If you complete the first year of a full-time degree or its equivalent, then you can be awarded a certificate of higher education (CertHE).
A certificate of higher education focuses on either a particular profession or academic subject and is the most basic level of qualification that a student can gain in higher education (unlike the postgraduate certificate of higher education, which we look at later).
What is a Certificate of Higher Education?
A Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE) is a Level 4 qualification comparable to the first year of a bachelor's degree. It offers a foundation in a specific subject and can be a standalone qualification or a stepping stone towards a full degree. A CertHE typically requires 120 credits, with flexible study options available to accommodate individual needs. Completing a CertHE enables learners to progress towards higher-level qualifications, such as a Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) or a full bachelor's degree.
It can also demonstrate individuals’ capability of studying at university level. It can raise confidence, support a career change, or progression in a current career. It can also be used as the first step of several degree levels to go on to achieve a foundation degree, a diploma of higher education or a DipHE or HND (we have plenty of resources to help you out), or a full honours degree through additional study.
Advantages for online learning include flexibility with weekly study schedules, a quiet learning environment and geographical mobility.
How long does a higher education certificate take to complete?
Students studying a CertHE will usually complete the course in a year, though some institutions offer a six-month fast-track option, ideal for students with deadlines, travel plans or looking for career progression within the next year.
A part-time course usually takes two years to complete, although there may be other options available. Those who are interested in studying the qualification as a part-time student should check with their institution as to how long it will take.
What subjects can I study in a certificate of higher education?
There’s a rich variety of options for students who wish to study a CertHE. Some courses allow you to “pick and mix” from a range of subjects within the CertHE programme, which is excellent for students wanting to find their niche or simply hoping to enrich their academic lives.
STEM subjects are often a very popular choice for students, mainly because they are so broad and can encompass the disciplines of many other subjects.
What entry requirements do I need to study for a Certificate of Higher Education?
Depending on the subject and the further or higher education college itself, candidates may need at least one A-Level, or 80 UCAS points, which while it might not be the 280 UCAS Points that everyone loves, it's still pretty impressive.
Some courses stipulate a C grade or above in GCSE English (or its equivalent), or sometimes a portfolio of work (e.g. for an art certificate). BTEC, International Baccalaureate, and NVQ can all contribute to entry points, if required.
Many major universities don’t stipulate any prerequisites at all, for instance, the Open University, the University of Oxford and University College London (UCL) all have an inclusive admissions policy for their Certificate of Higher Education, asking students to demonstrate passion and commitment over previous educational achievements.
The main thing, then, is to create a strong application, ensure a reliable referee and a good personal statement.
Completing a CertHE can demonstrate individuals’ capability of studying at university level.
Distance learning options
There are a range of online higher education certificate programs available for distance learning courses, and some even offer occasional face-to-face tutorials too. Consider the features of each provider carefully to ensure that the level of support suits your personal learning style and circumstances. The benefit of online learning is that you don’t have to factor location into your decision making; just apply to whichever course most appropriately meets your needs.
Advantages for online learning include flexibility with weekly study schedules, a quiet learning environment and geographical mobility. It can be a great option for students who are confident and crave slightly more autonomy in their learning.
How can I apply to study for a Certificate of Higher Education?
Students can apply to study for a CertHE by going directly through the university or college they are interested in. This means no lengthy UCAS process to endure, though there may still be an interview involved, depending on the course provider.
Just check out the online prospectus for the university you’re interested in, and apply through the website.
How am I assessed?
Students will be assessed academically through assignments, essays, written work and projects. Some CertHE courses will include practical elements and students will be assessed accordingly. Different courses take different approaches to assessments, so include this in your decision-making if it’s a significant factor for you.
These qualification levels are accredited internally, unlike subsequent UK education levels which have external accreditation.
What is a certificate of higher education equivalent to?
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is a level 4 certificate of higher education (making it the stage beyond A Level or NVQ level 3), while in Scotland, it’s an SCQF level 7.
It’s not really possible to calculate a certificate of higher education UCAS points value as UCAS do not include the CertHE in their tariff calculators (because it’s already a higher education qualification, and not a gateway to one).
This doesn’t mean that this qualification won’t facilitate access to a course though; individual programmes list the various conditions to entry, and course administrators are always happy to reply to emails or phone calls enquiring about specific circumstances.
Students can apply to study for a CertHE by going directly through the university or college they are interested in.
What can I do with a Certificate of Higher Education?
Students can continue with their studies afterwards if they choose, and enter the second year of a Bachelor’s degree (similar to a Higher National Certificate / HNC or a HND). If they prefer, they can use the certificate as a stepping stone onto a full degree programme, and if the degree subject is similar enough in content to the CertHE, they may not need to complete the first year of studies for their BA/BSc.
Alternatively, the certificate qualification can be ‘banked’ for future study (even years down the line), or used to enhance current employability: to gain a promotion, facilitate a career move, or generally improve job prospects.
What is a postgraduate certificate in higher education?
Essentially, a postgraduate certificate (or in the US, a ‘graduate certificate in higher education’) is worth the same number of points and takes the same amount of time as any other CertHE, but it’s only for graduates.