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The basics
Study abroad : Applying to University

What is vocational education?

What is vocational education exactly? Learn about the diverse roles you can pursue with a vocational degree, as well as the eligibility criteria to get on to a course...

Study nursing at vocational level abroad

Is there a specific trade or field you would like to enter? Would you prefer to study a course which has more of a practical element so you can get real-world experience on top of the academic study? Perhaps you don’t flourish in a lecture or classroom, and therefore would prefer a course where not everything comes down to exam marks? Then a vocational course may be the best path for you...



What are vocational courses?

Vocational courses are particularly work and end goal-focused. Whereas with an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, where there are a couple of different paths you can consider, vocational courses have an advantage in that they lead directly into a specific career – this means that when you graduate, you won’t have that moment where you’re unsure of what you can do! Vocational courses are perfect for those that have a goal in mind early on (perhaps they want to follow in the footsteps of someone they know?). Vocational courses focus on the practical, hands-on skills and expertise required for a number of careers, crafts and trades, as opposed to the theory you might focus on at undergrad or postgrad level.



False myths about vocational education & what you can study

However you shouldn’t think that vocational education only lead to practical, “working class” occupations which involve physical labour. Many lucrative middle class, office-set roles can also be obtained following study of a vocational qualification. Vocational qualifications can lead to careers as diverse as blacksmithing, hair & beauty, accountancy, IT, nursing, law and engineering. As you can see, these careers are legitimate and crucial, so vocational qualifications shouldn’t be seen as inferior to undergraduate or postgraduate courses just because they may not be studied at an actual university (many vocational courses are taught at smaller colleges).

It can sometimes be far more convenient and realistic an option for those who have other commitments or mitigating factors which prevent them from attending a university to study at undergraduate level (e.g. family or dependents, full-time job etc.).

All vocational courses will be accredited by a trusted body in that country too. This ensures that the course is taught correctly and students will walk away with a qualification which is recognised by employers.

Plus there isn’t anything stopping a student from pursuing a further qualification if they want to improve their career prospects – the practical experience they accumulate from a vocational course (and any employment they secure from that) can help them achieve admission onto a further course.



Where can I study a vocational course?

As well as at universities, vocational courses are taught at career colleges, trade schools, polytechnics community colleges and vocational schools.



Check out this video about vocational courses from the College of West Anglia:



Types of vocational qualifications

Vocational courses usually lead to a diploma, award or skills certificate (or in the States, an associate’s degree) following 1-2 years of study.


Just as postgraduate courses in the UK are referred to as simply ‘graduate courses’ in America, vocational courses have slightly different names depending on the country you’re studying in. In Australia, vocational education is referred to as Australian Vocational Education and Training (VET). In America, vocational education is referred to as Career Technical Education (CTE).



How are vocational courses taught & assessed?

As pointed out above, vocational courses are not quite like undergraduate courses (where students attend lectures each week), nor are they like postgraduate course (where students work solely on an original piece of research). While classes and studying are still a component of a vocational course, these will be far more practical in nature as opposed to simply reading material from a book. This will allow students to practice the hands-on skills they will need to apply in the field.  It’s not uncommon for many students to have to undertake one or many placements in the field with a real company.


Exams can still be expected, though they may not follow what students have experienced at high school where they sit in a hall, complete a paper in silence etc. Instead they may have to carry out particular tasks while being supervised – it really depends on what you’re studying.


We recommend asking the provider about how a vocational course is taught or assessed when researching courses (this is just one thing you may choose to ask about).



Eligibility criteria

The criteria to study a vocational course is not as strict as you would expect at undergraduate level. Ideally you’ll have satisfactory grades in a few relevant subjects at high school level. You may also have to demonstrate some relevant practical experience or a deep interest in the field (e.g. voluntary work, part-time job etc.).

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