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UK studyChoosing a course††Post A-level programmes

Post A-level programmes††

Study courses

Choosing a course


Pre-degree qualifications
GCSEs and equivalents
A-levels and equivalents††††
Post A-level programmes
First and postgrad degrees
Undergraduate degrees
Postgraduate degrees
MBA degrees
Other types of courses
English language†††
Career-based courses
Exchange programmes

UK life

Students who want to enter into a form of higher education, but are not keen on launching straight into a university degree, may choose a post A-level course.

These can be academic or vocational and can act as a useful tool, either in the workplace or as a†route into a degree course.

Whatís available?
Higher National Certificate (HNC)

This, like the Higher National Diploma (HND) below, is a qualification that offers a very wide choice of subjects, relevant to many different sectors of employment. They are aimed at people who wish to work as technicians, managers and supervisors. Both qualifications are at NVQ/SVQ level 4.

The HNC is normally studied full time for one year or part time for two years. People commencing their working careers often take this qualification by part-time study while in paid employment, to help them progress in their chosen area of work. Students are aged at least 18 at the start of a course.

The HNC is regarded as having a standard slightly above that of A-levels. It is not directly comparable however, as it is a vocational rather than an academic qualification. It may be used as an entrance qualification to first-degree programmes in related subjects.

Higher National Diploma (HND)

This is a qualification approximately equivalent to the first two years of a Bachelorís degree. Students are normally aged 18 or over when the course begins. HNDs can be studied full time, part time or as a sandwich course with a work placement for up to three years.

Some courses run so that students can graduate with an HND after two years, or elect to continue for a third year to obtain a Bachelorís degree (BSc or equivalent).

Students with an HND qualification can also apply for entrance directly onto the second or third year of degree programmes in the same subject at different institutions, although some institutions will only accept HNDs as entry qualifications onto the first year of a degree programme. There is no guaranteed progression and students are assessed on their own merits. On the other hand, many institutions offering HNDs will often have pre-arranged progression routes agreed with local universities. Many HND students do manage to
move on to university.

A small number of institutions offer postgraduate-level diplomas in subjects like management at N/SVQ level 5.

HNC/HND (Scotland)

HNCs are slightly different in Scotland, being full-time, one-year courses, awarded after the first year of a two-year HND programme. They can be a qualification in their own right. Both HNCs and HNDs are aligned with higher education courses (HNCs with the first year of degree courses and HNDs with the second year), often allowing HNC/HND holders to†move directly on to the second (HNCs) or third year (HNDs) of a degree programme.

More information is available on the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) website.

Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ)

This is the Scottish equivalent of the NVQ system. There are five levels of qualifications within this system, and those at levels 3 and 4 may be used as entry to higher education.

Some courses offered at levels 4 and 5 may be used as entry to higher degrees, and are sometimes offered as part of postgraduate programmes.

More information is available on the
SQA website.

Foundation and access courses

These two types of course are often considered the same, though foundation courses usually refer to foundation-level courses at university (where you then go on to do your degree) and access courses tend to be taken at a college separate (though connected) to the university at which you will do your degree.

These are aimed at students who need an introduction to academic study, further tuition in their chosen subject, or to improve their study skills and English language ability. Successful students can progress to a variety of different undergraduate courses.

There are a variety of courses to help students who do not meet the normal entrance requirements for first degree and other undergraduate programmes.

These courses can help students who need to develop their English language or study skills, or those whose academic achievements are not sufficiently advanced.

Many students entering UK degree programmes do so by using entry qualifications, such as A-levels or overseas equivalents. Some students, however, have no formal qualification in the discipline in which they wish to study for a degree qualification or have not studied at a high enough level.

There are many access and foundation courses intended to prepare such students for undergraduate study.

  • Access courses are often designed for adults who have left school some years previously without formal qualifications.
  • Foundation courses are suitable for students who have already studied a subject up to A-level standard, or who need to improve their study skills and English to undertake a degree course.

Access and foundation courses are sometimes called bridging courses, as they provide a way of bridging the gap between a studentís current academic abilities and those needed to be able to undertake a degree programme.

Access and foundation courses may be offered:

  • for entry onto particular degree programmes at the same institution or another partner institution
  • to provide entry qualifications for degree programmes in a particular subject at any institution offering such programmes
  • as a general course to prepare students for entry onto a wide variety of degree programmes.
Pre-sessional courses/summer courses

Students who do not need to study a whole year of foundation studies before beginning a degree programme often follow a pre-sessional programme.

Many colleges offer these programmes, usually in the summer period from April to September, for students who need a preparatory course in English, academic study skills, and possibly cultural background studies, before starting a full-time degree programme.

Higher vocational qualifications

Many post A-level courses in the UK are vocational (work-based)†programmes,†and these often approach the level of first-degrees. See career-based qualifications for more information.

Find out more practical details about post-A-level courses.

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