Considering what to do after completing your BTEC Higher National Diploma? Find out more about Top-up degrees and whether taking one may be the right move for you.
What is a top-up degree?
Top-up degrees are designed to help people with an existing Level 5 qualification - such as a Higher National Diploma (HND) - gain credits and graduate with a full undergraduate degree. Equivalent to the final year of study, they offer a fast-track route to a UK Bachelor’s, allowing students to build on their previous learning rather than starting from scratch, which could take three years or more. You can start a top-up degree straight after finishing your level 5 qualification or after a break if you would prefer – there's no time limit.
Nearly every other student chooses a top-up
Going on to higher education is a popular route for HND graduates; according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, almost 50% decide to take this pathway after finishing their qualification.
As a university degree, top-ups are a great option if you are looking to enhance the vocational experience you have gained previously, with a more advanced academic skill set and understanding. Like Higher Nationals, they are industry specific, meaning you can focus on building knowledge in a particular field, whether that’s Business, Computing, Healthcare, Hospitality or something else.
However, they will focus more on the academic theories and concepts within the subject area, and are likely to involve more essay writing, exams and independent learning. This is a great way to further improve your transferable skills, including problem-solving, research, communication, and time-management. However, if you prefer to be more practical it may be important to think about whether this is the right style of learning for you.
At many universities, such as Northumbria University which provides specific progression pathways from BTEC Higher National qualifications, you would be encouraged to apply your learning to practical examples. This means that you can build on your past or current work experience to develop a better understanding of the theory and how to apply it in the future.
Can I do a top-up degree in a different subject to my HND?
Generally, no. You gradually develop your knowledge over the course of a Bachelor’s degree, with each year acting as a platform for more advanced concepts. This means that most universities will ask that you have studied an HND qualification in a subject related to the top-up degree you are applying for; it ensures you have the crucial pre-requisite knowledge needed to succeed.
However, some programmes may offer a level of flexibility. The Pearson Higher National Degree Finder highlights pathways for students who are looking to progress onto a degree, across a range of subject areas.
Making the studies work around your lifestyle
Although some students choose to complete their top-up full-time and on campus, many universities now offer part-time or more flexible modes of study, such as distance or blended learning. These options will give you the freedom to study in your own way.
For example, the Northumbria University Business and Management BA (Hons) Top Up is delivered 100% online, with a 15-hour a week recommended study time; students can learn wherever and whenever they want, save on the costs associated with travelling to or living on campus, and can balance full-time work and learning if needed. Studying a top-up full-time normally takes around 12 months, with part-time courses taking closer to 18 months.
Where can a top-up take you?
Upon graduation, you’ll have developed a deeper academic knowledge of your chosen subject area, as well as key transferable skills. This, when paired with the more vocational, hands-on experience gained during your Higher National studies, will really help you to stand out to employers, whether that’s in a new organisation or one you are already working in.
If you have enjoyed studying, you could also use your new degree as a stepping-stone to a Master’s or a professional postgraduate qualification.
Completing a HND is an excellent first step towards carving out a successful career for yourself. However, whether you're nearing the end of your qualification, or have just finished and are considering your next steps, perhaps taking a top-up could be your next challenge.