Higher National Certificates (HNC) are similar to a Higher National Diploma in the way they take a vocational, career-centred approach to study to help you to develop the exact skills you need for a job.

However, there are some essential differences. Firstly, an HNC is a level lower meaning it is a Level 4 qualification and is the equivalent to one year at university instead of two. They take one year full-time to complete and two years part-time, although they can sometimes take longer than two years depending on what form of part-time study you wish to do.

An HNC is officially a BTEC qualification which is issued by Edexcel in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) accredit HNC’s. They are a great way to access Higher Education after A-Levels, without committing to a more extended undergraduate programme.

If you don’t know what you want to study, they can be a good taster year before you move on to a bachelor’s degree or an HND in a subject you are now sure of. The entry requirements are at least one A-Level, and the cost is around £6,000. Much like HND’s, these factors can vary from course to course, so be sure to check the fine print of each HNC.

Because of their practical, hands-on approach to studying, they are not only for people who have just completed A-Levels. There are many employed people who access part-time HNC’s to build up their skills in a particular area, whether it is related to their current job or not.

They are usually taught at city colleges, but occasionally universities offer HNC’s, especially those who also provide HND’s and top-up courses. Higher National Certificates can lead you into a variety of careers and industries, such as:

  • Retail and distribution
  • Performing arts
  • Computing and IT
  • Engineering
  • Construction and civil engineering
  • Health and social care
  • Sport and exercise sciences

What can I do after a Higher National Certificate?

Given the employment skills focus of the HNC, you are now ready to go out into the world of work. You will have gained the right skills and had the right practical experiences to apply for entry-level jobs in your chosen area. HNC’s are well regarded by businesses here in the UK and internationally, meaning employers will recognise the job preparation you have already done.

Alternatively, if you enjoyed studying for your HNC, you could continue to do an HND. This will give you more advanced training for a job and broader academic knowledge of the industry. As well as HND’s, because an HNC is an equivalent to the first year of university, you could also consider applying to a bachelor’s degree to join into the second year. This would leave you with two years left of university to complete. However, there is no rush. If you leave education for a while to work, but eventually want to study again, the Open University allows you to transfer credits from past HNC’s onto their courses.

For more information on university degrees, visit our page on Bachelor’s degrees.