The basics
THE UK: Applying to University

UK academic qualifications

Student - UK qualifications table

When applying to study in the UK, it can be tricky to understand what level you are at compared to the local system and which academic path you want to follow.

If you have already finish your secondary school in your home country, an undergraduate degree from a UK institution will help you progress to a postgraduate study or to a more hands-on qualification that will set you for the world of work.

 If you have already finished your undergraduate degree, you might want to consider studying a foundation year before continuing onto a postgraduate degree as a way to catch up with the local education system.

For whatever path you want to follow, find here a table that will help you understand what could be your next step:


Type of Qualification


Teaching methods

Foundation/Access course


IFY (International Foundation Year)

Usually guarantees progression to a higher qualification. Divided by subjects.

Requirements: Good level of secondary school education. IELTS 4.0 (minimum)

Duration: 1 year

Tutorials, essays, projects, practicals, English language tuition, and overall, preparation for study in a British environment.

You will be assessed on coursework and participation in seminars.


Higher Education



Usually taught in social sciences such as teaching, social work, nursing, theology. Once finished you will be able to work in your area.

Requirements: High School Certificate/Diploma and International Foundation Programme. IELTS 5.5 or 6.0

Duration:  One year full-time; two years part-time.

Lectures, seminars, tutorials, group projects, practicals (clinic).

Usually you won’t be required to hand in a dissertation.


Foundation degree

You can apply for:

  • Foundation Degree in Arts (FdA)
  • Foundation degree Science (FdSc)
  • Foundation degree Engineering (FdEng).

Requirements: International foundation programme. IELTS 5.5 or 6.0

Duration: Two years full-time; three or four years part-time.

Continuous coursework and seminar participation assessment as well as assessment in the workplace.

BTEC Higher National Certificate


BTEC Higher National Diploma

They are work-related qualifications, built to accommodate the needs of employers and allow progression to university. They provide a more practical, real-world approach to learning alongside a key theoretical background. It is often offered in the following subjects:

  • Computing and Systems
  • Development                    
  • Business                      
  • Engineering                             
  • Travel and Tourism Management 
  • Sport and Exercise Sciences.

Requirements: : International foundation programme. IELTS 5.5 or 6.0

Duration: One year full-time; two years part-time.

Lectures, projects and practical sessions.

You will be assessed in coursework and workplace assessment.




You can apply for the following:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA)      
  • Bachelor of Science (BSc) 
  • Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) 
  • Bachelor of Laws (LLB)    
  • Bachelor of Education (BEd)

Master of Arts (awarded with first degree in Scotland)

Requirements: : International foundation programme. IELTS 5.5 or 6.0

Alternatively, entrance to second year with a Foundation degree.

Duration: Three years, or four years with a work experience year. Architecture, Dentistry and Medicine might take longer.

You will have to attend lectures, seminars, tutorials, essays, and work on projects individually as part of a group.


You will have continuous assessment during your degree plus, usually, final exams and dissertation.


Master’s Degrees

You can apply for a Master’s degree after finishing your undergraduate degree on the following areas:

  • Master of Arts (MA)          
  • Master of Philosophy (MPhil)
  • Master in Research (MRes)
  • Master in Laws (LLM)

Requirements: Undergraduate degree or equivalent IELTS 6.5 (minimum)

Duration: 8 – 12 months full-time; two years part-time.

The assessment depends on the type of master’s degree you have chosen. If it is a taught master’s degree, you can expect to receive lectures, seminars, tutorials and work on projects, exams and a final dissertation.

If you have chosen an MRes, more weight for your final grade will be put on your research project.



Doctorate Degree

You can apply for a PhD after finishing your Master’s degree. Those qualified on an MPhil will easily carry onto the PhD providing they have showed progress during the master’s course.

Requirements: Master’s degree with a minimum grade of Distinction (70%+)

IELTS 7.5 (minimum)

Duration: 3 to 4 years depending on research project progress.


The assessment depends on the type of PhD you have chosen.

During your first year you might have to attend seminars and lectures but the focus of your teaching will be on the tutorials.

You will have to hand in regular reports on your progress and a final dissertation which will have to be presented before a panel for approval.



More information...

Read about the different types of institutions to which you can apply in the UK.

If you want to apply to study in the UK, you will need a student Tier 4 visa as international student.

Wondering how to finance your studies whilst in the UK? Find more info here.

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Student - UK qualifications table

Aspiring journalist and Cambridge University graduate, Londoner 'by adoption'. Tweeting for @hotcourses_Abrd

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