ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

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The exact entry requirements for every course are usually given in prospectuses and in "University and College Entrance: the Official Guide". Look carefully not just at the grades specified, but also whether you are going to need specific grades in particular subjects. Many institutions need you to have GCSEs at A,B or C in maths and English: it's essential if you intend to get a teaching qualification.

Strictly speaking you only need two A-levels or Scottish Higher Grade passes to get into Degree or Diploma of Higher Education courses, or one A-level for a BTEC Higher National Diploma course. And you will find low offers on some courses, although they are likely to be ones for which there is a low demand.

All institutions are happy to take people offering AS levels and will allow them to count as half an A-level for points score purposes. Only a small minority of applicants offer them, although they are accepted as a Good Thing. So make them a positive feature of your application.

Some institutions will eventually make you a conditional offer that specifies the minimum grades you need to get. Others just ask you to get a particular number of points on the basis of an A being 10, a B being 9 and so on. The points score kind is easier to achieve, because you can compensate for a lousy perfomance in one subject by brilliance in another. However, it reduces the ability of admissions officers in high demand subjects to pick and choose once the A-level results are known and they are therefore more likely to ask for specific grades.

The days when everyone entering higher education had A-levels are long gone. However, many institutions' admissions systems are still adapting to the needs of applicants with alternative qualifications. While they are, it helps to know something about how they are likely to handle applicants with what are sometimes referred to as non-traditional qualifications. Here are some of the most common of these and a few tips.

BTEC OR SCOTVEC

People have been entering higher eduaction with BTEC or SCOTVEC qualifications for many years, particularly into science and engineering programmes. You may be asked to pass certain named units as part of your award, and possibly to obtain merits or distinction in them. It pays to check with the appropriate institutional admissions officers before you apply and it may pay to shop around, because not all policies will be identical and you want to have options. Also some institutions and subjects may offer you exemption for the first year if you get above a certain mark threshold.

If you are concerned about reaching the entry requirements then consider the HND courses. Entry requirements will almost certainly be lower and you are likely to have the option of going on to do the degree course later.

GNVQ

Almost all universities and colleges now accept an Advanced GNVQ as an entrance qualification. Many will specify that you need to get either a merit or distinction and it is also likely that will expect you to offer something in addition, commonly an A-level in a related subject. As for BTEC/SCOTVEC you are likely to encounter considerable variations in the height of the entry hurdle set by different institutions and even between different departments within the same institution; so it pays to make direct contact with admissions staff before applying. It's also a good idea to make clear in the personal statement section of the UCAS form just what benefits you have derived from doing a GNVQ, particularly the core skills bits and any project work you have done during the course.

NVQS

People are getting into higher education with NVQs but in small numbers at present. Some institutions have developed entry pathways that are specifically designed for people with NVQS; most of these will lead into degrees with vocational biases. It can be more difficult to match up NVOs with degree courses in traditional academic subjects.

ACCESS COURSES

The number of mature students entering higher education has risen sharply over the last decade and it is now established that they do as well, if not better, than people entering at 18.

Most further education colleges now offer a spectrum of access courses designed to prepare you for entry into the first year of a particular kind of degree course. These courses usually last one year and there is a national body which awards a kite-mark of approval to those that meet certain minimum requirements.

Many people who join access courses have family reasons for planning to stay in the same area to do their degree. So, many courses have close links with particular institutions. If this is the case there will be a close understanding of what standard you will require to enter. Formally, you either just pass or fail the access course and a pass is the minimum entry requirement. However, you are likely to find that considerable emphasis is placed on your performance at interview and on the opinion of the access course tutor. Its usually too early for them to form an opinion before the UCAS deadline, so it is common for them to supply a second academic reference in the spring. This is sent direct to the institutions to which you have applied.

If you apply to institutions that don't know anything about your course you will find that they may write asking for details of content and assessment before deciding whether to interview you. So it pays to get in touch and provide that kind of information, although remember to send any extra papers direct to the institution, not loose with your UCAS form.

If you end up getting an offer it may well specify that you get particular marks in specific bits of the course or possibly overall.

FOUNDATION YEARS

Many higher education institutions now offer four-year degrees where the first year is designed to bring you up to speed in a specific subject area. They are particularly common in science and engineering subjects and bear many similarities to access courses. Most are designed to be appropriate both for people with poor or inappropriate A-levels and people without formal qualifications at all.

Because it's a higher education course you will get a grant; also you are usually guaranteed entrance to the first year of the degree course proper.

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