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Choosing what to study

Types of degrees in the UK

Learn about the different types of degrees at undergraduate and postgraduate level that you can choose from when applying to university.

Student holding their degree at graduation

CONTENTS

  1. What’s the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate?

  2. Undergraduate degrees

  3. Postgraduate degrees

  4. Other qualifications and degree courses

What’s the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate?

While both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are higher education qualifications, only undergraduate degrees are available to students once they finish school. Undergraduate degrees are either level 4, 5 or 6 qualifications, with postgraduate degrees sitting at level 7 or 8. You’re typically only eligible for a postgraduate degree once you’ve completed an undergraduate degree.

Studying an undergraduate degree usually involves broadly covering different areas of a subject, whereas postgraduate degrees are about specialising within a particular area of that subject. Postgraduate degrees are also more self-driven and research-intensive, with less lectures, tutorials and labs in most cases. Unless you’re doing a PhD, postgraduate courses generally take less time to complete.

Undergraduate degrees

What is an undergraduate degree?

An undergraduate degree is the next level of qualification that typically comes after finishing school. They’re often a student’s first degree, studied at university or another higher education provider. Students either move into employment or further study once they’ve completed an undergraduate degree.

There are different undergraduate courses you can study:

Bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree involves studying one, or sometimes two, subjects in detail. It’s the most common undergraduate degree in the UK and is a level 6 qualification. Typical classifications include:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA)
  • Bachelor of Science (BSc)
  • Bachelor of Education (BEd)
  • Bachelor of Engineering (BEng)
  • Bachelor of Laws (LLB)
  • Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MB ChB)

Choosing to study one major subject is known as a single honours degree. This also includes a bachelor’s degree with one major subject and a minor subject, such as Psychology with Criminology or Law with International Relations.

Studying two or three major subjects as part of a bachelor’s degree is called a combined or joint honours degree. You’ll pick several modules per subject, rather than doing every module for each subject. Each subject you take will hold equal weight towards your final degree grade. Examples of joint honours degrees include Law & Spanish or Accounting & Business.

How long it takes to study

It’ll typically take three years if you’re studying full-time. Some courses, such as those with a year abroad or with a placement year, can take four years. Medicine or Architecture can take up to five years. Your degree will take longer if you study part-time.

Qualifications required

Most universities and higher education institutions will ask for A Levels or equivalent (such as BTECs, International Baccalaureate or Scottish Highers), along with minimum GCSE grades. Grades needed will vary depending on subject and uni.

Fees

UK students that choose to study in the UK will pay no more than £9,250 per year. International students pay between £10,000 and £20,000 per year.

You can find specific details on entry requirements, fees and assessments for any bachelor’s degree by using our course search.

Foundation year/foundation diploma

A foundation diploma, or a foundation year, is an introductory course designed to bridge the gap between finishing school and starting a bachelor’s degree. This one-year qualification is for students who didn’t meet the entry requirements for a bachelor’s degree and is offered by most universities or further education (FE) colleges.

How long it takes to study

A foundation diploma or a foundation year will only take one year studying full-time.

Qualifications required

Entry requirements are much lower than a bachelor’s degree. Many courses will also accept non-traditional qualifications. Specific qualifications will vary by course and institution.

Fees

Expect to pay the same price per year as a bachelor’s degree. This will be up to £9,250 for UK students, and more for international students.

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Foundation degree

A foundation degree (FdA), different from a foundation year or a foundation diploma, is a level 5 qualification that has an emphasis on practical-based learning. They’re equivalent to the first two years of a bachelor’s degree and usually involve a mix of academic study and workplace experience. Students either go straight into work after a foundation degree or move into the final year of a bachelor’s.

How long it takes to study

Two years if you’re studying full-time. Part-time will be three to four years.

Qualifications required

Entry requirements vary by course and institution. Some will require certain GCSEs and A Levels (or equivalent), while others prioritise workplace learning.  

Fees

Foundation degrees are on average £2,600 per year, but this varies by course and institution. Your employer may help cover the cost of fees if you’re already employed.

Find the specific entry requirements, fees and assessment details for any foundation degree through our course search.

Top-up degree

A top-up degree is for students looking to complete the final year of a bachelor’s degree. Students who’ve done a level 5 qualification, such as a foundation degree, choose this path to upgrade their qualification to a full degree.

How long it takes to study

You’ll complete a top-up degree in one year if studying full-time. Part-time students usually take 18 months.

Qualifications required

You’ll need to have finished a two-year qualification, which could be a foundation degree, a Higher National Diploma or a level 5 Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) course. Most universities will want this qualification to be in the same subject as the top-up degree.

Fees

A top-up degree will cost about the same as one year of a bachelor’s degree. This will be no more than £9,250 for UK students but international students will pay more.

Use our course search to find the specific entry requirements, fees and assessment details for any top-up degree.

Higher National Certificate

A Higher National Certificate (HNC) is a one-year undergraduate equivalent to the first year of university. It’s a level 4 practical-based qualification taken by those wanting to either train for a specific career or move into the second year of a bachelor’s degree.

How long it takes to study

HNCs take one year to complete when studying full-time, and two years if studying part-time.

Qualifications required

The entry requirements tend to be lower than a bachelor’s degree. You’ll need one or two A Levels, or equivalent qualification.

Fees

An HNC course will cost between £4,000 and £8,000 a year for UK students, depending on where and what you study. Fees can be more expensive for international students.

You can use our course search to find the specific fees, along with entry requirements and assessment details, for any HNC course.

Higher National Diploma

A Higher National Diploma (HND) is similar to an HNC, but it’s a two-year level 5 qualification equivalent to the first two years of a bachelor’s degree. This vocational qualification is designed for those wishing to learn skills in a practical area or to enter the third year of a bachelor’s degree upon completion.

How long it takes to study

HNDs take two years for full-time students, and anywhere between three and four years for part-time students.

Qualifications required

Like an HNC, entry requirements are often lower than a bachelor’s degree. Most courses will want you to have at least one or two A Levels, or an equivalent qualification.

Fees

Each year will cost between £4,000 to £8,000 if you’re a UK student. Fees in Scotland can be as low as £1,285. International students are charged more than domestic students.

Our course search will take you to the course pages, where you can find specific details on fees, as well as required qualifications and how you’ll be assessed during the course.

Certificate of Higher Education

This level 4 vocational qualification is ideal for those unable to commit to a full three-year degree. It’s equivalent to both an HNC and the first year of a bachelor’s degree, often used by students to progress into further study. A Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE) tends to be more academic- than practical-based.

How long it takes to study

Studying full-time will take one year, with part-time taking two. Some universities offer the option to fast-track your studies, meaning it may only take you six months. You’ll need to check this first with the university you’re applying to.

Qualifications required

Although some courses will require A Levels or equivalent, others have no prerequisite entry requirements. You may need at least a C in GCSE English, and some subjects such as Design or Photography will want a portfolio of your work.

Fees

A CertHE should cost the same as one year of a bachelor’s degree. This will be up to £9,250 for UK students and more for international students.

Visit our course search to find specific course fees, along with the qualifications you’ll need and the assessment details for each course.

Diploma of Higher Education

A Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) is a level 5 qualification holding the same weight as an HND or two years of a bachelor’s degree. Learning will be based more academically than practically and completing a DipHE will allow you to move onto the final year of a bachelor’s degree.

How long it takes to study

Studying a DipHE full-time will take two years. Part-time study will take longer.

Qualifications required

These are the same as for a CertHE. Remember that they can vary based on what you study and where.

Fees

Each year will cost up to £9,250 for UK students and more for international students – the same as a bachelor’s degree.

For full details on course entry requirements, fees and assessments, use our course search and find the specific page of the course you’re interested in.

Certificate of Continuing Education (CertCE)

A CertHE qualification is for those after a taste of higher education. It equates to 60 undergraduate degree credits, so about half a year of study, and can lead into a full undergraduate degree. It takes between eight months and a year to complete and will cost less than a full year of a bachelor’s degree.

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Postgraduate degrees

What is a postgraduate degree?

A postgraduate degree is the next level of study after an undergraduate degree. It can be a level 7 or level 8 qualification, where you’ll begin to specialise in a specific area of the subject you studied as an undergraduate student.

Postgraduate degrees are either ‘taught’ or ‘research’. Taught degrees often involve lectures, tutorials and labs like an undergraduate degree. Academic tutors mostly lead this teaching and types of taught postgraduate degrees include master’s degrees, postgraduate certificates and diplomas.

Research degrees are for those looking for more independent study. Guided by an academic tutor or professor, you’ll conduct your own academic research based on an original research question you’ve come up with. Types of research degrees include doctorates and some master’s courses.

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Master’s degree

A master’s degree is the most widely studied degree at postgraduate level. It’s a level 7 qualification that you can take upon completing a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. Common master’s degrees include:

  • Master of Arts (MA)
  • Master of Science (MSc)
  • Master of Engineering (MEng)
  • Master of Education (MEd)
  • Master of Research (MRes)
  • Master of Philosophy (MPhil)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Masters Degree in Law (LLM)

Taught master’s degrees are most common, but some universities also offer research master’s. A research master’s is more self-driven and independent, focused on completing a research project.

Those wishing to study a doctorate (PhD) must first complete a master’s.

How long it takes to study

A master’s degree will usually take one year if studying full-time, but two years if doing part-time. Some undergraduate courses have a master’s degree included. These degrees take four years if studying full-time.

Qualifications required

Most master’s degrees will ask for at least a 2:2 bachelor’s degree in a related subject. Some courses will want a 2:1 or higher. International students will need to have the academic equivalent, which will be listed on the course page of the university’s website.

Fees

Costs will vary based on what you choose to study and where. One year of a master’s degree could be anywhere between £4,000 and £30,000 for UK students, with the average price being around £8,000 to £11,000 per year. Prices are much higher for international students.

Full details on specific fees, qualifications needed and how you’ll be assessed for any master’s degree can be found using our course search.

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Master of Business Administration

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a level 7 postgraduate qualification ideal for those looking to advance their knowledge of business. You’ll choose from several optional modules, alongside a dissertation or work-based project. Many courses also offer the chance to study abroad or get workplace experience.

How long it takes to study

Most MBA courses will take between 12 and 15 months if studying full-time. Accelerated or online courses may take even less time. Studying part-time can take up to two years, which is a common option as many students prefer to work while they study.

Qualifications required

A 2:1 bachelor’s degree in any subject is a prerequisite for most MBA courses. You may also need two or three years of work experience in a business role. If you have significant work experience, but don’t have a 2:1, you may still be considered. Most MBA courses will ask you to sit the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) as part of your application.

Fees

MBAs typically fall within the range of £15,000 to £40,000. UK and EU student prices won’t vary too much, however international students may be charged more depending on the course.

To find out exact fees, qualifications needed and assessment details for any MBA course, head over to our course search and start exploring.

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Master’s Degree in Law

A Master’s Degree in Law (LLM) is a level 7 postgraduate qualification for students wanting to study a particular area of Law, such as criminal litigation or environmental law. These courses are generally taught as opposed to research-based, meaning you’ll select the modules that interest you and have a dissertation or research project to complete.

How long it takes to study

Studying full-time should take you one year to complete, but some courses can be slightly longer. Doing part-time or taking an online course can take up to two years.

Qualifications required

You’ll need a Law degree, whether that’s an LLB or a postgraduate Law conversion course. Most LLM courses will ask for a 2:1 bachelor’s degree, but some may accept a 2:2 with relevant work experience.

Fees

LLM courses will fall within the range of £10,000 to £20,000, depending on where you choose to study. Prices will be higher for international students.

Full details on specific course fees, qualifications needed and how you’ll be assessed for any LLM course can be found using our course search.

Doctorate

A doctorate is the top postgraduate-level qualification you can earn. This level 8 qualification consists of both research and academic learning but is predominantly research-focused. You’ll spend the entire course working on an independent thesis, based on an original research proposal you put forward.

There are two common types of doctorate degrees. The first of these are academic doctorate degrees which focus on conducting original research to expand knowledge within a particular subject area. These include PhD and DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy).

There are also professional doctorate degrees, which involve research and broadening knowledge but incorporate more practical learning, such as MD (Doctor of Medicine) or PhD(Eng)/EngD (Doctor of Engineering).

How long it takes to study

Full-time students finish their PhD in three to four years. Institutions can allow up to four years for thesis-deadline extensions, but this is judged on a case-by-case basis. Those studying part-time can take up to six or seven years to complete their PhD.

Qualifications required

A 2:1 bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject is essential. Most PhDs will also want you to have completed your master’s. You may be asked for evidence of research work and your knowledge of research procedures. You’ll also need to submit a detailed research proposal of what you’d like to study for your thesis.

Fees

Doctorate fees sit between £3,000 and £6,000 per year for UK and EU students, and more for non-EU students. Each year UK universities receive £4,237 for each funded PhD student from the UK Research Councils, which is why most PhD students are part or fully funded. Many grants, bursaries and scholarships are also available

Key information on specific fees and qualifications required for any PhD course can be found by using our course search and finding the relevant course page.

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Postgraduate Certificate/Postgraduate Diploma

A Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) is a level 7 qualification for those looking to bolster their future career prospects without committing to a master’s degree. They’re studied at the master’s level but are shorter and don't require a dissertation or research project. A PGCert is worth 60 credits towards a master’s degree. You need 180 credits to graduate with a master’s.

A Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) is like a PGCert but twice as long. This level 7 qualification is worth 120 credits towards a master’s and is an ideal steppingstone towards future career prospects or even a master’s degree.

Both qualifications are usually offered within a master’s degree. A PGCert is seen as equivalent to one-third of a master’s degree, with a PGDip being equivalent to two-thirds. Some master’s programmes will let you upgrade your PGDip into a master’s by completing a dissertation or research project.

How long it takes to study

PGCerts will usually take 1 term to complete, which is about 15 weeks. PGDips are twice as long, so can take up to 2 terms or 30 weeks.

Qualifications required

A 2:1 bachelor’s degree will be required for most PGCerts and PGDips. Some may only ask for a 2:2 in a relevant subject. Entry requirements tend to be like the course's master’s equivalent.

Fees

Expect to pay less than the course’s master’s equivalent. PGCerts are around £3,000, with PGDips sitting around £5,000. This is for UK and EU students. International students will have to pay more.

Postgraduate Certificate in Education/Postgraduate Diploma in Education

A Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) is a level 7 qualification for students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland interested in teaching. A PGCE course allows you to earn Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) and therefore teach around the world. There will be a mix of academic learning and practical experience through placements.

A Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) is the equivalent teaching qualification for students in Scotland.

How long it takes to study

Courses will take one year if you choose to study full-time, or up to two years if doing part-time.

Qualifications required

At least a 2:2 bachelor’s degree or equivalent will be required for most courses. You’ll also need a grade C/4 or above in GCSE English, Maths and sometimes a science-related subject. Some courses will want you to have particular work experience, and you may have to fill out a Medical Fitness questionnaire and pass a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check if in England or Wales.

Fees

All UK and EU students can expect to pay the standard tuition fee of £9,250 per year. International students will pay more.

Specific details on course fees, qualifications needed, and assessments can be found using our course search and locating the course page.

Conversion courses

A conversion course is ideal for any student wanting to change careers. They’re a postgraduate qualification allowing you to study a subject that you didn’t study as part of your undergraduate degree. Most are taught degrees and are condensed versions of an undergraduate degree. Students also take conversion courses to go into further study at the master’s level.

How long it takes to study

Most courses will take one year to complete if studying full-time. An online conversion course can take even less time, while part-time study can take longer.

Qualifications required

A 2:1 bachelor’s degree in any subject will be sufficient for most conversion courses. Having a 2:2, coupled with relevant work experience, could also be enough.

Fees

Fees will differ based on what course you choose. You should expect to pay around the same price as one year of a bachelor’s degree, which is £9,250 per year.

Any specific details on course fees, qualifications required or how you'll be assessed for any conversion course can be found using our course search.

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Other qualifications and degree courses

National Vocational Qualification

A National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) is a practical-based qualification allowing students to prepare for the workplace. They focus on the practical skills needed for those currently in part-time or full-time work and you must be already employed to enrol.

NVQs are awarded up to 6 levels. Studying at level 4 and 5 is equivalent to one-third and two-thirds of a bachelor’s degree respectively, with level 6 being equivalent to a full bachelor’s degree.

The time it takes to complete an NVQ varies, as you complete the modules when you’re ready. You’re assessed through portfolio work or being observed while at work.

Access to Higher Education Diploma

Taught at further education (FE) colleges, this level 3 qualification is for those students, aged 19 or over, who left school without any traditional qualifications but wish to enrol in university. It prepares students for degree-level study, with universities seeing this qualification as equivalent to A Levels, BTECs, International Baccalaureate and Advanced Highers.

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Degree apprenticeship

Degree apprenticeships allow you to study towards a bachelor’s or master’s degree part-time while also working. They can take between three and six years to complete and are offered by universities in partnership with companies and professional bodies. You won’t be required to fund your degree apprenticeship, as both your employer and the government will do so.

Accelerated degree

An accelerated degree allows you to complete your bachelor’s degree in a shorter period. This will mean completing a three-year degree in two years, or a four-year degree in three. You’ll be taught the same content as you would in a normal bachelor’s degree, but you’ll have less holiday.

The fees can be more expensive than a bachelor’s degree, but remember, you’ll be saving on an extra year of accommodation and day-to-day living.

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Degree with placement year

Referred to as a ‘sandwich year’, this qualification is typically a four-year degree with the third year spent either studying abroad or working in a placement. This is a great opportunity to gain valuable experience learning in a new country or working in the sector you wish to be employed in.

The fees per year, and the qualifications needed to gain entry onto a degree with a placement year, will be the same as the bachelor’s equivalent.

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