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A Guide to Your Career

Study - Get ahead, get qualified

A qualification speaks volumes to a potential employer. It not only shows how much knowledge and skills you have in a particular subject area and to what level. It also shows commitment and an ability to seeing something through to completion.

These days, many careers require qualifications for entry. These can take the form of a vocational (work-related) course or a more academically focused course such as a degree.

Vocational courses

With so many jobs needing some kind of training or work experience to enter, a vocational course is a great way of getting both. Vocational courses combine study and written work with practical training and in some cases, paid work placements, and are available from basic level all the way up to pre-university and degree level. Of course, you’ll need to be fairly certain of what you want to do, as most vocational courses train you up for a specific career.

Know your levels: When choosing a vocational qualification to study, it’s important to know what ‘level’ it is. This may affect the job you can apply for at the end of the course, or whether you can go to university. As a rough guide, a vocational qualification at levels 1 and 2 is equivalent to GCSE study. Level 3 is equivalent to A-levels and can provide a route into higher education.

Check which qualifications are equivalent to which at The National Qualifications Framework website

Types of qualification

Common vocation qualifications include:

National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs): There are more than 900 NVQs to choose from, covering a myriad of subjects from hairdressing to healthcare. NVQs often form part of an apprenticeship.

Vocational Related Qualifications (VRQs): These include City and Guilds, BTEC National Certificates/Diplomas and OCR Nationals. VRQs can be any length and are also often included in apprenticeship schemes.

Higher National Certificates/Diplomas (HNC/D): HNC/Ds are at level 5 on the National Qualifications Framework and can lead onto the second or third year of a related degree course or, of course, a job.

Vocational courses are often available part time, enabling students to hold down a job, and many include a work placement as part of its remit.
Research all of the course options available and decide which is best for your career prospects. You can do this by discussing with your careers advisor, asking potential employers what they look for, and talking to people in your career area about their route into their career.

Advanced and Progression Diplomas
The Diploma is a new kind of qualification for 14-19 year olds and is available in a select number of colleges around the country. If you’re in years 10 or 11 you may already have started one. Diplomas are available as Foundation (level 1), Higher (level 2) and Advanced (level 3). Unlike GCSEs and A-Levels, a Diploma offers a mixture of class work and hands-on experience. So you carry on studying English, Maths and ICT while finding out what it is like to work in a particular industry, such as travel and tourism.

Completing an Advanced Diploma is the equivalent of completing three and a half A-levels; a Progression Diploma is worth two and a half. Both carry UCAS tariff points if you want to apply to university afterwards. Ten subjects are currently available.
Find out which subjects are currently available at


The most popular route into university or college is the completion of A-levels (although taking A-levels doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go on to university; many go straight into employment). Most degrees require certain UCAS tariff points, where the A-level grade you achieve translates into a number of points. AS-levels carry half the number of tariff points as a full A-level (and take half the amount of time to complete).

Vocational qualifications may also count as tariff points for university entry – see for a complete list.