For parents’ guide, click here.

What are the different types of higher education (HE) courses?

There are “undergraduate” degrees, foundation degrees, HNC (Higher National Certificate) and HND (Higher National Diploma).  These courses equate to academic levels 4, 5 and 6. Beyond undergraduate degrees there are postgraduate study programmes including postgraduate certificate, diploma, and masters degrees. You can even progress onto a Ph.D (Philosophy Doctorate).

These can be studied at University, colleges, other HE establishments and sometimes by distance-learning/online.

Here are some links with more information:

Overall explanation of courses

UCAS: What are foundation degrees?

What Uni: What is an HNC and HND?

What are sponsored degrees?

What is a sandwich degree? (Work Placements)

What is a combined (or joint-honours) degree?

How do I get to study at HE level?

Depending on the HE course you choose to do, where it is and at what level      (foundation degree, HNC, HND or full degree, as explained above), establishments will ask for various entry requirements. These are usually calculated in points called UCAS points (see below). The standard requirement for a full degree course is usually a minimum of two or three A-levels or equivalent level 3 courses. Some will ask for specific grades in specific subjects, so you will need to check the entry requirements before applying. (Foundation degrees are slightly different – they typically ask for fewer qualifications). For most UK courses, you need to apply through UCAS. Your academy can help you with this process. 

These websites will help you to see what courses are available: 

UCAS – search for degrees

The Uni Guide – degree search

What are UCAS points?

While studying a level 3 programme (such as A-Levels or a BTEC National Diploma) you may hear about UCAS points required to access university degrees and other HE programmes. UCAS points are calculated from the grades you obtain when you complete your course of study at level 3 (A-levels, IB Diplomas, BTEC courses etc.)

In addition to UCAS points, students applying for medical and dental degrees are usually required to undergo a separate admissions test; The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT). Please click here for more information. 

How are UCAS points worked out?

The higher the grade you achieve, the more points you will get for that subject. For example, a grade A* at A-level is worth 56 points, a distinction* on a single level 3 BTEC is also equivalent to 56 points and so is a H7 grade at higher level IB. 168 points requires 3 A* grades at A-Level, 3 distinction* on an National Extended BTEC Diploma or 3 Higher Level IB subjects with H7 grades. If you are doing a mixed programme of study, the points will be combined to provide a total number. 

To calculate your points, please go to this website here. More about UCAS points can be found here

How do I know where to study?

It is important to consider what course you want to study and what options you have in your chosen subject. It is also worth thinking about how far away from home you want to be: some people want to live at home and study at a local university or college, while others may prefer the independence of living further away with other students. 

Some people place value on how “good” the university is. For university rankings including highly-rated universities and those lower down the league tables, please click here. You can also check which institutions are ranked more highly for your chosen subject area. The Russell Group represents 24 leading universities in the UK. Click here to find out more. 

Attending open days including virtual open days, could help you decide which university is right for you. You should also check through the details of the courses you are considering.  

How much do degrees cost?

Costs vary depending on where and what you decide to study. Fees are sometimes displayed on university websites. Courses at Russell group universities usually cost more than those elsewhere. As mentioned above, sponsored degrees might be funded, or partly funded, by the sponsor (usually the employer). HNC/HND courses often cost far less than the equivalent degree programme and can sometimes be topped up later on to gain a full degree. You can also explore the possibility of scholarships, grants, loans and bursaries. 

The government website has information on student finance  – click here.

For more information about alternative types of funding, such as bursaries, click here.

What if I don’t want to go to university but still want a “higher” qualification?

Please see our page on “alternatives to university” and our “apprenticeships” page. 

For an overview of your options at 18 years old, other than degrees, please click here

Various videos by young people comparing study at university versus a degree apprenticeship can be found on YouTube. 

What else do I need to consider?

Depending on what stage you are currently at (e.g. whether you are already studying at level 3 at key stage 5, or you are in key stage 3 or 4) you need to think about the following:

What career / job do I think I want to be in?

How much research have I done about that field of work?

Are there other roles I could consider in that sector?

Does the role require a degree? (Not all jobs do). 

What are my options? (e.g degree, apprenticeship, HND etc.)

What are the costs of my different options?

What are the pros and cons of each option?

Do I want a work placement on my degree, perhaps including a period overseas?

Do I want to defer entry for a year, after a year out?

If you don’t know what job you want to do but still want to do a degree or other HE study, please see the links below:

What Uni – how do I pick a degree subject?

Prospects – what can I do with my degree?

National Careers Service – job profiles (this website will also tell you if you need a degree or not for different job roles). 

If you are torn between two subjects you may be able to combine the subjects in one degree, or do a combined degree. Click here for more information. 


If you need more support and guidance, please get in touch with us. 

What is University?
View 2020 Uni League Table
Compare Universities Here
Ucas Application Process
Student Finance
Is Uni Right for Me?
Student Ambassador Q&A
Book Virtual Uni Tours

Admissions Testing for UK Health Professions

General Advice & Guidance

UCAS Points Explained.