What is a HNC?

HNC stands for Higher National Certificate and is a qualification awarded by Edexcel in England and a Higher National awarded by the SQA (If you’re wondering what is an SQA? Click here and find out!) in Scotland. A vocational option of higher education, the HNC is highly regarded by both smaller and international companies and can be used to apply for further undergraduate study at a university. HNC is also a good option for those wanting to pursue a career and who prefer practical learning and teaching, to learn skills for a specific job.  It is estimated that last year around 25-30% of Scottish higher education learners chose to study for an HNC. If you are studying in Scotland next year, be sure to check out our guide to Scottish student finance, right here.

When will I study for an HNC?

Studying an HNC usually takes one year to complete full-time or two years if you opt to study for the qualification on a part time basis. An HNC will be studied after taking A Levels in England or after Advanced Highers for those studying in Scotland and can be a gateway into studying an undergraduate degree. Your HNC will be studied at a further and higher education college or you can apply to study for your HNC at a university, check out different universities and see what courses they offer (learn more – compare UK universities). Once you have found a course you wish to study, it is best that you contact the institution directly to apply. You may also be studying for an HNC as part of an apprenticeship (Find out more – what are apprenticeships) and will be the knowledge-based section of the course, contributing towards your overall success on the programme. You may choose to study an HNC whilst in employment to further your career. It is beneficial to talk to your employer if you are in this situation to decide whether it will be better to study alongside your job in a part-time capacity or to take a year out to study full time.

What is the benefit of studying for an HNC?

A lot of people choose this route of study if they are not 100% sure what they wish to study at university. The HNC allows you to discover the world of higher education (HE) without the cost of university and provides a more practical aspect of learning which is more suited to some individuals. If you decide you enjoy your chosen HNC subject and want to pursue the subject further, this can be converted into an undergraduate degree. An HNC is also a valued qualification in its own right and is often a pathway into full-time employment.  

Entry requirements to study for an HNC

As a qualification with a higher education status, you will require previous qualifications to successfully be accepted onto an HNC course. To apply to study for an HNC you should have achieved at least one A Level in England or two passes at Higher Level or above in Scotland.

How should I choose what to study?

There is a wide choice of options for study across several sectors, so there should be something for everyone and provide a great route into further education or a career. An example of the type of study you can engage in is listed below, within each sector, there are numerous course and specific topics that, with an HNC, you can study, such as:

When considering what to undertake at HNC level is worth looking at your strengths in the previous study. It is important to consider both what you are good at as well as what you enjoy doing. If you are struggling to decide on what is best suited to you, make time to talk to a personal tutor or careers adviser. They can look through your previous qualifications and help you to recognise what sector your skills may be best suited to – taking the what degree should I study quiz will give you a good indication of what sector you should study. You should also take the time to ask the opinions of your friends and family, these are the people who know you the best and they may look at things from a different angle. Think about what you may want to do in the future if your future plans require a specific subject, it is wise to choose a sector that will fit this. If you know what career you want to pursue, or if you want to convert your HNC into an undergraduate degree and enter into further study in a particular subject, consider this whilst applying. Most importantly the final decision has to come from you, do not be persuaded or influenced by decisions made by friends or what your mum or dad may want you to study.

How is the course assessed?

Throughout your year of study towards an HNC, you will be assessed on numerous practical tasks, written assignments and projects. Each of these units is designed to test your knowledge and show the skills you have learnt during the course, this will result in a knowledge-based qualification. This method of assessment is often more preferable to one exam at the end of the year as you can keep track of your progress as you move through the year, working on numerous projects, rather than having more pressure on a single assessment.

How are they graded?

Once you reach the end of your HNC year and have been assessed, your results will be shown as either a Pass (P), Merit (M) or Distinction (D). On the HTC grading scale, a Distinction is the highest award and a Pass is the lowest. If you have not met the criteria to reach the Pass level, you will receive an unclassified grade (U). Receiving an HNC is equivalent to one year of university study and a Certificate of Higher Education, but does not receive the same status as a Higher National Diploma (HND); your HNC can be converted and continued to an undergraduate degree at a university.

What to do if you are unhappy with your results

On receiving your results it may be that you have failed a specific unit, assessment or project. If this is the case it may be possible for you to retake that particular part of the course in order to improve your overall grade. If this case arises, it is best for you to contact your college to discuss the specific details further with your tutor.

You can also appeal a result if you have good reason to. If you believe that there may be an issue with any result, it is again advised to get in contact directly with your college tutor who can advise you of the best route to take.

What can I progress to do with my HNC?

There are many options open to you on completion of an HNC. After a successful completion of your HNC, you have the option to continue on to study a Higher National Diploma (HND). Whereas the HNC is equivalent to one year at university, the HND is regarded as a higher award and typically takes two years of full-time study to achieve, although it can be longer if you chose part time study and can be as little as one year if you have already achieved your H NC. As the HNC is regarded as one year of university, you can use your HNC to enhance your education and apply for a university place, entering directly into the second year of a degree. If you are unsure of where to study, check our interactive university map of the UK. If you have achieved an HND, this allows you to enter into a second or third year of a degree. Alternatively, you can use your HNC to enter into the world of work, applying within the sector of study. The HNC is highly regarded, showcasing your practical and on the job skills which are very attractive to employers.

Whatever you choose to do with your HNC, it is a very worthwhile qualification to have and opens up many educational possibilities that may not have been an option with your previous qualifications. It also offers you a good skill set that most employers will recognise should you choose this route – good luck with whatever is next!