There were 767,000 applicants for full-time undergraduate places through UCAS in 2022. Given the impacts of Covid-19, this figure is impressive and suggests that for many, the appeal of university remains strong. However, obstacles to higher education still remain, particularly with regards to grades and students not returning to the classroom following the pandemic.

Access to Higher Education Diplomas, sometimes known as Access to HE or A2HE, aim to break down the barriers students may experience and open doors to a range of careers. The course is a Level 3 qualification open to anyone aged 19 and above, with a history that dates back to the 1970s. In recent years, Access to Higher Education has become more widely recognised by leading UK institutions as a viable way to gaining entry onto their courses.

This guide will explain everything you need to know about Access to Higher Education and help you take your next steps towards the career you always dreamt of.

Deciding whether Access to Higher Education is right for you

Around 20 000 Access to HE students apply for degree courses each year, going on to study a range of subjects including childcare, business, and animal care, amongst others. Of course, everyone's situation is different, but these are some of the key questions to consider.

Who is Access to Higher Education for?

As the name suggests, the course is designed to be a pathway to university for students who may have been out of education for some time, didn't get the necessary grades, or had to take a step back from education for one reason or another. Mature students, for instance, can use an A2HE course to get back to studying after having a family or extended career break, and students who don't have A-levels can also benefit.

Remember, Access to Higher Education is open to anyone aged 19 or over. However, you will be required to hold a GCSE in GCSE Maths and GCSE English Language, or equivalent Level 2 qualification, as universities see these core subjects as an essential part of their entry requirements.

Where can Access to Higher Education be done?

Access to HE is often taught online, meaning that students can learn from the comfort of their own home or anywhere that they can access the Internet, such as the local library. There are no exams to take either; instead, grades are awarded based on a Pass, Merit, Distinction assessment criteria.

Now let's take at some more specific considerations.

How to choose your Access to Higher Education Diploma

Choosing the right Access to HE course starts with deciding what area you want to build a career in. For example, if you aspire to work with animals, then a HE in veterinary science will likely be the best one to choose. It is also important to research which universities you want to apply to once you've completed your course.

Which universities accept Access to HE?

Around 140 UK universities accept the diploma as part of their alternative entry points, including the likes of the University of Bristol, Loughborough University, Durham University, and even University of Cambridge.

However, there are instances where universities will require you to complete the diploma to a certain level or alongside other qualifications, in order to satisfy themselves that you have the right level of understanding for the degree. Make sure you review the entry requirements carefully and contact the admissions department if you are in any doubt.

Is Access to HE accredited?

Access to Higher Education Diplomas are accredited by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). This demonstrates to universities that you have completed the necessary requirements for getting onto your chosen degree.

How long does Access to Higher Education take?

The Access to HE Diploma usually takes around 12 months to complete. By studying online, you can fit learning around your schedule, with part-time options also available.

Access to Higher Education students come from all backgrounds with unique circumstances and aspirations. Take time to carefully assess your options, both before and after studying your diploma. Here's a list of Access to Higher Education courses we offer to get you started.

Starting your course

By now, you'll hopefully have an idea about whether Access to Higher Education is right for you and maybe have your eye on a particular course. So what happens now?

Keep your career goals in mind and draw up a list of universities to apply to upon completing your diploma. What do they require? What do past students have to say about studying there? Where are they in the rankings tables? All of these questions will need to be answered before you reach the end of your Access to HE course. You might also want to remind yourself about applying through UCAS Clearing.

Most courses will have a reading list or some recommended resources you'll need to access in order to get the most out of your studies and put you in the best place to succeed. These will be explained to you when you enrol, but doing some independent research on what you will likely need to learn will be a bonus.

Why else do people consider Access to Higher Education?

Access to HE can be ideal if you are looking for a change in career or as a gateway to higher-level education following a break in education for health reasons. The course can also be a foundation for students who may have found learning in a classroom environment challenging yet still have aspirations to attend university.

Some helpful study hints

Distance learning is perfect if you have other commitments or find it hard to learn in a formal class setting. You might find it easier to study at a local cafe or library; all you need is a computer and an Internet connection.

If you are most comfortable studying at home, make sure you have a space where you can focus without being interrupted and set some dedicated time aside, whether that is in the evening when the kids are in bed or in the morning when everyone else is at work or school. We recognise that there will be days when motivation can be hard to summon; these suggestions might be worth having close by for when those days come around. We've even put a music playlist together to help you feel energised.

Though online study is independent, you will still have full tutor support at the click of a mouse button and at Oxbridge, our leading learning platform, My Oxbridge, will help track your progress to keep you on your path. Take a look at some other suggestions for efficient studying at home here.

What happens after completing the course?

Depending on the grade you receive, doors to further study will begin opening.

How is Access to Higher Education assessed?

Access to HE follows a Pass, Merit, Distinction criteria, similar to that used in BTEC qualifications. Diplomas consist of 60 credits, 45 of which are graded at Level 3, or A-level standard. Each unit is assessed by at least one assignment, with the grade awarded based on how well you meet the learning outcomes for that unit. The Pass, Merit, Distinction criteria are used to assess your assignments and give you an overall grade for the course.

Can I resubmit my assessment?

If you're not happy with your grade, you do have an opportunity to resubmit by a specific deadline. It may also be possible to gain an extension, should you experience a health problem or cannot complete the course on time for another legitimate reason.

When will I need to choose my university?

By the time you have completed your Access to Higher Education Diploma, you should have your top university choices finalised. Make sure you complete your application ahead of the deadline - this will vary depending on the institution - and that you are satisfied that you are making the right move for both your professional and personal life.

Ready to start learning?

At Oxbridge, we believe in making learning accessible and strive to support our students to achieve their goals. Our Access to Higher Education Diplomas are an ideal first step to progressing onto courses at many of the UK's leading universities, and furthering your potential.

Our students often achieve grades above the national average, backed by an expert tutor network and access to a vast pool of resources to aid in their study. Your future is in safe hands with us, but don't take our word for it; read some of our latest reviews here.

We have Access to Higher Education courses in a range of subjects - see the full list here or if you need further information, speak to one of our learning advisers.

Good luck!