Higher education qualifications and their key benefits

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 18 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Higher education is the final stage of formal education that can help an individual hone their skills, acquire the necessary experience and make connections that can lead to career growth and advancement. Many jobs require applicants to have a higher education qualification that is specific to the role. If you're thinking about entering a higher education programme, then knowing the various requirements for entry is essential. In this article, we discuss what higher education is, what types of higher education qualifications are available and what the benefits are of gaining one.

What is higher education?

Higher education refers to the different institutions that provide education beyond secondary school, such as universities, colleges, technical schools, community colleges and vocational institutions. It can include undergraduate and postgraduate studies and is also known as tertiary, third-level or post-secondary education. The basic entrance requirement for most of these higher education institutions is the completion of secondary education, and the entrance age is usually 18.

When you complete a course of study, you receive a named certificate, degree or diploma of higher studies from a recognised authority or institution in the city where the course takes place. This evidence of formal qualification proves you have successfully completed a higher education programme. An advantage of higher education is that it allows you to study a subject you're interested in, which can increase your career prospects and earning potential.

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Higher education qualifications

Below are the top five higher education qualifications you may consider as a student:

Bachelor's degree

A bachelor's degree is an academic course that leads to a qualification such as a Bachelor of Medicine (MB), Bachelor of Science (BSc) or Bachelor of Arts (BA). It typically takes three or four years to complete a full-time bachelor's degree programme and about four years to complete a sandwich programme, which involves a work placement. A medical bachelor's degree can take over four years. The entry requirements depend on the course you want to study, but most of them expect you to have a minimum of two A levels at grade E or above.

There are numerous bachelor's degree programmes you can choose from. For instance, courses such as history or English can give you the experience and skills to apply for various jobs, while courses such as architecture, law or medicine train you for a specific career. The degree programme assesses students in multiple ways, including through coursework and exams. Depending on the course, there may be a requirement to write a dissertation that you submit at the end of the course. You receive a grade of first-class, upper-second (2:1), lower second (2:2), third class, pass or fail according to your overall performance.

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Postgraduate qualification

There are several postgraduate qualifications you can take to complete original research or prepare for a specific profession. Possible postgraduate qualifications include a doctorate, master's degree, postgraduate diploma and postgraduate certificate. To qualify for postgraduate studies, you're expected to have a bachelor's degree with a grade of at least 2:2 or above. A full-time course for postgraduate certificates and diplomas takes about nine to 12 months. The number of seminars or lectures you attend and what kind of papers or projects you complete depend on the institute and the course of study. Grades include fail, pass, merit and distinction.

A master's degree programme can be a taught course, research-based or a combination of both. Full-time study takes one to two years to complete, and the programme ends with a cumulative exam, project or thesis. The entry requirement is a bachelor's degree, though some institutions may require a GMAT/GRE score prior to your admission. A doctorate qualification takes three years or more to complete, and you typically work alone with the guidance of a supervisor before you receive a grade of fail, pass or distinction.

Foundation degree

Foundation degrees are a mixture of academic study and work-related learning and they focus on building technical skills for a specific career or job. This type of degree is a vocational qualification that further education (FE) colleges often teach. It's flexible and ideal for individuals who aren't sure if they want take up a full degree. Foundation degrees can give candidates looking for employment a solid platform to do so and also help individuals who intend to study for a full undergraduate degree later on.

A full-time foundation degree takes up to two years to complete, while a part-time programme can last up to four years. At Level 5 of the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RFQ), a foundation degree is the equivalent of a fraction of a bachelor's degree, a Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) or a Higher National Diploma (HND). This type of degree usually has no specific entry requirements. The commercial workplace or industrial skills and experience relating to specific area are usually more important than the formal qualification. They're therefore useful to teach skills that employers seek.

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Higher National Diploma (HND)

A HND is equivalent to the second year of a bachelor's degree and they're mostly run by colleges and higher education institutions. While a typical full-time HND takes about two years to complete, a part-time route can take three or four years. Either way, a HND provides students with relevant skills that are useful to their chosen career. This type of course may be more beneficial than a bachelor's degree to individuals that intend to enter practical industries such as agriculture, health and social care and engineering.

The entry requirement for an HND is a minimum of one or two A-levels. Courses are mostly classroom taught, and tutors often assess students through practical tasks, presentations and projects instead of more traditional exams. Depending on the subject, it may be necessary for students to complete work placements. These programmes grade students by distinction, merit or pass and there are routes for retakes and appeals. An HND can lead to a full bachelor's degree through a top-up course.

Associate degree

Some four-year institutes, vocational schools and community colleges offer associate degrees. An associate degree requires 60 semester credit hours and takes up to two years to complete. One benefit of this degree is that it costs less than a bachelor's degree. Students often prefer to complete more general subjects at a community college and then switch to a university for the subject-specific elements of their degree. There are two different categories of associate degrees: transfer and occupational degrees.

Occupational degrees help students develop the knowledge and technical skills necessary to find employment once they graduate. In contrast, transfer degrees are for those who intend to obtain their bachelor's degree from a four-year university. Occupational degrees are more technical and involve more practical experience than transfer degrees, but they're also eligible for use as transfer degrees. This only applies if the student earned the degree from a regionally accredited community college.

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Benefits of higher education

Below are five benefits of gaining higher education:

Career preparation and specialisation

One benefit of higher education is that it allows students to better understand a subject through their programme of study. They can gain insight into different areas and determine which could help them fulfil their potential. It helps students who are unsure of the field they want to explore as a career path or profession.

Higher education does this by focusing your interests, perfecting your skills and preparing you for the responsibilities or job positions you might want to consider once you complete your degree. Students that embark upon higher education with a particular goal or perspective could finish the programme with a different view or career aim.

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Personal development

In a higher education programme, students often engage in a variety of discussions and have assignments with deadlines. Through these things and more, they gain a wide range of experience and skills that contribute to their personal growth. They develop critical thinking and hone their communication skills, improving their self-confidence and self-esteem. As they learn and develop new skills, they may have better chances of succeeding in future opportunities.

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Poverty reduction

Countries benefit when they have more educated individuals, as they can contribute to the country's economic growth with their specialised skills. If there are more people with degrees, it could be easier for them to address problems that face their families and societies. Furthermore, individuals who have undertaken higher education often receive higher average pay, enabling them to improve their financial position.

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