Find out more about different qualifications available at sixth form or college.
**Please note: individual universities have their own admissions policies and so may not accept some qualifications. Please check with the institutions you’re interested in **
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, A Levels are the most common way to progress to university.
In English schools and colleges, all A Levels are now examined at the end of a (typically) two-year course and AS Levels are standalone qualifications. For the purpose of applying to university, where an AS Level is accepted it will be worth 40% of an A Level. Universities no longer accept two AS Levels in place of one A Level in their offers.
Check entry requirements and guidance on university websites when deciding whether to take additional AS subjects, if these are available at your school or college.
UCAS provides useful information here.
In Wales and Northern Ireland, exam boards still offer AS Levels as a standalone qualification. They represent 40% of a full A Level and can be taken alone or as part of an A Level.
The subjects and qualifications required will vary between universities so check individual university websites for details.
Under the Curriculum for Excellence, the combination of qualifications studied in the senior phase (S4 to S6) will depend on individual schools. There are several options:
- four or five Highers in the fifth year of secondary school (S5), possibly with one or more Higher in fourth year (S4)
- a combination of Highers and Advanced Highers between S4 and S6
- the Scottish Baccalaureate.
Highers usually consist of work units, set and marked by teachers, and an external examination. Advanced Highers are usually made up of three units achieved by passing an internal assessment, which may consist of coursework, tests or practical work, and a fourth unit which is assessed externally, usually through an examination or project. Before taking an Advanced Higher, a student will normally have studied the subject at Higher level.
What to think about when choosing Scottish Higher qualifications
The accepted combination of Highers and/or Advanced Higher subjects may depend on where in the UK a university is based.
Scottish Russell Group universities, offering a four-year Honours undergraduate degree, usually make offers to Scottish students based on Highers, rather than Advanced Highers, but it’s important to check individual requirements. They normally require applicants to demonstrate a breadth of knowledge by having Highers (or Advanced Highers where required) across four different subject areas. This is good preparation for a Scottish undergraduate degree.
Russell Group universities elsewhere in the UK, offering a three-year Honours undergraduate degree, will often ask for a combination of Highers and Advanced Highers. Check entry requirements with individual universities.
This consists of two parts:
- Core ‘Skills Challenge Certificate’, which includes three challenges and an individual project (graded A* to E)
- Supporting qualifications, including GCSE English Language or GCSE Welsh Language at grade 9 to 5/4 (A* to C), GCSE Mathematics – numeracy at 9-5/4 (A* to C) and two A Levels (or equivalent) graded A* to E.
The Advanced Welsh Baccalaureate allows direct entry to university and, generally speaking, a good pass in the Core and two A Levels (or equivalent) in the Welsh Baccalaureate will be acceptable to some universities, although not all.
Individual universities’ entry requirements vary, so it is very important to check individual university websites for their requirements before choosing what to study.
- one subject from each of six groups with three studied at advanced level (post-16) and three studied at GCSE or equivalent
- three compulsory core components – an extended essay, a course on the Theory of Knowledge and a module called ‘creativity, action and service’, which requires students to actively learn from doing real tasks outside the classroom.
The IB is a well-established qualification, which has been offered by international schools worldwide for years. More recently a growing number of UK schools have begun to offer it as an alternative to A Levels.
Individual advanced level subjects can be taken as standalone qualifications. These may be accepted by universities in combination with A Levels or other advanced level qualifications.
Find out more about the International Baccalaureate here.
Check university entry requirements carefully before deciding on this option.
The Pre-U diploma is aimed at 16 to 19-year-olds and includes studying three Principal Subjects and the Global Perspectives and Research (GPR) course. The final mark will be based on the total scores of those components.
Individual Pre-U subjects can be taken in combination with other qualifications, such as A Levels. In the Cambridge Pre-U, you can substitute one or two of the Principal Subjects for A Levels.
Universities are already familiar with the Pre-U but it’s likely they will expect students to have studied at least three different Principal Subjects and/or A Levels.
Check individual university websites for entry requirements.
- a research-based report
- a production, such as a fashion show or charity event, accompanied by a written report
- an artefact, such as a piece of music or artwork, accompanied by a written report.
Undertaking this kind of project could considerably improve skills in time management, academic writing, referencing and critical analysis, among other things. The EPQ is valued by Russell Group universities as a result and some may include it in their offer instead of a fourth A Level but check individual requirements.
Even if it’s not included in offers, the EPQ can still be viewed favourably as a sign of an interest or aptitude in the degree subject chosen. If the EPQ is not linked to the chosen subject, it can be referenced in a personal statement or interview.
This refers to a group of maths qualifications available in England. They are designed for students who have achieved a grade 9 (A*) to 5/4 (C) at GCSE maths and wish to continue studying the subject to avoid losing the skills they’ve built up, but not at A or AS Level. There is more information about the core maths qualification on the Advanced Maths Support Programme website.
Russell Group universities value maths skills and many have GCSE or equivalent requirements. Statistical problem solving, data analysis and interpretation skills can be useful in a range of degrees. In a situation where a student has not met the minimum GCSE maths requirement, some universities may accept the Core Maths qualification instead.
It's best to check the university’s individual requirements to see whether this qualification is accepted.
An Access to HE diploma course helps mature students prepare for university and are widely accepted. It is the equivalent of other level 3 qualifications, such as A Levels.
Access to HE courses are designed to meet the needs of people who have few formal qualifications, though some courses may require GCSEs in English Language and/or English Literature and/or Maths.
For more information visit the Quality Assurance Association for Higher Education website.
A BTEC Subsidiary Diploma is equivalent to one A Level, a BTEC Diploma is equivalent to two and a BTEC Extended Diploma counts for three so you can usually study a mix (either of BTECs or BTECs and A Levels) which suit you. These qualifications have been redesigned to better prepare students for university and it is becoming more common for students to take a mix of vocational and academic qualifications.
Some universities will only accept BTECs in certain subjects and you may also be required to have studied other qualifications such as A Levels alongside a BTEC qualification.
Entry requirements vary between courses and universities so if you’re taking BTECs check individual university and course requirements.
These qualifications come in many subjects and sizes and they have recently been redesigned to make them more suitable for preparing students for university. They can also be combined with academic qualifications. Cambridge Technicals allow you to study a range of eight subject areas, each with flexible choices of units. They are available in a range of sizes equivalent to one, two or three A Levels.
T Levels are new courses, which will follow GCSEs, and are intended to be equivalent to three A Levels. These two-year courses have been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses and are intended to meet the needs of industry and prepare students for work.
T Levels will offer a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience during an industry placement of around three months. They will include the following compulsory elements:
- a technical qualification, which will include:
- core theory, concepts and skills for an industry area
- specialist skills and knowledge for an occupation or career
- an industry placement with an employer
- a minimum standard in maths and English if students have not already achieved them.
The first three T Levels will be available at selected colleges and schools across England in September 2020 in the following subjects:
- digital production, design and development
- design, surveying and planning
When programme specifications and sample assessment materials become available, universities will issue statements about how they will treat T Levels in their entry requirements.
More information on this type of qualification is available on the UCAS website.
This type of qualification provides you with job-related skills and can be taken if you have a full-time job or are on a course with a work placement.
Most Russell Group universities will not accept NVQ students straight onto a degree course. You may need to take them in conjunction with other qualifications in order to meet university and course requirements. Make sure you check carefully with the university you’re interested in before choosing to study this type of qualification.
Child Care and Early Years Education and Care Diplomas are qualifications that focus on knowledge and understanding of child development and education, and are awarded by the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education (CACHE).
They provide a route into university as well as to becoming a fully qualified child care worker. Students with high grades and the relevant passes at GCSE or equivalent can progress onto a limited number of Russell Group university courses, such as childhood studies, sociology and subjects allied to medicine, such as nursing. Where this is possible, there is usually a link between the CACHE qualification and the degree subject chosen.
Contact individual universities for their requirements.
Universities may ask for a specific number of GCSEs (or their equivalent). For example, medical courses usually ask for five grade 9/8s (A*s and As), sometimes more.
Many universities have a universal requirement for grade 5/4 (C) (or equivalent) in GCSE English and maths
Currently University College London (UCL) is the only Russell Group institution to require a modern language GCSE at grade 5/4 (C) or above for all courses. An application to UCL will not be discounted if a language hasn’t been taken, but once enrolled students are expected to complete a short language course or undertake a half course unit in a language as part of their degree.
Some courses may also require specific grades if the subject hasn’t been studied at a higher level. There are some examples below, but it’s best to check with individual universities before applying:
- Applicants to study medicine, dentistry and veterinary science are usually required to have very good results in maths, science and English.
- Applicants for teacher training courses need a minimum of grade 5/4 (C) in maths, sciences and English. Some universities may ask for a minimum grade 6 (B).
- For a degree in English, universities often look for applicants to have a GCSE in a modern or classical language.
- For a business degree, sometimes a grade 7 (A), more often at least a grade 6 (B), in GCSE maths is required.
- A grade 7/6 (A/B) in maths is often required for a degree in psychology and a grade 6 (B) in a science may also be required.
- To study a science subject at university (including biology, chemistry and physics), applicants will usually need to have achieved a minimum grade 5/4 (C) in maths at GCSE if they are not taking it at advanced level
Students in Scotland may find they bypass National 5 qualifications. In this case a university may require these qualifications to be met at Higher or Advanced Higher level instead.