What are the different qualification options for my child?

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Someone holding a card saying "qualifications"

The world of qualifications can be overwhelming for students and even more so for parents. With the advent of higher apprenticeship, degree apprenticeships and now T-levels, it can seem like another new option comes along every year.

It’s vital you are clued up so you can provide the support your child needs as they navigate their choices at age 16 and 18. This guide provides an introduction to the different kinds of qualifications and the different levels as well.

'A guide to the different qualifications your child can work towards'

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Academic, vocational, applied, work-based…?

A-levels spelt our with Scrabble tiles

A-levels are an academic qualification and just one of the

many options open to your child

The terminology surrounding the different kinds of qualifications can get very confusing, so let’s start by reviewing what is meant by the different terms:

  • Academic: Qualifications which are based primarily on intellectual study, covering ideas, concepts, theories and other content which cannot be applied directly in a practical way.
  • Vocational: These qualifications offer practical learning related to a specific job or industry, involving the acquisition of skills and knowledge which can be applied in these roles.
  • Applied: Used interchangeably with “vocational”.
  • Work-based: Predominantly based in the workplace, with theoretical content directly restricted to that which is required to do the job and acquired in college on day or block release.

What do the different levels mean?





Level 2


BTEC First

NVQ level 2

Level 3


Scottish highers (Scotland only)

International Baccalaureate


BTEC National

Advanced apprenticeship

NVQ level 3

Level 4

Bachelor’s degree year 1

Foundation degree year 1

Higher apprenticeship

NVQ level 4

Level 5

Bachelor’s degree year 2

Foundation degree year 2

Higher national diploma (HND)

Higher apprenticeship

NVQ level 5

Level 6

Bachelor’s degree


Degree apprenticeship

Higher apprenticeship (some options)

Level 7

Master’s degree


Degree apprenticeship (some options)

Level 8




More information about key qualifications

Level 3

A-level / Scottish higher – These are the most popular level 3 academic qualifications in the UK, with students choosing from a list of subjects covering the sciences (e.g. maths, biology, chemistry, physics), the humanities (e.g. history, philosophy), the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology) and the arts (e.g. English, art and design).

Advanced apprenticeshipLevel 3 apprenticeships are equivalent to 2 A-levels and offer an introduction to specific roles across many industries, and can be a training route into a particular job or pave the way to further learning through a higher apprenticeship.

T-levelA new vocational qualification combining about 20% workplace experience with classroom learning tied to a particular industry, but - unlike an apprenticeship - not a specific job. In 2020, 3 subjects are being rolled out: design, surveying and planning for construction, digital production, design and development and education and childcare.

Young person doing a manufacturing apprenticeship in a factory

Young people can do an apprenticeship across a range of

sectors including manufacturing, law and software development

Level 4

Higher apprenticeshipThese qualifications start at level 4 – which is the same level as the first year of an undergraduate degree or foundation degree – and go all the way up to level 6, which is equivalent to a full bachelor’s degree. Like an advanced apprenticeship, they offer specialist training in a skilled job, including carpenter, civil engineer, content writer, software developer. Typically take 2 years to complete.

Level 6

Bachelor’s degree Bachelor’s degrees, sometimes called “undergraduate degrees”, are the most common type of degree and are usually what people are talking about if they say they have a degree. They typically involve 3 years of full-time study at university and cover a wide range of academic disciplines across the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences.

Degree apprenticeship – Similar to a higher apprenticeship but guaranteeing a degree. In fields such as nursing, civil engineering, law, software engineering, management. They even go up to level 7 in some cases, providing a master’s degree, which is a postgraduate qualification. They can take 4 or more years to complete.

To learn more about different types of qualifications, click here to view our comprehensive table.

Images: Scrabble tiles by Jeff Djevdet, apprentice by Pes Media


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