There is a wide choice of courses available to you, from basic skills in maths, English and computing, to higher education qualifications such as degrees.

Some courses are work-related, while others can be undertaken simply for the pleasure of learning. This section gives a broad overview of what is on offer.

Getting started

It can be helpful to get some initial advice if you are planning to start, or return to, learning. Here are some sources of support.

Careers and advice services


The National Careers Service is freely available for people living in England. It provides careers advice and information on a wide range of jobs, training course resources and funding. You can speak to a professional advisor by ringing 0800 100 900. There is an option for them to call you for free. Visit the National Careers Service website for more information. The site contains useful advice and tools, including a course searcher


Careers Wales provides free, bilingual, impartial careers information, advice and guidance for people of all ages living in Wales. The Careers Wales: Adults section will be of particular interest.


Skills Development Scotland brings together careers, skills, training and funding services in Scotland. Their My World of Work is on online toolkit designed to assist you with every step of your career journey.

Northern Ireland

Careers Service Northern Ireland will help you with career and training advice if you are living in Northern Ireland. 

Types of course on offer

Basic skills

Basic skills are designed to help you develop the skills you use in everyday life, such as reading, writing, maths, information and communication technology (ICT). They can also help you boost your CV or move on to further study.


GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education. They are highly valued by colleges and employers. You can take GCSEs in a wide range of academic and 'applied' (work-related) subjects. In order to take an A level, you will usually need a GCSE in the same subject.   If you are thinking about applying for degree programme, you will need to have GCSEs in maths and English at 'C' grade or above.  


An apprenticeship can be a great choice if you have a clear idea about where you want to go with your career. You'll get training and gain qualifications on the job, and you'll also be earning as you learn!


NVQ stands for National Vocational Qualification. An NVQ can be studied at work, college, or as part of an Apprenticeship. It is a 'competence-based' qualification: this means you learn practical, work-related tasks designed to help you develop the skills and knowledge to do a job effectively.

Access courses

Access courses can be a way into higher education and are useful for personal development, or to prepare you for the workplace. They are aimed at adults who have limited formal qualifications but who can show they have the ability to study at a higher education level. 

All access courses vary, even if they are based on the same subject. If you are interested in a particular subject and are thinking of taking an access course as a way into studying that subject at degree level, you must contact the admissions tutor before enrolling on a particular access course. All universities require access courses to demonstrate high standards of teaching that will adequately prepare students for undergraduate study. They will, therefore, be selective and will prefer potential applicants to undertake specified access courses. You should be aware, however, that undertaking an access course does not guarantee either an interview, or a place at, a university.

Most universities require applicants to achieve an overall grade of at least 80%. You should check with the admissions tutor to find out the university's specific requirements.        

A (Advanced) and AS (Advanced Subsidiary) levels

You should think about taking A levels if you want to study a particular subject in detail. As well as access courses, universities and other higher education institutions will consider applicants who have A levels.

You are likely to need at least a C grade GCSE in a relevant subject before you are allowed to begin an an A or AS level course. If you are thinking about applying to university, you are likely to need at least three A levels at C grade or above.

Many undergraduate programmes are very competitive and competition for places is particularly high. For undergraduate programmes, therefore, the requirement is often three or sometimes four A levels at B grade or above. When courses are very competitive, universities will always select those candidates who have the highest A level grades. This is particularly the case with programmes leading to a professional qualification. In these cases, universities will also look very carefully at your personal statement which should clearly show your commitment to studying at degree level and to obtaining a professional qualification, including evidence of your familiarity with your chosen subject area.    


The Business and Technology Education Council is the British body which awards vocational qualifications. Such qualifications are commonly referred to as BTECs. BTEC qualifications are undertaken in vocational subjects ranging from business studies to engineering.

Specialist college programmes

Specialist colleges for people with disabilities provide a range of programmes closely tailored to individual needs. To find out more contact Natspec: The Association of National Specialist Colleges at [email protected] or on 0115 854 1322.  

Higher education

Higher education can really boost your career prospects and earning potential. Many employers will target graduates when they recruit. You could take a degree, such as a Bachelor of Science (BSc) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) qualification. Other options include studying for a Foundation Degree or a Higher National Certificate (HNC). For more information visit the UCAS website.  

Learning for leisure

Learning doesn't have to be about getting on in employment, and there are many courses which can be undertaken for the love of learning. Many local authorities run short courses on anything from jewellery-making, pottery, singing, or even Mandarin Chinese. Visit your local authority website or give them a call for a details of the courses they run.