Leicester College Blog

Guide to UK Qualifications


With the breadth and choice of qualifications available it can be confusing deciding what to do after you’ve completed your GCSEs. Our quick guide highlights some of the qualification types available and what different education levels mean.

Qualification levels

After GCSEs many people go on to study a level 3 qualification, such as A levels, T levels or BTECs. However you may want to focus your studies in a specific area and may therefore need to study at level 1 or 2 to gain the correct knowledge and experience to progress in your chosen career.


This level of qualification provides a basic introduction to the subjects. These are lower than GCSE level.

Level 1

An introduction into general work and practical hands-on activities. Equivalent to GCSEs grades 1-3, Functional skills, BTEC level 1, BTEC introductory certificate/diploma, NVQ level 1, VRQ level 1 Foundation diploma.

Level 2

Provide a good knowledge and understanding of a subject and require the learner to do a variety of tasks with some guidance or supervision. The qualifications gained at this level are suitable for many job roles. Equivalent to GCSEs grade 4-9, Intermediate apprenticeship, BTEC level 2, BTEC First certificate/diploma, Pre-access to Higher Education, NVQ level 2, VRQ level 2.

Level 3

If you’re planning on going to university getting your level 3 qualification is important. Level 3 qualifications enable you to gain or apply a range of knowledge, skills and understanding at a detailed level. At this level, many qualifications (including BTECS) will earn you UCAS points for entry into higher education. Qualifications at this level include A and A2 Level, T levels, BTEC Level 3 Award/Certificate/Diploma and Extended Diploma, Vocational Certificate of Education (VCE), Access to Higher Education, NVQ Level 3, Advanced Apprenticeship Education, and Training Award Level 3.

Level 4

This is a higher education level qualification, equivalent to the first year of a university degree course. Study at this level requires a good level of independent study. Qualifications include Higher National Certificate, NVQ level 4, and Higher apprenticeship.

Level 5

This is equivalent to the second year of a university degree course. These qualifications are highly regarded by employers. Qualifications include Foundation degree, High National Diploma, Higher apprenticeship.

Level 6

This is a full university degree at the end of which you will achieve BA honours degree or BSC honours. This can be through full or part time study or through degree apprenticeship.

Qualifications Explained

At Leicester College, we offer a wide range of qualifications including

  • T levels

T levels are a new type of two-year vocational qualification, which are the same level as A Levels, that will set you on the path to your chosen career. A key part of the qualification is an industry placement – which will help you get ready for work. They will last at least 45 days and depending on the course may be undertaken as a block or as individual days.  

  • BTEC Business and Technology Education Council

BTECs are vocational and work-related courses, designed to accommodate the needs of employers and allow students to progress to further and higher education. A BTEC takes a practical approach to learning, without missing any of the important theory on the subject. They can be studied at level 1, 2 and 3. Level 3 BTECs are an alternative to A Levels and give you the relevant UCAS points to progress to higher education. With a BTEC Extended Diploma you potentially gain 168 UCAS points – the same as 3 A*s at A level.

  • NVQ National Vocational Qualification

NVQs are great if you know what job you would like to do. You can start at a level that suits you and work your way up. There are no age limits or special entry requirements, although you may have to work your way up the levels. You can do NVQs in various subjects at all levels. You obtain the qualification by completing units step-by-step.

  • Higher National Certificates (HNC) and Higher National Diplomas (HND)

HNCs and HNDs are roughly equivalent to one or two years of degree. They are work-related higher education qualifications with a focus on practical skills and specialist knowledge related to the industry/sector of choice. They are highly valued by employers both in the UK and overseas. They were developed to give students the opportunity to easily “top-up” to an honours degree.

  • Foundation Degrees

Foundation Degrees are higher education qualifications designed to equip you with the skills needed for a particular area of work. As with other higher education courses students are able to apply for financial support. Once the Foundation Degree is complete students can apply to progress on to the final year of an Honours degree programme in a relevant subject.

  • Bachelor’s Degree

Degrees are normally taken after A-levels, Foundation Degrees, HND/HNC or BTECs. There are entry requirements of some form of all degree subjects. Most degrees are taught at university, although you can study some at colleges like Leicester College or as a distance learning course. A bachelor’s degree usually lasts three to four years full-time or six to nine years part-time.


To start an apprenticeship you must be 16 or over and not in full-time education. Apprentices study for qualifications while working and they learn the skills they need for the job they are doing. There are different levels of apprenticeships from Intermediate which is equivalent to 5 GCSEs to a full degree.

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