About higher education

Higher education involves learning at an advanced level and requires more independent study.

There are many different ways to study at a wide variety of universities and colleges.

The student population in the UK is also diverse, with people from many different backgrounds and age groups.

To get a better idea of what higher education is really like, you can:

  • go to open days
  • talk to current students on forums like The Student Room or on social media.

Some universities run summer schools that you may be able to attend, or have other programmes that let you experience uni life. The Sutton Trust runs summer schools with a number of universities.

See stories from different students about their experience of going to university or college.

There are a number of ways you can study:


Full-time study involves 35-40 hours per week. This includes scheduled teaching time and independent study, with some courses being mostly independent study.


Part-time study requires fewer hours of study a week, allowing it to fit round other commitments such as work or caring responsibilities. The amount of time spent on study varies, and depends on the course structure.

Distance learning and blended learning

Distance learning is a way of studying remotely, usually online.

Blended learning is a mixture of both distance and face to face learning, where you may attend tutorials or have study days or weeks at the university or college.

Accelerated degrees

These are one year shorter than the usual bachelors’ degree. They have the same amount of course content but the pace is more intense and they don’t have a long break in the summer.

Higher and degree apprenticeships 

These are an alternative to a traditional higher education qualification. You would be in full-time employment while getting a qualification.

See more information about higher and degree apprenticeships.

Other opportunities

There are other ways that studying at university or college can vary. For example, courses can include work placements or periods of study abroad, which can vary from one week to a year or more. Sometimes these are a compulsory part of the course, but sometimes they are optional.

Further education colleges offering higher education courses

These often attract students from the local community. Some colleges focus on more practical and vocational courses or on shorter qualifications.


These are normally dedicated to higher education and research. They can vary a lot in size, and be campus or city based. They usually cover a wide range of subject areas, though can be known for being strong in certain subjects.

Specialist institutions and conservatoires

These generally focus on a specific subject like performing arts, agriculture or business and may offer more practical and vocational skills.

Higher education qualifications vary both in their level and how long they take. First higher education qualifications are usually described as undergraduate.

Bachelors’ degree (e.g. BA/BSc) 

This takes three years (or four years in Scotland) if you’re studying full time. You usually choose one subject and study a variety of topics within that. If you want to choose more than one subject, you can do a joint or combined honours degree.

Foundation degree

This usually takes two years, is more vocational and involves work-based learning. It is designed for people who want to study alongside their work. It is possible to ‘top up’ to a full bachelors’ degree with a further year of study.

Higher National Certificate (HNC)/ Higher National Diploma (HND) 

These are work-related qualifications in vocational areas like accounting, photography or construction. If studied full-time, HNCs take one year to complete, and HNDs take two years.

Other qualifications

Some first degrees take longer to complete than the typical bachelors' degree, such as those in medicine or dentistry.

In some subjects, it’s possible to take an integrated masters’ degree. Instead of studying two separate degrees, you'll study a single, longer programme. This combines undergraduate and masters' study and leads to a masters' qualification. You might do this if you want to become a chartered engineer, for example.

There are other shorter higher education qualifications available, such as the one-year Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE), and it is sometimes possible to study individual units of a course.

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