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Routes into Higher Education

13th April 20

For some of us, the option of going into Higher Education was never really an option at all. Through circumstances, finances or perhaps not enough concentration in the classroom, the opportunity never arose.

Then there are those of us whose career path didn’t require a degree. Or we simply didn’t want to study one.

Regardless of reason or motive, you may find yourself wanting to return to education in order to gain a degree. Either through part-time or full-time study.

However, if you lack formal qualifications or relevant qualifications, then it may not seem as simple as that.

Then there’s the prospect of returning to education. Taking an evening class or returning to college with people half your age can be an intimidating thought.

Along with the other thoughts questioning whether you’re up to the challenge.

To address the second point first – yes you are.

As for studying, the good news is there are multiple ways of gaining relevant qualifications to gain access to university. The other good news they are all distance learning based.

What is distance learning?

Distance learning is, predictably, an educational course completed remotely by the enrolled students. That means no physical school or college building and no classes to attend.

The bid advantage of this approach to learning is it allows anyone to study the course of their choice at a time and pace that suits them.

Learndirect | Routes into Higher Education | Distance LearningBecause all the course assets are available online through a student portal, there is none of the usual hassles associated with setting up and running a course. There are no minimum class sizes and therefore no risk of cancellations because not enough people signed up.

This also means the choices available to you in terms of courses is far broader than a traditional school or college.

Depending on where you are in your learning journey, it can allow you access to university or open job opportunities.

What are your options?

If you are unsure of the best route into higher education, below is a brief summary of each option and their benefits.

A Levels

Taking or retaking A Levels is a popular choice among those looking to enter higher education.

Most universities will ask for at least 3 A Levels qualifications in relevant subjects.

Obviously, relevance varies massively depending on the degree course you want to undertake. It may not always be obvious so make sure you check with the university or their prospectus.

It’s also worth clarifying what the entry requirements are regarding grades. It’s one thing not to get the grades, it’s another not to know you didn’t make it until you apply.

However, some universities are willing to consider lower grades, depending on other information such as a particularly good personal statement. Or relevant paid or voluntary work experience.

A Level courses are available to anyone aged 16 or over.

Vocational Qualifications

Around 95% of universities accept vocational qualifications such as BTECs for around 70% of subjects. Universities are increasingly recognising the benefit of transferable skills these kinds of qualifications develop in their students.

This provides an overall enriching element to seminars. These students draw on experience and knowledge that students who went through conventional education will not have had.

In most instances anyone who has obtained a vocational qualification will study a related subject in a Higher Education setting. Largely because the qualification will be quite specific.

However, if you have a vocational qualification and you want to study something else entirely, check with the university, prior to enrolment to ensure you would be accepted onto the course.

Going down the vocational qualification route can be good if you know the career path you want to go down. It’s also good if you prefer a mix of applied learning as well as the academic, assignment-based learning.

Learndirect | Routes into Higher Education | Vocational QualificationsAccess to Higher Education Diplomas

The Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma is a qualification designed for anyone who lacks qualifications in their chosen subject.

The course provides relevant academic knowledge in your chosen subject and the opportunity to learn degree- standard study habits.

There are dozens of courses to choose from allowing you to pick the course that will give you the best foundation in your degree.

Before enrolling, make sure the course is recognised by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). This guarantees the quality of the course and a recognised qualification at the end of it.

Access to Higher Education Diplomas count as 60 credits. 45 are at level 3 and graded. The balance of 15 credits is ungraded and may either be studied at level 2 or level 3. You need to complete the course in full in order to gain your diploma.

Around 140 universities current accept Access to Higher Education Diplomas which is excellent. However, always check with the admissions department of your chosen institutes before enrolment to make sure they recognise the qualification.


Apprenticeships can also lead to higher education qualifications. Apprenticeships are work-based programmes that combine work with learning. Usually in a college or school setting.

Employers teach the individual the practical aspects of their profession, which is then supported on the academic side.

For many apprenticeships this can lead to employment offers. Their placement employer understandably preferring to grow their own wood over having to recruit.

If apprentices undertake an advanced, modern or higher-level apprenticeship, they then go on to higher education. But again, not all universities will recognise this so it’s important to check in advance. To maximise your chances of being accepted make sure the apprenticeship is easily relatable to the course.

The apprenticeships can be a great route into higher education for students who prefer a hands-on/practical approach to learning. However, applicants need to be highly committed as competition for apprenticeship places are fierce. Equally, employers won’t tolerate a bad work ethic or poor-quality work. In other words, you must really want it.


The most important thing is to choose the right learning style and outcome for you. All these approaches will help you access higher education, just make sure it’ll get you there the way you want.

Make sure that you can afford the course, commit to completing it and you’re comfortable completing the work assigned.

Also check that your chosen qualification/approach is recognised by the universities you want to apply to. You may find that any acceptance may be conditional – such as specific grades. Bear this in mind when choosing your route to higher education.


learndirect offer a wide range of Access to Higher Education Diplomas in order to help you realise your ambitions.

Checkout out our Access Courses or contact a member of our sales team today to learn more and enrol.

Learndirect | Routes into Higher Education | Enrol Today

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