With this highly practical qualification you'll gain the skills required to enter the workplace right away - but HND courses can also lead to university, enabling you to top up to a full Bachelors degree

What is an HND?

Perfectly suited to those who prefer to learn while doing, a Higher National Diploma (HND) is a qualification that provides a quicker and more direct route into particular professions than university. These vocational courses take two years to complete if studied full time - or four years part time.

As HND courses are structured around acquiring and developing the hands-on skills needed for specific careers, you'll be highly valued by employers. Indeed, an HND can help you to secure employment in civil engineering, business and finance, graphic design and management roles, among other fields.

What level is an HND?

At Level 5 of the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF), an HND is at the academic equivalent to completing two-thirds of an undergraduate degree.

They are usually assessed through a series of projects, assignments and practical tasks set throughout the course.

What's the difference between an HNC and HND?

While both are considered practical-based qualifications, a Higher National Certificate (HNC) is one level lower than an HND - at Level 4 as opposed to Level 5 - and it equates to one year spent at university, rather than two years.

For a full explanation of undergraduate qualifications in the UK, see our guide to qualifications.

Choosing an HND course

Students typically study for an HND at a further education (FE) college or through an online course provider after completing their A-levels at school or a sixth form college.

Popular HND subject fields in 2018/19, according to HESA's Graduate Outcomes data, include:

  • electronic and electrical engineering
  • computer science
  • business studies
  • animal science
  • agriculture.

If you're unsure as to which careers may suit you, browse our job profiles and find out the qualifications you'll need to progress in that industry.

You can look for suitable courses at your local college or use the UCAS course search.

Entry requirements

Some previous qualifications will be required to get onto an HND course. Colleges typically ask for at least one A-level (or equivalent) as a minimum requirement. Alternatively, a BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) diploma may also be enough to land you a place on a course. However, check with your chosen course provider for their exact requirements.

How to apply for an HND course

To apply for an HND, you'll need to do this through the college or distance learning course provider offering the course. See how to apply for college in the UK.

Fees and funding

Course fees for foundation degrees will vary - for instance, a one-year, full-time HND in Photography from The Bedford College Group costs £6,000 for UK students in 2023/24, whereas the two-year, full-time HND in Sport from the Shrewsbury Colleges Group will set you back £7,425 per year.

If you're studying for a recognised HND course, you should be eligible for funding from Student Finance England - as long as this is your first higher education qualification. In 2023/24, you can claim up to £9,250 a year in England towards your course costs.

For those living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, see the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS), Student Finance Wales and Northern Ireland (NI) Direct respectively.

Read more about student loans and finance.

What about an HND top up degree?

Depending on the course, most HND graduates are eligible to enrol onto the final year of a Bachelors degree to top up their qualification. This may be to become fully qualified for a specific role or to continue pursuing an area of interest.

Whether you choose to top up your HND qualification depends on the career path you'd like to take. While HND courses offer direct routes into many roles, you'll need a full Bachelors degree to apply for graduate schemes or graduate-level jobs. A significant number of HND graduates choose to top up their qualification for this reason.

How do I get on to a degree course?

If your HND meets the required standard - usually at least a Merit certification - and the contents of both courses have similarities, you should be able to enrol onto the final year of a Bachelors degree with your HND qualification. This can be either with the same institution that validated your HND, or at another university.

However, if you're looking to pursue a degree with little relevance to your HND, you may have to enter the second year or start a course from the beginning. Contact your chosen university to discuss your individual circumstances.

A full list of HND top up courses offered at universities in the UK can be found at UCAS.

Find out more about how to apply for university.

While HNDs are eligible for government funding, borrowing is restricted to your first qualification. Therefore, funding becomes limited if you're looking to top up your HND to a full Bachelors degree, as this is widely considered a second qualification.

Your institution may be able to help with additional bursaries, scholarships and grants, which cater to a range of circumstances.

Can I do a Masters with an HND?

Most Masters programmes will require a full honours degree. As an HND graduate there may be opportunities, but you'll need to check the course entry requirements as these offers are limited.

If you're looking to enter the world of teaching, for instance, a complete degree is essential to enrol onto the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). Similarly, you'll need to top up your HND to apply for the vast majority of graduate schemes.

See if your chosen course will accept HND graduates as you search postgraduate courses, or find out more about relevant Masters degrees. If you're looking to pursue a new career path, you may be interested in conversion courses and how to make a career change.

You may also be able to secure funding to enrol on to a postgraduate course. Discover what's on offer for funding postgraduate study.

What do other HND graduates do?

According to What do graduates do? 2023, 11.4% of HND graduates in 2018/19 had studied electrical and electronic engineering, 10.2% studied computer science and 10.1% graduated in business studies. Animal science (6%) and agriculture (5.6%) were also popular choices.

Over half of HND graduates (64.8%) were studying towards a first degree 15 months after graduation, with nearly a fifth (22.9%) engaged in further study.

In terms of the type of work HND graduates took on in the UK, 16.7% were employed in skilled trades, crafts and other vocational occupations, 15.3% were working in retail, and a further 11.2% were in engineering occupations.

What jobs can I get with an HND?

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

You could search graduate jobs, or visit what can I do with my degree? for further guidance.

Bear in mind that these resources are tailored to graduates of complete degrees, so be sure to check for specific entry requirements on any career that interests you.

How can I increase my chances of getting a job?

Due to the vocational nature of an HND, you may find opportunities during your time in the workplace. If you're carrying out work experience alongside your studies, not only will you develop and hone the skills employers are looking for, but you'll build contacts that could be useful in your job hunt.

HND graduates have the advantage of gaining a wealth of practical, specialised experience prior to securing their first graduate position. You'll want to emphasise your assets in a skills-based CV and cover letter to impress your potential employers. See what skills do employers want? for an idea of what to include.

By topping up your HND to a complete degree, this is an effective route for entering the graduate jobs market. Holding a Bachelors degree opens up opportunities for jobs and internships that would otherwise be unavailable to you.

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