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Levels of Study 

Guide to Qualifications & Levels

Different types of qualifications are grouped together into various levels. This can help you and employers to see how different qualifications compare and how one type can lead on to another. The levels are based on the standards of knowledge, skill and competence needed for each qualification. Qualifications at the same level can be very different in terms of content and the length of time they take to complete.

Entry Level Qualifications

If you want to gain a qualification that is recognised across the UK, but don't feel ready for GCSEs or equivalent qualifications, an Entry Level Certificate could be for you. They are available in a wide range of subjects and can help you to increase your skills, your knowledge and boost your confidence. They are known as certificates or awards, and are open to anyone interested in gaining a recognised qualification. There are no entry requirements.



Vocational Qualifications - Pearson BTECs, OCR, City & Guilds and Others

These are particular types of work-related qualifications that are available in a wide range of subjects. Many have been designed in collaboration with industry, so they can equip you with the skills and knowledge that employers are looking for. The qualifications offer a mix of theory and practice and can also include an element of work experience. They can take the form of, or be part of, a technical certificate which are also one of the key components of an Apprenticeship.



A Levels

It is possible to take full A Levels in one year as a full-time or part-time option, provided entry criteria are met.

AS (Advanced Subsidiary) and A2 (Advanced) Level qualifications normally take two years to complete Full-Time, although they’re also available to study Part-Time. It is split into two parts, with one part studied in each year; Advanced Subsidiary level (AS Level) is year one and the second part is known as the A2 Level.

The AS Level is a qualification in its own right, and the AS Level combined with the A2 Level forms the complete A Level qualification. Most students studying for A Levels take three or four AS Levels in their first year. Doing this means you can keep your options open about which subjects to study as a full A Level.

What is Higher Education?

Belfast Met offers a selection of Higher Education (HE) courses at all levels, specifically tailored to industry demand and run in conjunction with top UK education providers.

Our HE partners include Queen’s University Belfast, the Open University, Ulster University and the University of Dundee. We also offer a range of professional and technical awarding organisation programmes including the Institute of Leadership and Management, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the Chartered Institute of Marketing and Pearson BTEC Higher Nationals.

As well as full Degrees and Foundation courses with our Higher Education partners, we offer a wide range of vocational courses and professional development, both Full and Part-time. All our Higher Education programmes face the same external checks and audits as a traditional university programme.

BUT Higher Education in College is also fundamentally different from that in Universities.

  • Smaller class-sizes allowing for individualised learning plans and pastoral support for learners.
  • Lecturers who are focused on teaching and can provide individual learning support.
  • Significantly reduced costs for the learner.
  • A focus on many courses on work-related learning.
  • AND did you know that by studying a HE course with one of your local Colleges could save you up to £10,000?


Higher National Diplomas (HNDs)

HNDs are work-related, or vocational, higher education qualifications. They are Level 5 qualifications and focus on ‘learning by doing’ and give skills that you can use in a particular job. They are highly valued by employers and can also count towards membership of professional bodies and other employer organisations.

Foundation Degrees

A Foundation Degree will give you the technical skills and academic knowledge required to progress in the workplace whilst gaining a higher education qualification. They are designed and delivered through partnerships between employers and the College. This means that as a graduate you will be equipped with the specific skills that employers are looking for. Learning in the workplace is an important part of a Foundation Degree course. It means that you will gain relevant work skills and will have the chance to apply your learning in a real work environment.

Foundation Degrees and HNDs are an excellent stepping stone for you to get on to do a degree as they usually count towards the first year meaning that you gain entry into the second year of a related degree course.


View Our Foundation Degrees



A Bachelor's degree is a course of academic study leading to a qualification such as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc).

It usually takes three or four years to complete full-time (normally four years if you're doing a sandwich course as this includes a year in industry or abroad).

The qualification is designed to give you a thorough understanding of a subject. It helps you develop your analytical, intellectual and essay/dissertation writing skills.



Level Title Equivalent to
8 Doctorates  
7 CIPD Level 7 Postgraduate Diploma in Personnel and Development Masters Degrees
Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas
6 BA (Hons)
BSc (Hons)
Bachelor Degrees

5 Level 5 Higher National Diploma Foundation Degrees
Higher National Diplomas
Diplomas of Higher Education and Further Education
4 IAM Level 4 Diploma in Administration Management Certificates of Further Education
3 Level 3 Extended Diploma
QCF Level 3 NVQ Diploma
Level 3 Diploma
Level 3 (90 Credit) Diploma
Level 3 Subsidiary Diploma
Three GCE A Levels
Three GCE A Levels
Two GCE A Levels
1.5 GCE A Level
One GCE A Level
2 Level 2 Diploma
Level 2 Extended Certificate
Four GCSEs A*-C
Two GCSEs A*-C
1 Level 1 Certificate/Award GCSEs D-G
Entry Entry Level Certificates