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College Qualifications Explained

What is a Diploma or Certificate? What is a CACHE course and where can it lead me? – Confused? When you start exploring college courses you’ll come across a wide range of different qualifications and exam boards, which can be very confusing.

This is mainly a page with lots of links (see further down) to the relevant websites, but BTECs are explained in a bit more detail below.

Which college qualification?
BTEC Qualifications explained
Other qualifications – useful links

Which college qualification?

Very generally speaking, at level 1 and 2 the kind of qualification matters less than starting a subject you really like. Normally all full time college courses are properly certified and will train you to enter a certain trade or subject area.

At level 3, if you are intending to use your qualification to go to university, which is possible, it’s very important to make sure that will open that possibility. Universities do accept a wide range of level 3 college courses, alongside a supporting A level or not. To make sure the college qualification will allow you into a university course you are interested in, it’s important to do at least three things:

  1. Make sure that the college course helps you gain UCAS Tariff points. You can find out whether this is the case by talking to the college or by carefully looking this up on https://www.ucas.com/ucas/tariff-calculator or by looking at the full list on this UCAS download link (be aware: download of MS Excel files starts as soon as you click on the link).
  2. Make sure you choose a subject that supports the course you would like to do at University. For instance taking a BTEC Applied Science may not get you into a university course in Graphics. Some degree courses may also not allow you in, in practice. Getting into a 5 year Medicine with a college course in Applied Science can be a stretch because too many A level students with he highest grades apply for those courses already. So even though officially you may be able to get in, in practice, this may still not be the case. The key suggestions is to do your research before you commit! If you’re not sure, contact the university faculty.
  3. Make sure you are able to get the grades to get into the university course of your choice. You can find out about university requirements on ucas.com.

Linked to all this, university isn’t just about a degree and there are many more courses than a lot of people think. Have a look on the higher education pages on here and also on the Education System page on this website.

  • Always do your research to get more specific information!
  • Never base a decision on an assumption or hearsay.
  • Always look at the course page on the college website!

BTEC Qualifications

A special mention for BTEC qualifications because these are often the qualifications on offer at college. Their structure is not always straightforward to untangle either. Please have a look at the very partial overview of BTEC qualifications below, that will hopefully be helpful in explaining what the options are after year 11 especially, but also further on for those looking at further and higher education qualifications that are more applied and/or technical.

Please be aware that this is a very partial overview. It’s also possible to take BTEC courses pre-16 as part of your GCSE education or later on, as part of higher education at higher levels than represented here. It’s also possible to take a BTEC apprenticeship, but this depends on the agreement between the learning provider and the employer. Very often, it’s NVQs that are part of an apprenticeship for instance and this is not usually the apprentice’s decision.

BTEC Qualifications are normally graded:

  • Distinction*
  • Distinction
  • Mert
  • Pass
  • U – Ungraded


Useful links:


List of other qualifications and links for further exploration in alphabetical order: