Higher education at 18+

Types of HE level courses (Level 4+)

There are lots of different types of higher education level courses available. Higher education means any nationally recognised qualification which is at Level 4 or above (A Levels, BTEC Diploma and Extended Diploma and Advanced Apprenticeships are Level 3). A degree starts at Level 4 and progresses to Level 6, in the third year but there are also two year Foundation Degrees, Higher and Degree Apprenticeships, HNCs and HNDs, Honours Degrees, Honours Degrees with a placement year, etc.

Read on to find out more...

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 2 year degree course, although there is a limited number available currently, it is likely that more will become available from Sept 2019. 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, although you will probably be expected to work through the holidays.

Find out more about degree courses

Find out more about Open University distance learning courses

Foundation Degrees

Foundation Degrees are designed and delivered in partnership with employers and Higher Education providers (universities and colleges).

They can be taught at either a university or at a college, but the degree is awarded by a university or some colleges can award their own Foundation Degrees. 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 can be a good option if you are already working and want to further your career or if you want to study a subject related to a job. It may be possible that some companies will contribute towards the cost of the Foundation degree and the UCAS website lists some companies which are involved in Foundation degrees.

  • They usually take two years full-time to complete, or longer for part-time students.
  • Normally you can continue for a further year to gain a full honours degree.
  • Foundation Degrees can require lower qualifications at entry than an honours degree and also can be less expensive with lower tuition costs.

View a video animation about Foundation Degrees.

Here are some of the vocational areas that offer Foundation Degrees:

  • Agriculture, Horticulture and Animal Care
  • Arts, Media and Publishing
  • Business, Administration and Law
  • Construction, Planning and the Built Environment
  • Education and Training
  • Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies
  • Health, Public Services and Care
  • Information and Communication Technology
  • Language, Literature and Culture
  • Leisure, Travel and Tourism
  • Retail and Commercial Enterprise
  • Science and Mathematics

Find a Foundation Degree on the UCAS site or on the What Uni site (easier to look at) bu choosing 'Foundation Degree' in the drop down 

If you are looking for a part time Foundation Degree look at a college or university's website and apply directly to them.

Higher and Degree Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships offer students an opportunity to learn on the job, building up knowledge and skills, gaining work-based qualifications, such as a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ), and earning money at the same time.

Higher Apprenticeships work towards work-based learning qualifications such as NVQ Level 4 and can go to Level 7, in some cases. As part of a Higher Apprenticeship you might do a knowledge-based qualification such as a Foundation or Honours Degree.

A Degree Apprenticeship is a new way to gain a degree while being employed and trained at the same time. 

Find out more about apprenticeships.Find out what apprenticeships you can do and what level they go up to.

Hear about Abigail's experience of moving from an Apprenticeship into a Foundation Degree at the University of Plymouth.


Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and Certificates (HNCs) are job-related qualifications available in a wide range of vocational areas. They are offered by college and some universities. 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. As with degree courses, they can also include a work placement. You can find out more about your options after a HND here.

Here are some of the vocational areas that offer HNDs:

  • 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

Explore a college or university's website to find out more about HNDs and HNCs.

Look at the What Uni? site for a list of HNDs/HNCs.

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 fill in the gaps and go on to study a full degree. Most university art and design degree courses require applicants to have taken a one-year Art Foundation Course first to help students to put together an appropriate portfolio for their chosen design area.   Applications for Foundation Year courses are made directly to the institutions, whether universities or colleges, and not 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 sometimes lower for courses with foundation years.
  • You might have a kind of qualification that isn't accepted for the course you want to study or an unrecognized qualification from another country.
  • Often arts degree courses expect students to have completed an art foundation year course.

Not all courses have Foundation Years.

Contact a college or university to find out about Foundation Year courses.

You can search for a Foundation year course on the What Uni? site, choose 'Access and foundation' from the drop down to search

Access to Higher Education Diploma 

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

An Access to HE Diploma is for people who might 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.

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 HE Diploma (Law), Access to HE Diploma (Nursing), or Access to HE Diploma (Business Studies). Others provide a preparation across a wider range of subjects, such as Access to HE Diploma (Social Studies) or Access to HE Diploma (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.

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

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, search the individual university's website.