A Higher National Certificate (HNC) is a practical course designed to meet the needs of employers - so you can be confident that you'll be ready for the workforce when you graduate

The HNC is a short-term vocational course designed for students who want to gain skills and knowledge in a specific industry.

An HNC can be a good choice for students who want to take a break from studying before starting a degree or are unsure whether to go to university.

What is an HNC equivalent to?

An HNC is equivalent to the first year of a university degree or a Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE). It is a Level 4 qualification on the UK Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF), and is typically one year full-time, or two years part-time.

To find out more, visit our guide to qualifications.

How do I choose an HNC course?

It is important to consider your career goals and the type of job you want to have after graduating from an HNC course. HNCs vary according to the field, so make sure you research different options.

For example, in the construction and engineering sectors, you could study electrical engineering, construction management, or building services engineering.

There are courses in a variety of sectors. For instance, The University of Salford offers an HNC in construction with the option to progress onto a quantity surveying or building surveying degree, while London South Bank University offer an HNC in creative media production.

Each course has a different focus, so you can choose the one that best aligns with your interests and career goals.

Popular HNC subject fields in 2020/21, according to HESA's Graduate Outcomes data, include:

  • electrical and electronic engineering
  • building
  • mechanical engineering
  • agriculture
  • civil engineering.

HNC courses are also widely available online, offered by a variety of further education (FE) colleges and universities in the UK and internationally.

Read the course descriptions carefully to ensure that the programme you choose covers the topics you are interested in and will give you the skills and knowledge you need to achieve your career goals.

You can search for courses using the UCAS course search.

What are the entry requirements?

The entry requirements for an HNC vary depending on the course and the institution, however, most HNC courses require you to have at least one A-level or Level 3 qualification.

Some HNC courses may also have additional entry requirements, such as specific GCSE grades or work experience. Check with your institution to see the entry requirements for your programme.

If you do not meet the entry requirements for an HNC course, you may be able to take an access course or foundation year. These courses give students the skills and knowledge they need to progress to higher education if they do not have the required academic qualifications.

How do I apply for an HNC course?

To apply for an HNC course, you will need to contact the FE college or university you are interested in attending. Once you have found a course, you will need to complete an application form. The form will typically ask for your details, academic qualifications, and work experience. You may also need to write a personal statement.

After submitting your application form, the institution will contact you to arrange an interview. This is an opportunity for the institution to get to know you better and to assess your suitability for the course.

If you are successful in your application, you will be offered a place on the course. You will then need to accept the offer and pay any tuition fees.

How much does an HNC cost?

The cost of an HNC varies depending on the course and the institution. However, most HNC courses in the UK cost between £4,000 and £10,000.

It's important to check the fees of your course at your chosen institution. Teesside University's engineering HNC courses fee is £3,960, while the University of Northampton's engineering HNC costs £9,250.

The cost of an HNC also depends on your residency status. If you are a UK resident, you may be eligible for student finance which you will need to repay after you graduate to help cover the cost of your tuition. However, if you are an international student, you will need to pay the full cost of your tuition fees.

What do other HNC graduates do?

According to What do graduates do? 2023/24, 14.3% of HNC graduates in 2020/21 had studied electrical and electronic engineering, 13.9% studied building and 8.5% graduated in mechanical engineering. Agriculture (8%) and civil engineering (6.7%) were also popular choices.

Just under half of HNC graduates (39.3%) were studying towards a first degree 15 months after graduation, with nearly a fifth (23.9%) engaged in further study.

In terms of the type of work HNC graduates took on in the UK, 29.2% were employed in engineering roles, 19.8% were working in skilled trades, crafts and other vocational occupations, and a further 8.7% were working in retail.

What jobs can I get with an HNC?

The most popular professional or managerial roles held by recent HNC graduates working in the UK include:

How can I increase my chances of getting a job?

Completing an HNC can boost your employability by demonstrating your commitment to your learning and development, and a solid foundation of knowledge in your field.

Work experience, such as internships, placements, or volunteer work, can help you develop your skills and build your network, which will increase your chances of landing a job.

For an idea of what to include in potential applications, see what skills do employers want?

You can also top up your HNC to a HND, which is equivalent to two years of a university degree. This will give you a deeper understanding of your chosen field and can make you more employable in the job market.

An HNC can also make you a more attractive candidate for undergraduate courses by highlighting your professional experience. Some universities offer articulation routes, which allow students with HNCs to enter degree courses in year two or three. This means that you can top up your HNC to a Bachelors qualification, which can lead to even more career opportunities.

Read more about applying for university and consider what can I do with my degree?

Find out more

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