While the practical skills gained from a Higher National Diploma (HND) can lead directly to the workplace, many students use the qualification as a stepping stone to an honours degree

Equivalent to the second year of a Bachelors degree, these vocational qualifications are usually studied full time for two years (or three years part time), preparing you for a career in a specific industry, such as engineering, business, hospitality, computer science, design, or health and social care.

As HND courses are designed with particular job sectors in mind, the practical, skills-focused programme will give you a level of expertise valued by employers and professional bodies.

For an explanation of undergraduate qualifications in the UK, how they differ from one another and their entry requirements, see our guide to qualifications.

Should I 'top up' to a degree?

It all depends on the career path you wish to take. If you want to apply for a graduate scheme or graduate-level job, you'll usually need to complete a degree - which is why most HND graduates decide to 'top up'.

Because the HND is a high-level qualification, it does give exemption from certain professional examinations; but you'll need to check which ones. For example, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) makes HND holders exempt from some foundation exams.

Before you make a decision:

  • check to see if your HND can get you into your chosen career with our job profiles
  • work out if you can afford to study for a degree
  • discuss your options with a careers adviser.

How do I get on to a degree course?

If you're set on upgrading your HND to a Bachelors degree, you'll need to choose a university course. You can search and apply for available 'top up' course options at the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). This website provides links to the full entry requirement of each institution offering your particular course.

While you can use your HND to transfer onto the first, second or third year of a Bachelors degree, if the subject is similar and you've a good academic history you'll usually be clear to enter the final year of a full-time course. If not, you'll probably have to start in the first year - but contact your chosen university in advance of your application to confirm this.

Even with a one-year programme, your attendance will be expected on campus - although the degree may still involve a significant amount of fieldwork. Alternatively, part-time study and distance learning is also offered by some universities, but it could take you two years to achieve your award.

Find out more about how to apply to university.

Can I do a Masters with an HND?

As an HND graduate, there may be opportunities for postgraduate study - but you'll need to check the course entry requirements.

Some universities expect HND candidates to hold at least a graduate diploma in a related subject. For certain courses in areas such as social work, teaching and business, a substantial amount of relevant work experience is valued just as highly as an honours degree.

Explore the range of postgraduate qualifications and search for postgraduate courses that may accept HND graduates.

Can I get funding for further study?

If you're looking to make the step from an HND to a degree, you should be eligible for a student loan - provided you've not studied for an undergraduate degree before. Get more information about student loans and finance.

Institutions also offer bursaries or scholarships to students. Payments can be made to students for a variety of reasons, such as a scholarship for sporting excellence or financial support to help students from a poor background fulfil their academic potential. Get in touch with your chosen institution to find out if you meet their eligibility criteria.

For those with ambitions to pursue a postgraduate degree, funding may be available for this too. There are many possibilities when it comes to financial help for Masters students, so discover what's available at funding postgraduate study.

What do other HND graduates do?

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, almost a fifth of recent HND graduates studied business studies, while 7% studied either computer science or electronic and electrical engineering. General engineering (5%) and hospitality, leisure, sport, tourism and transport (4%) were also popular choices.

Almost half of HND graduates were in further study six months after graduation, with the majority (91%) studying towards a first degree.

In terms of the type of work HND graduates took on in the UK, 20% were employed in retail, catering, waiting or as bar staff. Around a tenth found work as other professionals, associate professionals and technicians, or as engineering and building professionals.

What jobs can I get with an HND?

The top ten professional or managerial jobs held by recent HND graduates working in the UK include:

  • electrical engineers
  • other engineering professionals
  • mechanical engineers
  • engineering technicians
  • design and development engineers
  • electrical and electronics technicians
  • civil engineers
  • production and process engineers
  • sports coaches, instructors and officials
  • ship and hovercraft officers.

Most graduate-level jobs and graduate schemes call for a 2:2 degree or higher. To apply for these, you'll need to 'top up' your HND to a Bachelors degree. See above for how to go about this.

Take a look at job sectors to find out which industries employ HND graduates, such as engineering and manufacturing, property and construction and marketing, advertising and PR.

You can also search for graduate jobs, but it's important to check the specific qualifications required for each position. For career ideas, explore what can I do with my degree?, but again you'll need to ensure you're eligible to apply.

How can I increase my chances of getting a job?

Given the vocational nature of an HND, job opportunities may present themselves while you carry out work experience. The contacts made on your course may also prove useful when contemplating how to find a job.

It's important to use your CV to highlight the many skills that you've gained through your HND. For guidance on what a skills-based CV should contain, see our example CVs. You can also learn how to write a winning CV by visiting CVs and cover letters.

Do your research and find out the skills and attributes that companies are searching for. More information can be found at what skills do employers want?

One way to open up job opportunities while ensuring you're better positioned for graduate schemes after finishing your HND is to pursue a degree. You'll then be able to apply for many jobs and internships that were previously unavailable to you.