ALTERNATIVES: On the other hand

Degree courses are not the only option at this time of year
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The Independent Online

DO YOU KNOW WHAT AN HND IS?

Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) are offered in universities and colleges. They are one year shorter than degree courses and the entry requirements are lower, but they are always in vocational or job-related subjects. They are not totally practical however. You would be expected to write essays and carry out assignments just as on a degree course. So you could do a degree in subjects such as agriculture, biology, building, business studies, catering/hospitality management, chemistry, computing design, engineering, leisure studies, travel and tourism, or more unusual subjects such as golf course studies, horology or jazz and popular music.

Is an HND as good as a degree? A lot depends on the career you have in mind. Since they are shorter and do not contain the same depth of study they are not the obvious choice for a would-be rocket scientist or someone hoping for an academic career. You would have to undertake a longer training route in order to qualify as a solicitor and it takes much longer to become a chartered engineer without a master's degree. In many career areas, however, where professional exams form an important part of the qualification route, it is still possible to reach the same point ultimately from degree or HND. The main difference is that graduates (people with degrees) usually have fewer exams to take.

So, an HND is a stand-alone qualification. It is also a conversion route to a degree. If you wanted a degree or needed one for your career, you would have two options from the HND route. Transfer to a degree course while at university or college. Later, convert your HND into a degree course by taking a top-up course. Try to enrol for an HND at an institution that has similar degree and HND programmes. They are likely to offer the transfer option (in either direction!)

THE WORK ROUTE

Then there is employment. Despite the increase in numbers of 18-year-olds entering higher education, there are still employers who recruit and train school and college leavers. This route has its advantages too! You would: gain the practical experience which some degree students will lack, still have the opportunity to obtain qualifications at degree or professional level, and have more money than your student friends.

WHAT OPPORTUNITIES MIGHT THERE BE?

These vary in different parts of the country, but the following career areas normally still offer openings (with good prospects) to non-graduates:

* Administration and management in both the private and public sectors

* Air traffic control

* Computing and IT

* Engineering

* Estate agency

* Finance (banking, insurance and accountancy – although over 90 per cent of chartered accountancy entrants are graduates)

* HM Forces

* Hospitality

* Journalism (although most editors prefer graduates)

* Legal executive work (from which there is a route to solicitor's training)

* Leisure

* Local government

* Retail management

* Sales

* Scientific laboratory work

* The Civil Service (including the Inland Revenue, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Customs & Excise)

* The emergency services

* The Merchant Navy (Deck and Engineering Officer cadet schemes)

* Travel and tourism.

Although some opportunities should still be around, you might find that the decent jobs have gone to people who applied earlier in the year. If so, you could take a temporary job to earn some money while you apply for your ideal permanent one. In the meantime, check your local careers office or Jobcentre – and keep trying!

Beryl Dixon is the author of 'Jobs and Careers After A-levels and Equivalent Advanced Qualifications' published by Lifetime Careers Publishing, summarising case studies all in different careers

CASE STUDY

Stuart Woodhead
Stuart Woodhead, 20, has just finished an HND in computing at Leeds Metropolitan University. Next year he hopes to move on to the third year of a BSc, also in computing

"My A-level grades weren't good enough to get on to a degree course – I got a D in media studies and general studies, an E in geography and U in biology. So I went back to school to resit geography and biology, but for various reasons I decided to give up at Christmas: it was a bit demoralising going back to classes you'd already taken with people a year below you, and I found it really difficult to motivate myself. I was also worried about falling behind the rest of my year group, although I've now learnt that that doesn't matter at all – I'm still younger than a lot of people on my course who've done BTecs and foundation courses.

I also discovered that I could take an HND with the grades I had in media and general studies, and that it would take the same length of time to get a full degree. So I got a job for the rest of that year and went to university in September. I still work part-time as a DJ because I hate being short of cash, and I paid most of my fees.

The first year wasn't harsh. The jump from GCSEs to A-levels is a lot bigger than A-level to HND. The work was fairly interesting and relevant. It was mainly lectures, group work and practicals, which I've always enjoyed – I think you learn faster with more hands-on work. But the lectures and the teaching in small groups had their moments too, because we had some really good teachers.

There were certain periods when it suddenly became a lot of work – when you've got three or four assignments in different subjects to give in on the same day. We were a fairly studious bunch of mates – although that isn't usually me! So towards the end of the course we guilt-tripped each other into staying at college for most of the day. I wanted to make sure I got good enough grades to go straight into the third year of the degree course – if you get below a certain level you get transferred to second year. I'll be the first person in my family to get a degree – and I think a BSc in computing will be useful for any job."

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