Understanding courses

Universities can use a lot of jargon, making it difficult to find information. Check out our jargon buster to help make sense of it all. We’ve explained some of the main things you need to know here too.

Bachelor’s degrees

These are higher education qualifications awarded on completion of an academic undergraduate course.

  • Usually take 3 or 4 years if studying full-time, longer if studying part-time.
  • Delivered by universities and some further education colleges.
  • Can be a BA (Bachelor of Arts - for arts-related subjects, such as art and design, humanities, education, social studies and languages).
  • Can be a BSc (Bachelor of Science - for science-related subjects, such as mathematics, science, nursing and health-related courses).
  • Can be a BEng (Bachelor of Engineering - for engineering-related subjects, such as mechanical, motorsport and robotic).
  • Can be a LLB (Bachelor of Laws - for Qualifying Law degrees).

What will I get from a bachelor’s degree?

  • A thorough understanding of your chosen subject.
  • Great skills for your CV such as problem-solving, time management, communication and presentation.
  • Work experience opportunities are often included in degree courses. 
  • Many courses come with the opportunity to study or work abroad (usually called a placement or sandwich year).
  • Some courses are accredited by professional organisations relevant to their subject. This could come with exemption from future exams if you go on to further study in this subject area.

Foundation degrees

These are equivalent to the first 2 years of a Bachelor’s degree and:

  • are often cheaper than typical on-campus degrees,
  • are available part-time and in different settings, such as in the evenings, at workplaces or online,
  • are delivered by colleges and universities working together with employers and professional bodies,
  • employers are consulted to ensure courses meet current employment needs.

Once you have gained a foundation degree, you have the option to ‘top up’ to achieve a full honours degree.

What will I get from a foundation degree?

  • A combination of work-based learning with academic study.
  • Access to all the university facilities that being a bachelor’s degree student would give you.
  • Essential transferable skills.
  • The knowledge to respond to future developments in the workplace.
  • More choice of where to study. Many universities offer foundation degrees through local Further Education colleges.

How do I choose the best course for me?

There are over 50,000 courses listed on UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). There are 395 Higher Education Institutions in the UK, including 130 universities. This gives you a lot more choice than the subjects you study at school! You’ll need to do some research to find out what’s available.

Some courses have fewer teaching hours and expect a lot of independent study from students. Others give you a lot of time working with tutors or in labs, but with less independent work. Many courses offer the opportunity to study part time, or to study two or more subjects in combination with one another, or even to travel abroad.

Choose a course which you will find interesting enough to motivate you right to the end.

  • Go to higher education fairs, where you can meet people from universities.
  • Look at university websites.
  • Read university prospectuses and course brochures.
  • Look at independent university guides like the Times Good University Guide.
  • Look at league tables to see which universities are better for different subjects, such as The Guardian University Guide and The Complete University Guide.
  • Visit universities to get an idea of what courses involve. You can go to open days, campus tours and taster sessions.
  • Talk to other students studying the subject you are interested in. You can do this in person at open days, or via online platforms such as Unibuddy or in forums like The Student Room.
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What should I be thinking about when choosing a course?

  • Do I want to study my favourite subject, develop an out of school interest, or try something completely new?
  • Do I have a career in mind? If I do, will my course choice help me get the job I want? 
  • What are the entry requirements? Can I achieve them?
  • How is this course different at different institutions?
  • Is it professionally accredited?
  • What modules can I study?
  • How long is the course?
  • Can I study full-time, part-time or by distance learning?
  • How is the course assessed? Will there be exams, coursework and a final year dissertation or research project?
  • How is the course taught? What is the ratio of lectures and seminars to independent study?
  • Will there be practical modules?
  • Can I go on a work placement or study abroad?
  • Can I study more than one subject? Can I study modules from other courses, like a language?
  • What job could I get with this qualification?
  • What are the tuition fees?

If you need help or don’t understand something about a course, telephone or email the admissions team. Contact details are available in prospectuses and on websites.

Entry requirements for higher education courses use the UCAS tariff. This is a system that assigns points to different types of post-16 (Level 3) qualifications. So whatever your qualifications are, you can see if you meet the entry requirements for a course. Read more about the UCAS tariff, or calculate your UCAS points.

You apply to full-time Bachelor’s and Foundation degrees through UCAS. To study a course part-time you apply directly to the institution where the course is taught.

What about Foundation courses?

These are one-year courses for students who want to study a university degree course in a specific field, but don’t have the right grades or required subjects. For example, if you want to study a science related course, but haven’t done a science subject at Level 3, a Foundation course might be right for you.