Understanding academic study levels

Before settling down to apply for university, one of the first things you should consider is the type of course you should take. It's not just about the subject matter, you should think about the level at which you want to study and the qualification you want to achieve.

We provide a wide variety of courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level; which one you choose depends on your qualifications and your goals.

Undergraduate courses are designed for students whose highest qualification is A-level or for graduates who have decided to pursue a career that requires specialist knowledge in a particular subject. With an undergraduate course, you can earn course credits at levels four to six.

Undergraduate courses come in several different levels and varieties, but the most common is the honours degree. Click the links below to find out more about each type.

Honours degrees (BA, BSc, BEng or LLB)

An honours degree (also known as a bachelor's degree) is the most common choice of first degree. It involves three to four years of full-time study and is a requirement for many jobs.

There are four different varieties of honours degrees:

  • BA (Hons) or Bachelor of Arts
  • BSc (Hons) or Bachelor of Science
  • BEng (Hons) or Bachelor of Engineering
  • LLB or Bachelor of Laws

The entry requirements for honours degrees vary by subject and university, but they usually include at least two A-level passes. You can check the entry requirements for each course on its course page.

Foundation degrees (FdA or FdSc)

A foundation degree is a degree-level qualification which combines academic study with workplace learning. Designed with the input of employers, a foundation degree can give you the basic knowledge you need to gain employment in that field or to go on to further study.

Foundation degrees typically take two years to complete full time. After you've completed your foundation degree, you can take a top-up course, which gives you the opportunity to gain a full honours degree with just a further year of full-time study.

There are two types of foundation degrees:

  • FdA or Foundation Art
  • FdSc or Foundation Science

The entry requirements for foundation degrees vary by subject and university, but they usually include at least four GCSE passes at grade C and one pass at A2 or equivalent. You can check the entry requirements for each course on its course page.

Integrated Foundation Year

An Integrated Foundation Year (IFY) course is a four-year full-time course. The first year helps you to develop and extend your study skills in preparation for the next three years of degree-level study. After successfully completing the course, you will have a full honours degree.

The entry requirements for IFY courses vary by subject. You can check the entry requirements for each course on its course page.

Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE)

A Diploma of Higher Education is the equivalent of the first two years of an honours degree. Some courses are offered at DipHE level, however you can also receive this award if you leave university after successfully completing two years of a bachelor's degree.

The entry requirements for DipHE courses vary from subject to subject. You can check out the entry requirements for each course on its course page.

Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE)

A Certificate of Higher Education is the equivalent of the first year of an honours degree. Some courses are offered at CertHE level and can help to boost your qualifications when applying for a full honours degree. You can also receive this award if you leave university after successfully completing one year of a bachelor's degree.

The entry requirements for CertHE courses vary depending on the subject. You can check out the entry requirements for each course on its course page.

Continuing Professional Development (UA, UD, UAD or UC)

We have a number of courses at undergraduate level for students seeking to continue their professional development and take their careers to the next level. They can also be used as underpinning experience to boost your qualifications when applying for an honours degree.

These courses come in five types:

  • University Award (UA) - 40 credits at levels 4-7
  • University Diploma (UD) - 60 credits at level 5
  • University Advanced Diploma (UAD) - 60 credits at level 6
  • University Certificate (UC) - 60 credits at level 4

Postgraduate courses are for students who already have a university level qualification, ie. students who have already successfully completed an honours degree course or higher. With a postgraduate course, you can earn course credits at levels seven to eight.

A postgraduate qualification is a great way to stand out in the world of work and climb to the next rung on the career ladder. It can also give you the push you need to start a new career.

Postgraduate courses are delivered in two ways: taught degrees and research degrees.

Taught degrees

Taught degrees, as their name suggests, involve a mix of formal lectures, tutorials and individual research to specialism of your choice. They are usually one year full-time and two years part-time. Assessment is by examination and coursework.

Research degrees

Research degrees involve undertaking an in depth research project, usually on a single topic. There are generally no formal lectures to attend or modules to complete but students are support by a team of supervisors who have direct knowledge of the subject area. Research degrees can take four years full-time or five to seven years part-time.

There are two research degrees:

Both these higher degrees are awarded on the basis of a thesis which embodies the results of the student’s research, the MPhil thesis containing evidence of originality in scholarship and the PhD thesis being a longer work containing an original contribution to knowledge.

Masters degree (MA, MSc or MBA)

Taught degree

A masters degree is the most common form of postgraduate degree. Successful completion of a masters degree shows that you have a mastery of your chosen subject and looks brilliant on your CV.

It usually involves one to two years of full-time study (longer for part-time) with a number of taught elements, followed by a research project at the end.

There are three different varieties of masters degree available at the university:

  • MA or Master of Arts
  • MSc or Master of Science - this can be taken in a standard or an accelerated route
  • MBA or Master of Business Administration.

Visit our course search to discover our range of masters degrees.

Postgraduate Diploma (PgD)

A postgraduate diploma (PgD) is the equivalent of 120 credits at masters level or two-thirds of a masters degree. Some courses are offered at PgD level, but you can also receive this award if you leave the university before completing a masters.

A postgraduate diploma is a good option for students who are interested in some of the modules in a masters programme, but don't want to do the full programme.

Use our course search to discover our range of postgraduate diplomas.

Postgraduate Certificate (PgC)

Taught degree

A postgraduate certificate is the equivalent of 60 credits at masters level or a third of a masters degree. Some courses are offered at PgC level, but you can also receive this award if you leave the university before completing a masters.

A postgraduate certificate is a good option for students who are interested in some of the modules in a masters programme, but don't want to commit to the full programme.

Use our course search to discover our range of PgC courses.

Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)

Taught degree

A PGCE is an intensive one-year course which prepares you to become a primary or secondary school teacher. Our PGCE programme includes masters level study and at least 24 weeks of school placement. By the end of the course, you will achieve Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) which means you will be qualified to teach in England and Wales.

A PGCE can be taken either at the university or at one of our partner schools through School Direct.

The entry requirements for PGCE courses are usually an honours degree, completion of the professional skills tests and experience in a school. You can see the entry requirements in detail on the course pages.

What are course credits?

Academic institutions use course credits as a means of assessing the learning you have undertaken at school or university. For each academic qualification you achieve, from secondary school to university, you earn course credits.

The number of course credits reflects the study time required to complete a course and the credit levels indicate the complexity and depth of learning you can expect on the course. Credits can be earned from level one (eg. GCSE) to level eight (eg. PhD).

The tables below show how many course credits you will receive at each level of study.

Postgraduate

University Award LevelFHEQ Award LevelAwardNo. of credits
7 M Masters (Taught) (MA; MEd; MSc; MBA; LLM) 180
7 M Postgraduate Diploma (PgD) 120
7 M Postgraduate Certificate (PgC) 60
6 H Extended Graduate Diploma 180
6 H Graduate Diploma 120
6 H Graduate Certificate 60

Undergraduate

University Award LevelFHEQ Award LevelAwardNo. of credits
6 H Honours Degree (BA; BSc; B Eng; LLB(Hons)) 360 Total
(Comprising
120 L6
120 L5
120 L4)
6 H BA/BSc Top-up Degree (Hons) * 120
6 I Ordinary Degree (BA; BSc; BEng; LLB) 300 Total
(Comprising
60 L6
120 L5
120 L4)
6 I University Advanced Diploma 60
5 I Foundation Degree (FdA; FdSc; FdTech) 240 Total
(Comprising
120 L5
120 L4)
5 I Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) 240 Total
(Comprising
120 L5
120 L4)
5 I Diploma in Professional Studies (DPS) ** 120
5 I University Diploma 60
4 C Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE) 120
4 C University Certificate 60

*for entry to a Top-Up Degree, applicants must have 120 L4 and 120 L5 credits.
**for entry to a Diploma in Professional Studies, applicants must have 120 L4 credits.

Compulsory and Further Education

LevelExamples of Qualifications
3 Level 3 NVQ, Level 3 Key Skills
BTEC National Diplomas, Certificates and Awards
A/AS/A2 Levels
2 Level 2 NVQ, Level 2 Key Skills
BTEC First Diplomas, Certificates and Awards
GCSEs grades A* - C
1 Level 2 NVQ, Level 2 Key Skills
BTEC Introductory Diplomas, Certificates and Awards
GCSEs grades D - G
Entry Entry Level Literacy and Numeracy
BTEC Certificates in Life Skills
BTEC Certificates in Skills for Working Life