Understanding College Qualifications

Not only do colleges offer a wide variety of subjects, they offer courses at several different levels. The level you choose will depend on the qualifications you’ve gained at school and the route you want to take, either into employment or towards a higher level of qualification.


National Certificates (NC) or National Qualifications (NQ)

National Certificate (NC) and National Qualification (NQ) courses are first level courses. That means you don’t need to have any previous knowledge of your chosen subject.

To get in, you’ll usually need three passes at National 4 level but some require no formal qualifications.

Normally, an NC or NQ will require one year of study. They prepare you to progress on to a Higher National Certificate (HNC) or a Higher National Diploma (HND) course. Some though, like an NC in Hairdressing, will give you the training you need to go straight into a job in that area.


National 4 - 5 and Highers

Nationals and Highers are not only taught at schools. Many people go to college to gain these qualifications, adding to what they achieved at school.

With extra National 4-5 and Higher grades, many people progress on to either an HNC/HND course at college or a degree course at university.


Higher National Certificates (HNC) & Higher National Diplomas (HND)

HNCs and HNDs are highly-regarded by employers. They are also accepted for entry to many university degrees. In fact, with an HNC/HND, some universities will let you progress directly into the second or third year of a degree course. See Progression Routes.

HNCs and HNDs are designed to give you knowledge and practical skills in your chosen subject. They’re normally ‘vocationally focused’ – that means they’re geared towards specific careers:

HNCs are normally studied over one year. After completing it, many people progress on to the second year of an HND course. Others will be prepared to go into employment. In some cases, you might be able to progress straight into the second year of a university degree.

To get into an HNC course, you’ll need at least one Higher.

HNDs are two-year courses. However, you may be able to enter directly into second year if you have completed an HNC in a related subject first.

HNDs are usually the highest level of qualification you can gain at college. They’re often seen as the equivalent of studying the first 2 years of a university degree. For that reason, some universities will accept students with an HND into the third year of a related degree course.

To get into an HND course straight from school, you’ll normally need at least 2 Highers.


Professional and Vocational Qualifications

Colleges also provide professional training and development courses related to specific job areas.

For example, many people go to college to complete a Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ). These courses give you the knowledge and skills required in order to do a specific job. Having an SVQ shows an employer that you are up to the required standard and able to carry out that job well.

SVQs are available at different levels. That means they can be useful to new employees starting out in a job as well as more experienced workers looking to enhance their qualifications. SVQs are often taken for trades such as carpentry, bricklaying, and hairdressing.