What are the different types of university degree in the UK?

If you’re starting to think about what you want to study after college or school, it’s important to understand the different types of qualifications there are to help you choose which route to take.

Knowing the differences between university degrees and qualifications will help you decide what course will be best for your career path.

In our guide, you’ll find out about HND and HNC, foundation degrees, bachelor’s degrees, masters and PHDs – what the differences are between these qualifications and what qualification is right for you.

What are the different university qualifications?

In the UK there are varying levels of qualifications, graded from level 1 to level 8. This runs from GCSE through to PHD.

University level qualifications start at level 4, with 1 through to 3 achieved in school and college.

University qualifications include Bachelor’s degree, foundation degree, higher national diploma or certificate, Master’s degree and a Doctorate (PHD) - but what are the difference between the university qualifications?

Foundation Degree

A foundation degree is often a two year course which is formed by a combination of academic study and workplace training. It is the same weighting as two thirds of a Bachelor’s degree and there are no entry requirements, making the foundation degree an accessible route into higher education.

A foundation degree can also be chosen for specific career paths – ie. Graphic Design for those looking to later study Advertising – allowing you to specialise in relevant areas, whilst gaining valuable work experience.

Higher National Diploma or Certificate

A Higher National Diploma or Certificate – also known as a HND or HNC – are level 5 qualifications which are equal to two years university study. These qualifications focus on work experience from which you can either top up your qualification to a full Bachelor’s degree or go directly into a job.

Entry requirements for a HND / HNC vary depending on what course you choose, but it is common to need a minimum of 100 UCAS points. UCAS is the system all UK students must use to apply for university and UCAS points can be formed from various qualifications including GCE, A Levels and BTECS.

Bachelor’s Degree

A Bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree, often started right after sixth form or college. This type of degree spans qualification level 4-6 and is the most common university degree.

This type of qualification usually takes around three to four years to complete when studying full-time. Often, you can also study part-time to accommodate working whilst studying.

Bachelor’s qualifications are awarded by specialist subject. The most common honours are Bachelor of Arts (BA), Law (LLB), Engineering (BEng) and Science (BSc).

Once you’ve achieved your bachelor’s degree, you can either remain in academia and further your studies with a Master’s degree or you can go directly into your career path.

The requirements to study a Bachelor’s degree vary depending on what course you want to choose, but will likely be accepted based on your level 3 qualifications - A levels, BTECs or International Baccalaureate if you’re an international student.

Master’s Degree

Once you’ve completed a Bachelor’s degree, you can go on to study a Master’s degree – this is the opportunity to specialise in your chosen field and take a more in-depth study.

Master’s degrees are usually research-based learning and take around one to two years to complete. From this you’ll received a level 7 qualification.

A Master’s level qualification varies depending on the topic you focus on, with a Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MSc) being the most common qualifications.

What are the entry requirements? Although many courses require a minimum of a 2:1 at undergraduate experience, some courses will take work experience into account. If in doubt, talk to the course leader who will be able to advise.

PhD: Doctorate of Philosophy

A PhD is the highest university degree level you can achieve – a university level 8.

This level of qualification can take four to eight years to complete as the research must be thorough and complex, completing an original thesis on a specific subject or school of thought.

A PhD can be completed alongside teaching your specialised subject, with the university obtaining credit for any published research.

The entry requirements for a PhD are both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree – as well as a concept on what you want to research and develop. However, some students are able to do a combined Master’s and PhD as a new route into getting a doctorate.

Key Takeaways: What are the different university qualifications?

  • If you’re looking to study in higher education in the UK you have multiple undergraduate entry routes, including a foundation degree, a HND or HNC, or a Bachelor’s degree.
  • A Master’s Degree is a postgraduate course, focusing on a specific area of a wider subject.
  • A PhD is the highest level of qualification you can achieve, with original research on your area of expertise.
  • Whether you're in your first year of your bachelor's or last year of your PHD, you can stay at an iQ property. Start your student room search. 


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