The UK qualification system can be complex. There are several levels and types of qualifications, which each offer you different things. Knowing which qualification is suitable for your goals is difficult, especially if you’re unsure on which employment field you want to enter. You might not even have known that professional qualifications are different from academic qualifications – this is actually surprisingly common!
A professional qualification is a program or type of qualification that teaches you job-specific skills intended to train you for a particular career. This is different from academic qualifications like GCSEs or an undergraduate degree, which give you a broader education in a general field of work.
Professional qualifications can normally be completed any time from post-graduation, although some may require you to have experience working in the field first. Professional qualification programs usually take between 1 and 5 years to complete. They are typically regulated and assessed by a relevant professional body, for example to become an accountant ACCA and ICAEW are often used.
If you’re still unsure on what a professional qualification is, don’t worry, you aren’t the only one! This article is here to give you everything you need to know about what counts as a professional qualification, the pros and cons, and more.
Table of Contents
What counts as a professional qualification?
Indeed defines professional qualifications as “designations you can earn through advanced career training”. Essentially, a professional qualification involves a program which will give you the skills needed to enter your employment field of choice.
Categorising qualifications is complicated, because there are some in the UK that are not professional qualifications but are still required to enter a profession. For example, on the University of Oxford website, “professional qualifications” are part of their own section, and are considered separate from other qualifications.
There is more on what exactly a professional qualification is as part of this Think Student article. Alternatively, to find out about the different non-professional qualifications in the UK, check out the government website.
What are the different professional qualifications in the UK?
Below is a table for the major qualifications you can achieve in the UK, and whether or not these count as a professional qualification.
|GCSE||A highly regarded and necessary qualification for employment, but not a professional qualification.|
|A-Level||Not a professional qualification. A-Levels are one of several pathways that open up the possibility of achieving a professional qualification but aren’t in their own right.|
|T-Levels||T-Levels are not a professional qualification. This is because they are taken at the same level as A-Levels, not post-graduation, as professional qualifications are. They take on average two years to complete and provide both a technical qualification and industry placement. To read more about T-Levels, the National Careers Service has more information.|
|BTEC||Like A-Levels, these are not a professional qualification, but still a qualification that can lead onto a professional qualification.|
|Apprenticeships||An apprenticeship is not a professional qualification, but does provide you with a qualification, available at a range of levels. You can read more about this on the government website, linked here.|
|Undergraduate degree||Again, like GCSEs and A-Levels, an undergraduate degree is an academic qualification but not a professional qualification.|
|Postgraduate degree||Some postgraduate degrees are professional qualifications, however, not all of them. There is a significant amount of overlap, rather than distinct categories of qualifications. For example, while Master’s degrees may sound like an academic qualification, many of them are accredited as professional qualifications.|
As you can see from the table, only postgraduate degrees count as professional qualifications. Academic qualifications are not the same as professional qualifications.
To read more about what kinds of postgraduate degrees count as professional qualifications, check out the University of St Andrews website linked here.
Below is another table, with examples of different types of professional qualifications in the UK.
|Higher National Certificate||A HNC is considered a professional qualification. Read more about this on the Northern Ireland government website, linked here.|
|NVQ||An NVQ is a professional qualification.|
|Higher National Diploma||A HND is also considered a professional qualification, and you can also read about this on the Northern Ireland government website.|
|QTS||A QTS is a professional qualification specific to the field of teaching.|
|MBA||An MBA is both a post-graduate (Masters) degree and a professional qualification; it is regarded as one of the more elite professional qualifications because it is also a degree.|
Often when you search online for professional qualifications, you will find that “vocational” qualifications are also mentioned. Check out this Think Student article for more information on vocational qualifications!
Alternatively, this Think Student article has some great information about QTS.
What are the benefits of a professional qualification?
A professional qualification is valuable because it is tailored to your specific employment field. This means that for jobs that are more niche than general degree subjects, such as accountancy or IT, there are still ways for you to earn job-specific skills.
Another good benefit of professional qualifications is obviously that they teach you skills that allow you to get ahead in competitive job markets. You’ll be better suited to jobs than other candidates, as you’ll have more of the skills employers are looking for.
What are the downsides of a professional qualification?
Probably the biggest downside of a professional qualification is that they are still expensive. Although they definitely aren’t as costly as a full-time degree, you’ll still need to spend some money if you want that professional training.
Another downside is that professional qualifications might not cover the profession you’re looking for. The most common professional qualifications are in fields such as accountancy, finance, IT, computing, etc. Therefore, professional qualifications still aren’t completely accessible.
Do professional qualifications go on your CV?
Yes! Professional qualifications are highly respected, and employers will definitely think more favourably of your applications if you have one. They are essentially an official way of saying you’ve got the skills for the job!
Professional qualifications are as valid as academic qualifications, so you should include them in your CV just as you would an undergraduate or postgraduate degree!
Although they can feel a bit like work experience since you’re using practical skills without getting paid, professional qualifications are highly valued by employers.
Is a professional qualification more important than a degree?
The short answer is no. Professional qualifications are most commonly accessed by achieving an undergraduate degree (or equivalent) first, so a professional qualification and a degree are about as equally important as one another.
Professional qualifications are good for demonstrating that you have the practical skills necessary for a job in your field. Degrees are good for demonstrating that you have knowledge and understanding applicable to your field. Therefore, they are evenly balanced.