When considering what you want to study at any level it is important that you know about all your options. It is likely that at some point you have considered which academic subjects suit you best, which ones you like, which ones you don’t and which ones you need to get you wherever you want to go. But it is also important that you know that studying the traditional academic subjects in the traditional way is not your only option.
With the ever-increasing number of qualifications out there, you have so many other options. One of these options is to choose a vocational course. But what even is a vocational course?
In short, a vocational course is a type of qualification that trains you more directly for a specific trade. There are many different levels of vocational course in the UK, from entry level (which is below GCSE-level) to level 7 or level 11 according to the SCQF, which is the equivalent of a postgraduate degree. Due to this, the length of a vocational course will vary. You can study a vocational course at a range of academic institutions. A vocational course can also be taken in a large range of subjects from metalwork to mechanics to hairdressing.
Continue reading for more information about what a vocational course is and what is involved in it. This can be particularly beneficial if you are considering your study options.
Table of Contents
What is a Vocational Course?
A vocational course is a type of qualification that you can study in the UK. Unlike more traditional qualifications, a vocational course will prepare you directly for a specific trade. This trade can be a craft such as jewellery-making or metalwork. These will typically be non-academic and you will have to do more practical activities. They can be more professional trades, such as accountancy or engineering. While these trades will often have some academic elements, you will still be getting some hands-on training.
As vocational courses teach you in this way, they are often considered to be a part of career education or technical education and can even be referred to in this way. For more information about what vocational courses are check out this article.
What are the Levels of Vocational Course?
Similar to academic courses, vocational courses come in many levels of study from entry level to level 7 (or level 11 in Scotland). For more information about the 9 qualification levels in England, Northern Ireland Wales look here, or more about the Scottish SCQF levels check out this guide. For a comparison of these qualification levels check out this guide.
The first level of education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is the entry level. In Scotland, this is slightly different as it provides further distinctions within the quite vague “entry level”. Due to this, this is the equivalent of levels 1-3 in the SCQF levels. At this level, students can gain a range of certificates and other qualifications. From SCQF level 2, you can also gain a foundation apprenticeship.
The first main level of education in the England, Wales and Northern Ireland is level 1. At this level, you can gain a level 1 vocational qualification with a variety of exam boards or a NVQ level 1. NVQ stands for national vocational qualification. In Scotland, the equivalent level is a level 4 qualification. At this level, students can gain a SVQ 1, which stands for a Scottish vocational qualification. You can also gain a foundation apprenticeship. These qualifications are equivalent to getting grades 1, 2 or 3 at GCSE, which is just below a pass. Or a National 4 qualification in Scotland.
The next level of education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is level 2. At this level, you can gain a level 2 vocational qualification with a variety of exam boards or a NVQ level 2. You can also get an intermediate apprenticeship. In Scotland, this is a level 5 qualification, and you will be able to get a SVQ 2. You can also get a foundation apprenticeship or a modern apprenticeship. These qualifications are equivalent to getting a passing grade at GCSE between 4 and 9, or a N5 (National 5) qualification in Scotland.
The next level up in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is naturally level 3. Here, you can gain a level 3 vocational qualification (which as with all the other levels may be an award, certificate, or diploma). You can also get a level 3 NVQ or a T-Level. This level is arguably high up as it is the equivalent of an A-Level. For more information about T-Levels look here.
The Scottish equivalent to level 3 qualifications is level 6 as well as half-way through level 7. So, the equivalent vocational qualification that you will be able to get in Scotland is a SVQ 3. Alternatively, you can get a modern apprenticeship. In terms of Scottish qualifications, this is the equivalent of Highers, which is a level 6 qualification, or Advanced Highers, which is a level 7 qualification.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a level 4 qualification is the beginning of higher education. For more information about what higher education is check out this article.
At this level, you can get a general level 4 vocational qualification, such as a BTEC or OCR Cambridge Technical qualification. You can also get a NVQ level 4 or a HNC (higher national certificate). You can also get a higher apprenticeship. In Scotland, the equivalent level is level 7. At this level, you can also get an HNC, SVQ 3 or a modern apprenticeship. These are also the equivalent to the 1st year of an honour’s degree.
As level 5 is the next level of higher education, it is also the equivalent of two years of an undergraduate degree. As a vocational course, you can take a HND (higher national diploma) or a general level 5 vocational qualification as well as an NVQ. You can also get a degree or higher apprenticeship. In Scotland, this is both level 8 and level 9. As a vocational course, you can get an HND, which is a level 8 qualification, or a SVQ 4, which covers both level 8 and level 9. You can also get a modern or graduate apprenticeship. A level 9 qualification is equal to a Scottish ordinary degree. For more information about what this is look here.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you will be able to study a level 6 vocational course or a level 6 NVQ. You will also be able to study a higher or degree apprenticeship. In Scotland, the equivalent levels are level 9 and 10. At these levels, you can study a SVQ 4. Also, you can study a modern or graduate apprenticeship. These levels are all the equivalent of an undergraduate degree with honours.
A level 7 qualification is the highest level of vocational qualification that is typically offered in the UK (although higher levels may be available). In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you can get a general level 7 vocational qualification or a level 7 NVQ. Also, you can get a degree or higher apprenticeship. In Scotland, this is a level 11 qualification. At this level, you can get a SVQ 5. Also, you can get a modern or graduate apprenticeship. These levels are all equivalent to a postgraduate qualification, such as a master’s degree. Check out this Think Student article to learn more about a master’s degree.
Where Can You Study a Vocational Course?
The main types of institution that offer vocational courses are secondary schools, colleges, private companies, local authorities, charities and employers. These can be grouped into three main categories based on how you learn with them and why they are offered.
Secondary schools, as well as colleges at times, often offer them as GCSE or A-Level alternatives. Colleges, private companies, local authorities and possibly charities, are more likely to offer these as a part of lifelong learning, rather than the traditional education system. Employers will typically only offer apprenticeships or training schemes as a way of recruiting or training their staff. For more information click here.
Can You Go to University with a Vocational Course?
More and more students are studying level 3 (or level 6 according to the SCQF levels) vocational courses instead of or alongside traditional A-Levels. Due to this, universities, too, have had to adapt. Many universities not only accept vocational course students, but also make the entry requirements for these clear. For more information about universities accepting vocational course grades (such as BTECs) look here.
While many do accept vocational course students, some of the more prestigious universities, including some of the Russel Group universities do not. This is mainly Oxford and Cambridge, as well as some others for specific courses. For more about what Russel Group universities are and if they accept vocational courses such as BTECs, check out this article.
How Many UCAS Points is a Vocational Course Worth?
UCAS Tariff points convert level 3 (or level 6/ 7 according to the SCQF levels) qualifications into a numerical value, considering both the grade you received and the type of course. This numerical value may be used by higher education institutions to set out their entry requirements for a specific course. For more information about this look here.
As there is such a vast number of vocational courses, not all of them have been allocated UCAS tariff points. They can often be comparable to more traditional level 3 qualifications, such as A-Levels. For example, a level 3 BTEC National Distinction * (star) grade is the same as an A-Level A* grade which is worth 56 UCAS points.
For more information about the BTEC grading system you can check out this article. If you want to check how many UCAS points your qualification is worth you can either check out this guide, or click here for the UCAS Tariff point calculator.