College courses

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
October, 2023

If you're looking to achieve a further education (FE) qualification, both in-person and online college courses are available across all subjects, providing entry routes into a range of careers

According to the Association of Colleges (AoC) College Key Facts 2022/23 report, FE institutions in England are responsible for delivering:

  • 82% of HNCs
  • 58% of HNDs
  • 63% of foundation degrees.

In addition to this, colleges are also responsible for training 60% of all construction, planning and the built environment apprentices and 41% of all engineering and manufacturing apprentices.

What can I study?

At FE level, a range of academic and vocational qualifications are available, including:

  • A-levels - Usually taken after your GCSEs, these academic courses provide the most common route to university. You'll typically choose three subjects to study full time over two years, with options ranging from maths and English literature to media studies, psychology and sport.
  • T Levels - Equivalent to three A-levels, these two-year qualifications combine classroom learning with an extended industry placement on a course created in collaboration with employers. Examples of courses include health, onsite construction, and digital production, design and development.
  • BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) diplomas - These specialist work-related qualifications combine subject and theory content with practical learning. More than 2,000 courses are available across many sectors, for instance, business, childcare, media and sport. They're ideal if you're interested in a particular industry but aren't sure what job you'd like to do.
  • Higher National Certificates (HNCs) - Equivalent to the first year of a Bachelors degree, these short-term vocational courses can be completed within one year. Popular options include construction and engineering.

Higher education

The AoC has revealed that 110,000 people are studying higher education at college, with 153 institutions currently registered with the Office for Students (OfS) for providing undergraduate and/or postgraduate courses.

While Bachelors degrees are the most popular undergraduate option, other qualifications you can study at HE level include:

  • Foundation degrees (FDs) - Focused on building essential skills for a particular profession, such as social work or nursing, and equivalent to two-thirds of a full undergraduate degree, these courses usually last for two years. You can gain credit by having commercial/industrial experience rather than formal qualifications.
  • Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) - A vocational two-year qualification equivalent to the second year of a university degree that can prepare you for entering certain industries - for example, computer science, design or hospitality. You may need one or two A-levels for entry onto a course.

Discover how these courses compare with one another by viewing our guide to undergraduate qualifications and get help on choosing the right degree.

If you do decide to go down the Bachelors degree route, explore what fields graduates usually go into after completion of their course at what can I do with my degree?

Even if you plan to study an undergraduate course at college rather than university, you'll still need to apply through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

Familiarise yourself with the application process at how to apply for university.

Adult learning

From the Access to Higher Education diploma to studying a new language or taking your GCSEs as a mature student, there are plenty of options for adults looking to continue their education.

To get the lowdown on the full range of courses available and discover whether you're eligible for financial support, see adult education.

Online college courses

If you're primarily concerned with seeking out distance learning options due to your other work or personal commitments, a range of online college courses are now available through local colleges.

Online courses are also offered by dedicated learning providers such as:

You can search for both in-person and online college courses by visiting the National Careers Service (NCS) - Find a course.

As well as qualifications you'll have to pay for, the NCS also lets you search for free Level 3 college courses.

Short online courses are also available from the likes of Coursera and FutureLearn, while you can also study online at degree or Masters level through The Open University.

Read more about online learning and microcredentials.

Find out more

How would you rate this page?

On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like

success feedback

Thank you for rating the page