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Routes into university and higher education

As well as traditional academic qualifications like GCE A levels, there are work-related (vocational) qualifications which can get you into higher education. Work experience may also be taken into account.

Qualifications for getting into university

The exact qualifications and grades needed for different higher education courses vary widely.

In general, though, you can apply to do a higher education course with:

  • academic qualifications (such as A levels or the International Baccalaureate)
  • vocational qualifications (such as NVQs or BTEC National Diplomas and Certificates)
  • Foundation or Access Course qualifications

If you already have a particular full-time higher education course in mind, you can look up the entry requirements on the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) website.

For part-time courses, find the university or college prospectus - most are now available online. The UCAS website also gives details of part and full-time Foundation Degrees.

Other routes to a degree

If you already have a Higher National Certificate (HNC) or Higher National Diploma (HND), you may be able to enter a first degree course at the start of the second or even third year.

If you have a Foundation Degree, you may be able to enter a degree course at the start of the third or final year.

Routes into higher education: academic qualifications

For many UK students, entry to higher education means studying for GCSEs then A levels, Scottish Highers or an Irish Leaving Certificate, either at school or at a further education college.

Students from outside the UK can apply for courses with qualifications equivalent to A levels. These include the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the European Baccalaureate (EB).

Routes into higher education: vocational qualifications

If you don't have the equivalent of A levels, you may be able to use vocational qualifications to apply to a university or college, including:

  • NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications)
  • SVQs (Scottish Vocational Qualifications)
  • BTEC National Diplomas and Certificates
  • GCEs in applied subjects
  • Key Skills qualifications

Along with vocational qualifications, you may also have considerable work experience to offer. If you're applying for a Foundation Degree course in particular, you may find that this is taken into account, alongside any qualifications you hold.

Although prospectuses often refer mainly to A levels when they talk about entry requirements, don't be put off - check with the course provider on vocational entry requirements, and if any substantial work experience could be taken into account.

Routes into higher education: Foundation and Access Courses

If you are a 'mature' student (that is, if you're aged 19 or over), and have work experience but lack 'traditional' qualifications, you could find an alternative route into higher education (HE) through:

  • a Foundation Year, or Foundation course
  • an Access to HE course

Foundation Years

Foundation Years are offered by some universities and colleges to as preparation for some of their degree courses.

They generally don't result in a separate qualification - they simply qualify you to enter the degree course itself. Foundation Years are not available for all degree courses.

Taking a Foundation Year may be a good idea if your A levels are a poor match with the subject you would like to study at degree level.

A Foundation Year might also be helpful if you last experienced education a long time ago. It might also be worth considering if you are an overseas student and your language skills do not yet match the demands of a particular degree course.

Foundation courses

Foundation courses are similar, but may not be held at the same university or college as the full degree or diploma, or qualify you for entry to a particular course. Overseas students with a limited command of English may find them useful.

Access to HE courses

Access courses are also provided by many further education colleges, as well as some universities, to prepare students for higher education.

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