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Choosing what to study

What’s an Access to Higher Education Diploma?

Don’t have the qualifications needed for entry to higher education? Consider an Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma.

Student with laptop researching higher education


  1. Access to Higher Education Diplomas – who are they for?

  2. Why study an Access to HE Diploma?

  3. How much does an Access to HE Diploma cost? Is there funding available?

  4. Where are Access to HE Diplomas taught?

  5. What’s the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP)?

Access to Higher Education Diplomas – who are they for?

Access to HE Diplomas are open to anyone aged 19 and over and are mainly taught at Further Education (FE) colleges. They’re widely recognised by UK universities as alternatives to 'traditional' qualifications for entry into undergraduate courses.

If you left school without A Levels (or an equivalent) but decide you want to go to university, Access to HE Diplomas are the perfect solution. 

Why study an Access to HE Diploma?

Re-entering education after any period away can be daunting. If you decide to take this step, Access to HE Diplomas can be an ideal route back into education for several reasons:

  • Courses are flexible – you can complete the diploma through full-time study in one year, study part-time, take two or more years or take a fast-track course of just two terms, working around any other commitments such as a job or family
  • You can choose from a range of subjects, in all parts of the UK
  • It’s a legitimate route into higher education – universities are directly involved in the creation of courses and many actively encourage applications from Access to HE Diploma holders
  • The Access to HE diploma is also part of the UCAS Tariff so it generates a score on a par with A Levels or BTEC courses

How much does an Access to HE Diploma cost? Is there funding available?

There are normally fees to pay – depending on where, what and how you’re studying your course, it could cost you over £3,000. However, don’t let this put you off, as there are funding options available.

You can apply for the Advanced Learner Loan if you’re over 19. There are also various other scholarships and bursaries depending on your personal circumstances and the college you’re studying at, or for example, if you're transferring to university from the armed forces. 

When choosing your Access to HE Diploma course, check what financial support is available at any college you’re considering.

Where are Access to HE Diplomas taught?

They're offered at Further Education (FE) colleges in every region of England and Wales, and there’s also one course taught at an FE college in Northern Ireland. Individual universities in Northern Ireland also run access courses for entry into its undergraduate courses.

What’s the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP)?

Access to HE Diplomas aren’t taught in Scotland, but there are very similar courses available there through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP).

SWAP courses are full-time, year-long courses for adults who’ve been out of education for at least three years and have no qualifications above SCQF level 5 (National 5/SVQ 2). They’re currently available at 18 colleges across Scotland.

These courses are free to study and in most cases you’ll be eligible for a college bursary to help with living costs. As well as SWAP courses, many Scottish universities also run their own access programmes.

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