire the knowledge they need and go on to study a full degree. You can find some Foundation Year courses on UCAS but some providers might want you to apply directly through them than through UCAS.

There are a variety of situations in which you might be able to study a Foundation Year: You might have taken A-levels that don’t match the entry requirements for the degree you want to study. You might not quite have made the grades you need to go straight on to the standard degree course. Offers are often lower for courses with foundation years. You might have a type of qualification that isn't accepted for the course you want to study or an unrecognised qualification from another country. Not all courses have Foundation Years. Use our course search to find degrees with a Foundation Year (include the word 'foundation' in your subject search).

Honours Degree Courses

An Honours degree is a course of study leading to a qualification such as a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc), or Bachelor of Law (LLB). This typically takes three or four years to complete full time (normally four years if you're doing a placement year, which includes a year in industry or abroad).

You can study for a full or part-time Honours Degree at a university, or more flexibly in your own time with the Open University, building up credits through a series of shorter courses.

There is also the option of studying an accelerated two-year degree course. The benefits of choosing to study over 2 years, rather than 3 years, is that you will save money in terms of tuition fees and living costs and achieve your qualification quicker. The downside is that your study time will be more intense.

Ordinary Degree Courses

This is a degree which has been passed without honours, possibly because the student has chosen this course type or hasn't been able to complete the work required to gain the honours - this work could be a dissertation (a long essay/report). Alternatively, the student may have completed fewer modules. Most degrees offered through UCAS are degrees with honours. 

Postgraduate courses

Postgraduate qualifications (Level 7 and above) generally require applicants to have undertaken some previous study or experience in the chosen field, usually at undergraduate level.

Postgraduate courses can be full or part-time and lead to, for example, a Post Graduate Diploma, Masters, or Doctorate.

To find out more, visit UCAS.

Higher education courses typically delivered in a college:

Higher Technical Qualifications:

Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) are Level 4 and Level 5 qualifications, such as Foundation Degrees, Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas. They are an option for young people starting their career and for adults looking to upskill or retrain. HTQs have been approved against employer developed standards, also known as occupational standards. This ensures that learners gain the skills that employers want, and employers can be confident that learners have the knowledge, skills and behaviours for a particular specialist role.  The qualifications last between 1 and 2 years full-time, with part-time and distance learning options available. HTQs are available across the digital sector, health and science, and construction. See below for further information about Foundation Degrees, HNCs and HNDs.

Foundation Degree Courses 

Foundation Degrees are designed and delivered in partnership with employers and Higher Education providers (universities and colleges). Foundation Degrees are always vocational - so you will see Foundation Degrees in subjects such as information and communication technology or engineering and manufacturing technologies rather than traditional school subjects such as history or geography. If you prefer a more hands on approach to learning this route may suit you.

These two-year courses can be taught at either a university or at a college. They combine study with workplace learning, so you can use your place of work to provide evidence of your learning and for project work - sometimes a voluntary placement is acceptable. Foundation Degrees are open to school and college leavers and it may be possible that some companies will contribute towards the cost of the Foundation Degree. Some people who take this route are already in a job. Normally you can continue for a third year and gain a full honours degree, this is often referred to as a Top Up Year and may involve transferring to a university if you are currently studying at college. Foundation Degrees often require lower qualifications at entry than a degree and may also be less expensive with lower tuition costs. Find a foundation degree using our course search.


Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and Certificates (HNCs) are job-related qualifications available in a wide range of vocational areas, and are offered by some universities and colleges. HNCs (Level 4) take one year full-time or two years part-time. Full-time HNDs (Level 5) take two years to complete and can be used as a qualification in their own right, or for entry to the second or third year of a degree course. This can vary between universities, so you will need to check. Often people doing these courses are already working in the job area and course work will be related to the job. You can find out more about your options after a HND.

HNDs are offered in vocational areas such as:

  • Arts, Media and Publishing
  • Business, Administration and Law
  • Construction, Planning and the Built Environment
  • Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies
  • Information and Communication Technology
  • Leisure, Travel and Tourism

Use our course search to find an HND or explore college or university websites to find out more about the HNDs and HNCs they offer.

Art Foundation Courses

Many art and design degree courses require applicants to have taken a one-year Level 3 art foundation course to help students to explore a range of art and design experiences such as sculpture or fine art which they may not have been able to explore in school. It also gives them time to build their art portfolio. Applications for these courses are made directly to the college and most students tend to stay local to home rather than move away. These could be delivered in a college or in some universities.

Access to Higher Education Diploma

The Level 3 Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma prepares students for higher education level study.

An Access to HE Diploma is for people who have been out of education for some time and for those who left school with too few qualifications to be able to go straight to university. The age requirements for many of these courses is 19 but it is worth contacting your local college to check. Many students will study maths and English GCSE level alongside an Access to HE course. This may be because they haven’t already achieved sufficient grades in these subjects to progress onto a degree level course.

Access to HE courses provide a good foundation in the knowledge and skills required for studying at university level, so that students are confident and well prepared when they go on to higher education after the Access to HE course.

Some courses have a specific subject focus, such as Access to Law or Nursing or Business Studies. Others provide a preparation across a wider range of subjects, such as Access to HE Diploma in Social Studies or Combined Sciences. Diplomas with more general titles often have a range of options available, so students on the same course are able to choose different options to suit their individual interests, plans for further study, or career ambitions.

Most Access to HE Diplomas can be completed in a year and there are courses offered at further education colleges in your local area or sometimes at a university.

Some Access to HE courses are offered in the evenings or by distance learning.

Find out more about Access to HE Diploma courses.

Contact your local college to find out more about Access Courses.

You can search for an Access course on the What Uni? site - choose 'Access and foundation' from the drop down to search.

View a video animation about Foundation Degrees.

Higher education courses that are apprenticeships:

Higher and Degree Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships offer students an opportunity to learn on the job, building up knowledge and skills, as well as earning money at the same time. Each apprentice will work towards a standard or a framework - these will show the apprentice what they will be learning and how they will be assessed. 

Apprenticeships would suit someone who: has a clear idea of the type of career they wish to pursue, is willing to commit to work and study, but would prefer a more practical and work-related approach to learning

Higher Apprenticeships are at Level 4 - 7 and when completed, depending on what level you are doing, will be equivalent to a HNC, a Foundation Degree or a degree. 

A Degree Apprenticeship allows students to gain a degree or even a masters degree while being employed and trained at the same time. UCAS has lots of information on apprenticeships including links to finding vacancies. You can download their Guide to Apprenticeships

Both Higher and Degree Apprenticeships can be competitive and hard to find, so always have a Plan B. Be aware that sometimes you have to start at a lower level apprenticeship to build up your technical knowledge of the work.

Use the Careerpilot Apprenticeship search tool to find current apprenticeship vacancies. 

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