What Are the Different Types of University Degrees?

In General, University by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

Lots of people talk generally about university degrees, but this doesn’t mean one set thing – there are actually lots of different types of degree in the UK. While there are some more common types that most people have heard of, like a bachelor’s degree, there are lots of other qualifications available in further and higher education. What is the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate degrees? What do abbreviations like BA and MEng stand for? Where do qualifications like HNCs and DipHEs fit in?

In the UK, there are many different types of degree and different programmes that can be studied at university. These can come under the umbrella terms of undergraduate degrees, postgraduate degrees and doctorate degrees and range from level 4 to level 8.

This article will answer all these questions and more, as a guide to the many different degree types in the UK.

What is an undergraduate degree?

The term undergraduate degree is actually an umbrella term that covers a wide range of different forms of degree and programmes, that can be studied at university. However, what all of these qualifications have in common is that they are at the lowest levels of qualification that can be studied at university and don’t require students to already have a degree to be studied.

You can learn about the different types of undergraduate degree or undergraduate university programmes in the following sections. Check out this Think Student article to learn more about what undergraduate degrees are.

What is a bachelor’s degree?

When most people talk about degrees in the UK, they are referring to bachelor’s degrees. Most people planning to go to university straight after finishing school will be applying for these undergraduate courses.

That being said, you can apply to do a bachelor’s degree as a mature student. There are also other degree courses you can apply for straight out of school, such as a HNC or foundation degree, which we talk more about later in this article!

These degrees are normally three years long, although they will be more if you are studying part-time. Some courses may also be four years long if they include things such as a year abroad or placement year.

Completing a full bachelor’s degree gets you a level 6 qualification in England. Check out this page of the government website for more information on how qualifications in England are assigned a certain level.

People do a whole range of things after a bachelor’s degree. Some go into a related field of work, while others get a job completely unrelated to their degree subject, and others go into further study at postgraduate level.

You may have heard of a few different abbreviations to refer to a bachelor’s degree, such as a BA. These refer to the subject studied. For instance, BA stands for Bachelor of Arts, and is commonly used for humanities degrees – you might be studying towards a BA in History.

Other common degree acronyms include BSc (Bachelor of Science) and LLB (Bachelor of Laws). However, these degrees aren’t worth any more or less than each other – they are all Level 6 bachelor’s degrees.

Finally, you may have seen degrees written as BA (Hons). The ‘Hons’ stands for honours, and it refers to a degree course that is a little harder or more intense than a bachelor’s degree without honours.

Most degree courses in the UK are now honours courses. For more information on this, have a look at this Think Student article.

What is a joint honours degree?

In most cases, you study just one subject at university. However, it is possible to study two subjects, and this is called a joint honours course.

Exactly what subjects are offered depends on the university, but there are a large number of combinations available. For instance, you could take English and Psychology, or Spanish and History.

Typically, these courses are at the level of a bachelor’s degree. They work in a similar way, taking three years to complete, and are worth the same.

The main difference is that you will take a range of modules in both courses, instead of just one. This is then combined into one degree qualification.

Have a look at this article from WhatUni for a full guide to joint honours degrees.

What is a foundation degree?

A foundation degree is an undergraduate level 5 university qualification, worth two-thirds of a standard bachelor’s degree. It typically takes two years to complete, and places an emphasis on workplace experience and vocational skills alongside regular university study.

They can be a great option for people who aren’t sure whether to commit to a full three-year degree, or don’t quite meet typical university entry requirements. For more on foundation degrees, check out this Think Student article.

Don’t confuse this with a foundation year, which is an extra year at the start of a bachelor’s degree, with lower entry requirements, that helps with the transition from school to university. Click here for more information about foundation years from Think Student.

What is a HNC and a HND?

HNC stands for Higher National Certificate. This isn’t actually a degree, but it is an undergraduate level 4 qualification, so is equivalent to the first year of a bachelor’s degree. It also normally takes one year to complete.

A HNC is a vocational qualification, so you are studying with emphasis on workplace skills and a particular career area in mind. They are usually studied for in further education colleges rather than universities, although some universities do run them.

HNCs are a great option if you want a shorter route into a career than university, but still want some sort of qualification beyond school level.

They also normally have lower entry requirements than bachelor’s degrees, so can be used as a stepping stone into university. Once you’ve completed a HNC, many university courses will allow you to apply to a bachelor’s programme, starting in the second year of the course.

A HND (Higher National Diploma) is actually a very similar concept to a HNC – it is a vocational further education qualification. However, it normally takes two years to complete instead of one, and is a level 5 qualification, equivalent to the first two thirds of a bachelor’s degree.

If you want more information about HNC and HND qualifications, check out this guide from Think Student.

What is a CertHE and a DipHE?

A Certificate of Higher Education is also an undergraduate level 4 qualification that is essentially the first year of a bachelor’s degree. In fact, if you enrol on a three-year bachelor’s course but only finish first year, you may be able to still receive a CertHE qualification.

The difference between a HNC and a CertHE confuses some people, as both are one-year level 4 qualifications. In short, a CertHE is much more academic and usually studied for in university, while a HNC is more vocational. For more on this, check out this Think Student article.

As with a HNC, a CertHE can be a useful pathway into university. You might apply for a CertHE, if it has lower entry requirements than a full degree course, and then use this to move on to a bachelor’s degree in the second year.

For a full guide to the CertHE, have a look at this Think Student article.

A DipHE (Diploma of Higher Education) is similar to a CertHE, except it normally takes two years to complete. The qualification is essentially the first two years of a bachelor’s degree, so a level 5 qualification.

What is a top up degree?

We’ve mentioned a few qualifications that are equivalent to a fraction of a full bachelor’s degree. Having one of these should then let you apply to finish the full bachelor’s course if you want to at a later point, and this would be known as a top up degree.

For example, you might have a foundation degree or HND and go into work, but later decide that you want to get a full BA or BSc qualification. Rather than doing another three years of study, you can apply for a top up degree that should just take one year.

You can have a look at what a top up degree might involve on this page from the University of Sunderland.

What is an intercalated degree?

An intercalated degree is specific to medicine courses in the UK. It’s an opportunity for medical students to take a year away from studying medicine, and instead getting a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s in a related subject. This degree is given the term intercalated.

Often, this will happen in the third year of a six-year medical degree, and involve some sort of research project, resulting in an intercalated BSc. A few medical schools make this extra year compulsory, but at others, you can choose whether to intercalate, or continue the medical course and complete it in five years.

If you want to find out more about intercalated degrees, check out this Think Student article.

What is a postgraduate degree?

Postgraduate just means that you will have already graduated with a degree. In comparison to undergraduate courses, which you can apply for without a previous degree.

Like the term “undergraduate degree”, postgraduate degree is an umbrella term that covers any type of degree that students can take that is a higher level than an undergraduate degree. This means that postgraduate degrees are at level 7 or 8.

You can check out this article on postgraduate degrees from Think Student.

What is a master’s degree?

A master’s degree is the most common type of postgraduate study in the UK, so you will normally need a bachelor’s degree in a related subject before you can apply for a master’s degree.

Most master’s courses are one or two years long and completing them will give you a level 7 qualification. They typically tend to be research focussed and will require you to write a dissertation to complete the degree.

The actual degree you get at the end of the course will be labelled in a similar way to bachelor’s degrees. For instance, MSc stands for Master of Science, and MEng stands for Master of Engineering.

You may also have heard of integrated master’s courses. When you apply to an undergraduate bachelor’s degree, there might be an option to apply for integrated master’s course. This would mean you complete the three-year bachelor’s degree, then go straight on to a one-year master’s course and graduate with a master’s degree.

The actual degrees and content involved in this is the same as if you were to do a bachelor’s degree, then a separate master’s degree. However, you don’t have to reapply for the master’s stage if it is integrated, which can be a nice weight off students’ shoulders.

For plenty more information about master’s degrees, check out this Think Student article.

What is a doctorate degree?

The term doctorate degree is an umbrella term refers to any kind of doctoral level degree. These doctoral level degrees can either be academic or professional.

Academic doctoral degrees are heavily research based. These include types of degree, such as PhDs, which will be looked at in more detail below.

Professional doctorates are instead practical and are focused on applying research into a real, professional setting. Some of these include the Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA), the Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) and the Doctorate in Psychology (PsyD).

Check out this page by the University of Portsmouth for more information on what doctorate degrees are.

What is a PhD?

A PhD, or DPhil, is a level 8 postgraduate qualification and a type of doctorate degree, the highest level in the system of qualifications in England. While it stands for Doctor of Philosophy, you can do a PhD in most subjects. You’ll need to have an undergraduate degree before you apply for one, and you might be asked to have a master’s degree, too.

A PhD is a heavily research focussed degree. You spend three or four years working on a very specific project – or up to 8 years, if you are only working towards it part-time! To finish, you write up your findings in a thesis that is normally 60,000 to 80,000 words long, or the size of an average book.

If you want to know more about PhDs, have a look at this helpful article from Prospects. You can also check out this Think Student article for even more details about PhDs.

What is a PGCE?

PCGE stands for Postgraduate Certificate in Education. It is a specialist degree designed to prepare you for the job of a teacher. Normally, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in a related subject to the one you want to teach, and these courses take one or two years.

For a full guide to how the PGCE works, have a look at this page from the government’s Get into Teaching website. You can also learn more about them in this Think Student article.

What is a degree apprenticeship?

Finally, one way of getting a degree that is becoming more popular is by doing a degree apprenticeship. Ultimately, this route gives you a bachelor’s degree, worth the same as if you were studying as a full-time university student.

However, most of your time is spent working in industry, getting real-world experience, and, most importantly for some, getting paid! Alongside this, you will attend university teaching to work towards a qualification.

Degree apprenticeship programmes can take between 3 and 6 years. This is depending on exactly what degree you are working towards, and how your time is split between study and work. They can be a good option if you are sure of the field you want to work in, or if you’re not sure full-time study is what you want to be doing.

Have a look at this Think Student article for a full guide to degree apprenticeships.

You can also find more about university degrees, including the types of them in this Think Student article.

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