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With so many qualifications to choose from, it can be really daunting trying to find the right one for you. We understand this and have put together the following information, which we hope will help you to choose the right path. 


To start with, it's important to understand levels and which level is right for you:

Entry Levels

Lower than GCSEs and are available at three sub-levels - 1, 2 and 3.

Entry level 3 is the most difficult.

Level 1

Equivalent to GCSE grades 3, 2, 1 or D, E, F, G.

You would typically take a Level 1 course if you do not have the GCSE grades to start at a Level 2, or if you are studying a skilled subject such as professional cookery or a building trade, as you would need to learn these skills from the beginning. They are basic qualifications that build confidence and provide students with essential and functional skills.

Level 2

Equivalent to GCSE grades 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 or grades A*, A, B, C.

These qualifications can provide students with a deeper understanding of a subject or area of work.

Completion of a Level 2 course or 5 GCSEs at grade 4 (C) and above will allow you to move onto a Level 3 course.

Level 3

Equivalent to 3 A-Levels. These qualifications include AS and A-Levels, NVQ Level 3s, BTEC Nationals and so on.

Level 3 qualifications are required for entry into a university and employers can look for this level qualification in applicants when hiring for a technical or supervisory role.

Level 4

Equivalent to the first year of a university degree programme and and usually HNCs.

As these are university level courses, they are classed as Higher Education (HE) rather than Further Education (FE) qualifications.

Level 5

Equivalent to the second year of a university degree programme.

These are usually HNDs or Foundation Degrees (which combine Level 4 and 5 over 2 years).

Once a Level 5 qualification is complete, you normally have an option to top up your qualification to a full degree at a university, if you want to. 


  • A-Levels

    GCE (General Certificate of Education) A-Levels are subject-based qualifications that are studied over two years. Normally, students take three or four A-Level subjects in their first year, dropping to three in their second year. These are academic qualifications, they are classroom-based and are mostly assessed by exams.

  • Vocational courses - BTECs, Diplomas, T-Levels etc.

    Vocational courses refer to several different qualifications, including: BTEC, UAL, NVQ and AAT. 

    Whereas A-Levels set you up for a more academic pathway, vocational course prepare you for a vocation (occupation/employment). These courses tend to start at Entry Level, which provides students will progression opportunities. For example, if you do not meet the entry requirements to start on a Level 3 course, you can start at a Level 1 or 2 and work your way up. 

    Vocational courses focus on providing you with the knowledge and skills you need to go into the workplace. Assessments are largely coursework-based, although some will exams, including practical assessments. 

    It is often thought that you are only able to go to university if you study A-Levels, this is not true. Many universities will accept a Level 3 qualification. We would suggest that if you have a career path in mind, that you check the university entry requirements. 


    T-Levels are an alternative to A-Levels, apprenticeships and other 16 to 19 courses. Equivalent in size to 3 A-Levels, a T-Level focuses on vocational skills and can help students into skilled employment, higher study or apprenticeships.

    Each T-Level includes an in-depth industry placement that lasts at least 45 days. Students get valuable experience in the workplace; employers get early sight of the new talent in their industry.

    T-Level students spend 80% of the course in their learning environment, gaining the skills that employers need. The other 20% is a meaningful industry placement, where they put these skills into action.

  • Apprenticeships

    Apprenticeships combine real work with training and study. Being an apprentice isn’t the same as being a college or university student. You won’t just study and gain new knowledge. As an apprentice, you’ll be putting what you learn straight into practice. Apprenticeships are available from Level 2 all the way up to Level 6, so it is possible to gain a degree level qualification, without the tuition fees and loans.

    Apprenticeships vary from job sector to sector, depending on the needs of the employer. Most Apprenticeships will be 80% the job and 20% study. This could mean that you are in college one day a week, or it could mean that you designate 20% of your working week to your study and an accessor will come to your workplace.  Either way, you will have support throughout your apprenticeship. 

  • Access to Higher Education

    The Access to Higher Education Diploma is a qualification which prepares people without traditional qualifications for study at university. Access to HE courses are delivered by colleges in England and Wales, and are available in a range of different subjects, such as art and design, science and computing.

  • Higher Education

    Higher Education (HE) refers to education from Level 4 and upwards. This is usually seen as university education, although not all Higher Education courses are taken at university. Colleges offer Higher Education in the form of vocational courses and Apprenticeships (see above). The difference is vocational HE courses provide a style of education that is more practical than the traditional route and provides the skills and knowledge for the workplace. 

    HE qualifications offered at colleges usually include:

    • Higher National Certificates/Diplomas (HNC/Ds) 
    • Foundation Degrees
    • Apprenticeship Degrees
    • Professional qualifications.