What are the different types of university degrees?

Graduates wearing mortarboards

A simple guide to the degree awards we offer

Unsure of the difference between a Bachelor's degree and HNC? Curious about what an MBA is, or what an LLB is for? We can help.

When you study at university, it’s important to know what type of qualification or degree you’re signing up for.

The course you choose determines the award you graduate with. Sometimes, courses are offered with different awards, depending on how long you want to study and the number of credits you earn.

But how do you separate the LLBs from the HNDs? What do levels and credits mean? What qualification is right for you? What are the different types of university degrees?

Undergraduate study

Bachelor’s degree – Level 6

A Bachelor’s, or Honours, degree is the most common type of undergraduate degree. It’s what most employers mean when they’re looking for an ‘undergraduate’ or ‘first’ degree on a job posting.

You know you’re looking at a Bachelor’s degree when you see titles such as Bachelor of Arts – BA (Hons), Bachelor of Science – BSc (Hons), Bachelor of Engineering – BEng (Hons) and Bachelor of Laws – LLB (Hons).

The (Hons) bit stands for Honours. This generally means you study for 3 years, or 4 if the course is offered with an optional sandwich-placement year. You study 360 credits, including a major project or dissertation in your final year.

Entry requirements vary depending on the course, but you usually need relevant A levels, or equivalent qualifications, or significant work experience in the subject you want to study.

Graduate Certificate (GradCert) – Level 6

A GradCert is the same level as a Bachelor’s degree, but is more limited in scope, so takes less time to complete.

They’re usually available in specific subjects that are work-related, such as psychology, management, counselling or law. A GradCert helps you develop skills and knowledge in a single subject to prepare you for your career.

A GradCert typically takes 1 year to complete, part-time.

Integrated Master’s degree – Level 7

If you want to become a specialist in your subject, and know you want to study to Master’s level, doing an Integrated Master’s degree helps you achieve your ambition.

It takes 4 years to complete, or 5 with an optional placement year, and combines an undergraduate degree with a postgraduate year. You graduate with a Master’s qualification, such as MSc, MEng, MOpthom or MMath.

Foundation degree – Level 5

If you’re already working and want to boost your skills to take on more ambitious roles, a Foundation degree, or FdA, is a great way to earn while you learn. Foundation degrees were created to help bridge the gap between college and university, and bring more people from vocational routes into higher education.

FdAs are Level 5, so sit just below a Bachelor’s degree, but once you complete a Foundation degree, you’ll be able to ‘top-up’ to a full Honours degree with extra study when you’re ready.

Entry requirements vary depending on the subject. You might need qualifications such as A levels, or industry experience. Admission is usually assessed on an individual basis, to make sure you’ve got the required background knowledge and skills you need to complete the course.

Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Higher National Diploma (HND) – Level 4 and 5

Studying an HNC or HND can give you the theory and skills you need to succeed in your current or future job. A Higher National Certificate or Diploma is ideal whether you want to launch straight into your dream career, or jump-start further study by joining a degree programme mid-way through.

HNCs generally take a year to complete, and are equivalent to the first year of study of an Honours degree. HNDs take 2 years and are equivalent to the first 2 years of an Honours degree.

Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE) and Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) – Level 4 and 5

A CertHE or DipHE is a stand-alone qualification that’s usually awarded if you don’t want to commit to a full degree. You get a CertHE for 1 year of full-time study, worth 120 credits, and a DipHE for 2 years of full-time study, worth 240 credits.

A CertHE or DipHE might be useful for getting a job, depending on the profession, as they’re equivalent to other qualifications. For example, a DipHE in Business and Management is comparable to an NVQ 4 Diploma in Business and Administration.

You can use a CertHE or DipHE as a stepping stone to a full degree, and you might be able to skip 1 or 2 years of a degree course. You still need to make sure you meet the entry requirements of the course you’re interested in, and find out whether your previous studies are transferable.

Certificate of Education (CertEd) – Level 4

If you want to pursue a career as a teacher in further education or training, then you need a CertEd. It opens the door to teaching roles in colleges, sixth-forms, private training providers, public services and voluntary organisations. You can also top up your certificate to a BA (Hons) Education and Training degree with further study.

You need a level 3 qualification in your subject, such as A-Levels to get onto a CertEd course. It generally takes 1 year of full-time study, or 2 years part-time through our partner colleges.

Postgraduate study

Most of the time, if you’re looking to take your undergraduate studies to postgraduate level, you’ll come across information on taught Master’s degrees and PhDs. But there are lots of other postgraduate options to suit your time commitments and ambitions.

These are the different types of taught Postgraduate degrees, qualifications and awards. Our research degrees section explains the different types of research degrees you can do with us.

Master’s degree – Level 7

A Master’s is the most popular postgraduate qualification. Master’s degrees come with titles such as Master of Arts – MA, Master of Science – MSc, Master of Engineering – MEng, Master of Research – MRes and Master of Laws – LLM.

If you’ve got a Bachelor’s degree and want to continue your studies, a Master’s degree is the logical next step. Pursue a Master’s degree to enhance your skills and employability and to become an expert in your subject. It can also lead to further study, such as a PhD.

Generally, Master’s degrees take 1 to 2 years to complete. You need to produce an in-depth research or major project, totalling 180 credits. To qualify for a Master’s degree, you normally need an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject.

Master of Business Administration (MBA) – Level 7

An MBA is an internationally-recognised degree that develops skills for careers in business and management. It can also be used to open doors for a managerial career in other areas, such as the public sector, government, and private industry.

Earning an MBA can help professionals take on ambitious new roles, boost their salary expectations or provide the knowledge and skills necessary to start their own business.

To enrol on an MBA course, you usually need an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject. Typically, an MBA programme takes a year to complete, or 2 years if you choose to study part-time.

Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) – Level 7

A PGCE offers enhanced academic training to prepare you for a career in teaching. It usually takes 1 year to complete full-time, or 2 years part-time.

It combines theory and learning, with work experience, meaning you spend a good portion of your time in one of our partner schools, putting your teaching skills to work.

To enrol on a PGCE course, you need an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject, with entry requirements varying depending on the subject you want to teach.

Postgraduate Diploma (PgDip) and Postgraduate Certificate (PgCert) – Level 7

Shorter than a Master’s degree, but at the same level, a PgDip or PgCert is ideal if you want to take your undergraduate studies further, but don’t want to commit to something as intensive as a Master’s degree.

Many postgraduate diplomas and certificates are vocational, so if you have a career goal in mind and need a qualification to give you the edge, they’re the right choice for you. As these courses are shorter than Master’s degrees, they’re easier to fit around your current job.

A PgDip is worth 120 credits, and the shorter version, a PgCert, is worth 60. While they can be studied on their own, a PgCert can lead to a PgDip, which can lead to a full Master’s course. This means you can study to the level you want, with the option to continue your studies to the next stage.

You’ll see different awards on some of our postgraduate course pages, indicating you can study the course to various levels, for example: Educational Leadership and Management MSc/PgDip/PgCert.

You usually need a Bachelor’s degree to enrol on a PgDip or PgCert course, or an equivalent qualification. If you don’t have an undergraduate degree, but you do have relevant work experience, you might have the necessary skills and knowledge needed for postgraduate study. You’d need to discuss your eligibility with the admissions team for the course you’re interested in.

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