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Different types of degrees and courses

Lots! Higher Education is classed as Level 4 and above; the diagram below shows just some of the qualifications you could achieve. It can seem confusing and overwhelming, but remember that any Level 4+ qualification will help you increase your knowledge and skills in a specific area, in turn increasing your employability.

Most people have heard of degrees and there are primarily two types: a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (Bsc). You might also see BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) or LLB (Legum Baccalaureus, meaning Bachelor of Law in Latin). These are all Level 6 qualifications and usually take three years to complete. After completing a BA or BSc, some people choose to continue studying at a higher level for a Masters degree or even a PhD.

Foundation degrees and Higher National Diplomas are Level 5 qualifications, equivalent to two years at university. Higher National Certificates are a Level 4 qualification. HNDs and HNCs tend to be more vocational and career specific, e.g. you can undertake an HND in Hospitality Management.

Because of this, they might be a good choice if you know the sort of job you would like in the future or you enjoy practical ways of learning. Foundation degrees, HNDs and HNCs can all be ‘topped up’ to a full degree with further study if you choose to.

The term ‘undergraduate’ relates to your first HE level qualification. This usually means an undergraduate degree like a BA, BSc, LLB or BEng. Foundation degrees, HNCs and HNDs are also classed as an undergraduate qualification. ‘Postgraduate ’refers to any study you might undertake after this, for example a Masters or PhD. A common postgraduate qualification is a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate of Education), which is a teacher training qualification.

There are different types of undergraduate courses that you can study at university:

  • Standard 3-year courses

Most BA, BSc, BEng and LLB courses take three years of full-time study to complete. This is likely to be what you will find as you research courses.

  • Part time courses

At most universities you can choose to study your degree part-time instead of doing three years of full-time study. Depending on the course and the institution you are studying at, this normally takes between four and six years.

  • Accelerated courses

Accelerated courses take two years instead of three and are taught over more weeks per year than a standard degree. These can be attractive for people who want to continue straight onto postgraduate study; for example, someone might do a two-year accelerated degree then a PGCE straight away to become a teacher.

  • Sandwich courses

Some courses are advertised as ‘sandwich courses’. This means that at some point throughout your course you will complete an extra year either in industry, gaining invaluable work experience, or study abroad. The normal course is the bread; the extra year is the filling!

If spending three, or potentially four, years full-time studying for a degree at university is not right for you, don't despair. 

You might not have heard of them before, but HNDs and HNCs could both great alternatives for you. 

Both HND and HNC courses are undergrad qualifications (like a degree) but they take less time to complete, and are often designed to prepare you for a specific career.

Here's our full guide to what they are and how you can study them.

What's an HND?

A Higher National Diploma (HND) is a work-related course provided by higher and further education colleges in the UK. A full-time HND takes two years to complete, or three to four years part-time. Generally an HND is the equivalent to two years at university. 

What's an HNC?

A full-time Higher National Certificate (HNC) takes one year to complete, or two years part-time. Many HNC courses cover the same subjects as an HND, but an HNC is one level below an HND (it's generally equivalent to the first year at university). 

What Are the Benefits of an HND or HNC?

Unlike many degrees, these courses are vocationally focussed and therefore can lead straight on to a career. Moreover, they're a great stepping stone up to a higher qualification, as you can choose to 'top up' an HND or HNC with extra studies at a later date, in order to convert it to a full bachelor's degree.

Popular HND & HNC Courses:

Business and Finance
Business Management 
Civil Engineering 
Electrical Engineering 
Graphic Design
Mechanical Engineering

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This Article Also Answers the Following Questions :

  • What types of qualifications can you gain when you study at HE?
  • What is ‘undergraduate’ and ‘postgraduate’ study?
  • Types of undergraduate courses
  • What is an HND and an HNC?
  • HNC
  • HND
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