While known by a variety of different names, Bar courses essentially make up the vocational element of training for the Bar. Learn more about what these programmes involve and why they've replaced the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)

Bar courses at a glance

Final enrolment on the BPTC took place in September 2019. In order to qualify as a barrister new entrants need to complete one of the new Bar courses which:

  • Have different names depending on the provider. Look out for courses titled Bar Course, Bar Training Course (BTC), Bar Practice Course (BPC), Bar Vocational Course (BVC) and Bar Vocational Studies (BVS).
  • Need a 2:2 or above for entry, along with a law conversion course if your first degree wasn't in law.
  • Take one year to complete full time.
  • Require applications to be made directly to the organisation delivering the course.
  • Cost between £12,000 and £19,340.

Why change the route to qualifying as a barrister?

According to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) the new qualification rules make training to become a barrister more flexible, accessible and affordable than ever before. What's more the changes also provide the Bar with a more diverse pool of talent, while giving students the power to choose between different routes to qualification.

How do I become a barrister?

You need to complete an academic component (typically a law degree or an unrelated degree and a law conversion course), vocational component (postgraduate course, previously the BPTC now a Bar course) and a work-based learning component (usually pupillage). Additionally, trainee barristers must join one of the four Inns of Court and complete 12 qualifying sessions.

Now there are three routes to qualification instead of just one:

  • Three-step pathway - academic component, followed by vocational, followed by pupillage or work-based component.
  • Four-step pathway - academic component, followed by vocational component in two parts, followed by pupillage or work-based component.
  • Integrated academic and vocational pathway - combined academic component and vocational component followed by pupillage or work-based component.

You can also integrate a Bar course into an LLM degree, making the course eligible for a postgraduate loan.

A barrister apprenticeship pathway combining the academic, vocational and pupillage/work-based component is still being discussed, as such this route is currently unavailable.

What about the BPTC?

In September 2020 Bar courses effectively replaced the BPTC. There were transitional arrangements in place for students who needed to complete a BPTC, having started their course prior to 2020. BPTC students were able to continue via this traditional route and had until spring 2022 to complete the course.

If you're a BPTC student who still has assessments to complete in 2022 you now need to take the new centralised assessments for civil litigation and professional ethics. For more information see BSB - Transitional arrangements - BPTC students.

What are Bar courses and where can I study?

While course providers title their programmes differently, it's important to note that all courses lead to the same outcome - completion of the vocational component of Bar training.

Bar courses are also known as:

  • Bar/Barrister Training Course (BTC)
  • Bar Practice Course (BPC)
  • Bar Vocational Course (BVC)
  • Bar Vocational Studies (BVS).

A range of institutions, known as Authorised Education and Training Organisations (AETOs), have been authorised by the BSB to provide Bar courses. These are:

A number of these institutions provide both postgraduate diplomas (PGDips) and Masters level courses (LLM)

Check BSB - Authorised Education and Training Organisations for an up-to-date list of AETOs.

Search for Bar courses.

You'll need a minimum 2:2 for entry onto a course. However, some providers set their own entry requirements and some courses may require a 2:1 or higher. Check with your preferred university before submitting an application.

All students must also be fluent in English (to a level equivalent to at least IELTS 7.5) and apply to join an Inn of Court by 31 May of the year they intend to start a course.

You'll also need to pass a Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) before you start a course. The test assesses applicants' critical thinking and reasoning, but not their legal knowledge. It consists of 60 multiple-choice questions and takes 55 minutes to complete. Students have until the end of July in the year in which they intend to start a course to pass the BCAT. It costs £150 for UK and European Union (EU) applicants and £170 for international students.

All applications for Bar courses need to be made directly to the course provider. If you plan to complete the vocational component immediately after your degree or law conversion course, you need to apply in the autumn of your final year or the first term of your conversion course respectively.

What do Bar courses involve?

Bar courses equip students with the skills they need to become pupils and then fully-fledged barristers. They'll cover a range of subjects to ensure that you acquire the specialist skills, knowledge, attitudes and competencies required.

You can study a Bar Course, BTC, BPC or BVC:

  • in one part, which may be full-time over a year or part-time over a longer period
  • in two parts, which may involve face-to-face teaching for both parts or may involve self-study for one part
  • as a longer course, which combines the academic component of Bar training (usually a degree) with the vocational component in an integrated course.

The emphasis of all Bar courses is on learning through practical work, with many exercises based on briefs similar to those that barristers receive in the early stages of their career.

The courses cover a number of compulsory subjects including:

  • advocacy
  • civil litigation and evidence, incorporating dispute resolution
  • conference skills
  • criminal litigation, evidence and sentencing
  • drafting
  • legal research
  • opinion writing
  • professional ethics.

In advocacy classes, students will have to research the law in relation to a case, as well as court procedure to enable them to make their submissions. They will then present their cases in mock courtrooms where they are expected to think on their feet and respond to opposing arguments.

How long do Bar courses take?

It takes one year to complete a Bar course if you study full time, but two-year, part-time options are also available.

The amount of time you spend in the classroom will vary but on full-time courses you can expect between 10 and 16 hours a week. Many institutions will leave one day a week free for pro bono work, court visits and networking events.

How are they assessed?

Assessment varies between providers but they all test knowledge through written exams. Advocacy and conference skills are tested through practical exercises, often involving actors and both seen and unseen elements.

Students get two attempts to pass each of the Bar course exams.

Civil and Criminal Litigation assessments are set and marked centrally by the BSB. There’s a centralised assessment for Professional Ethics during the pupillage/work-based learning component.

How much do Bar courses cost?

The good news is that Bar course fees are generally lower than BPTC fees, but the cost of courses varies depending on what and where you study.

Fees range between £12,000 and £19,340 so compare providers carefully before making a decision.  

It will cost you £14,121 to £14,770 to study BBP University's BTC, while the University of Law's BPC will cost you between £12,700 and £16,900 depending on which campus you choose.

Nottingham Trent University charges £12,200 for its BTC PGDip, while City, University of London charges some of the highest fees at £19,340 for its Master of Laws course, although if you incorporate an LLM into your studies the cost can be considerably higher.

Is funding available?

Trainee barristers can apply for financial support from their Inn of Court. These provide approximately £4million each year to students. A few barristers' chambers also offer money towards the cost of training.

You could also take advantage of the scholarships and bursaries that are offered by universities. Find out more about funding postgraduate study.

If your course incorporates an LLM and results in a Masters qualification you could be entitled to a postgraduate loan worth up to £12,167 in the 2023/24 academic year.

How do I choose a Bar course?

  • Location - You may choose to study in the area where you hope to practise once you've qualified as a barrister, particularly as law schools are likely to have good links with the Bar in their area.
  • Cost - Fees vary between courses and if you're funding it yourself this is something you need to think about. You may also want to consider the Inn of Court scholarships, as well as whether the provider itself offers any scholarships, to help you out.
  • Reputation - What does the legal world think of the institution? Are the academics well known in the sector?
  • Course structure - How's it taught? What opportunities are there for extra-curricular activities such as pro bono? Are the class sizes reasonable?

Find out more

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