University life

What next after a higher national diploma: job hunting or top-up degree?

30 Oct 2023, 12:00

Find out how your HND can help you get into your chosen career and explore options for further study and training.

A graduate on the top of a mountain, arms outstretched in celebration: he's graduated from his HND

Are you working towards a Higher National Diploma (HND)? Here, we explain the options that are open to you after completing it: from finding a job in the same career sector as your course to changing direction or perhaps ‘topping up’ your HND to a degree. Whichever route you choose, it’s likely that your qualification and the experience you’ve gathered from it will be valued by employers. Jump to:

What is an HND?

The HND is a vocationally based course provided by further education and higher education colleges. The diploma takes two years if you’re doing it full time or up to four years part time. It is designed to develop skills that you can take straight into the workplace with you and is a widely recognised standalone qualification in its own right, although it can also be a route into further study if you prefer.

What is an HND equivalent to?

An HND is at level 5 of the national qualifications framework for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, making it equal to the second year of an undergraduate degree – also referred to in this article as an honours degree or bachelors degree. In practice, though, a level 4 HNC (higher national certificate) is embedded within HNDs, making them equivalent to the first two years of an undergraduate degree. If you only complete the first half of an HND, you will still be awarded an HNC. HNDs are worth 240 of the 360 credits needed to be awarded a degree, while HNCs are worth 120 credits.

HNDs are also equivalent to foundation degrees, another level 5 qualification worth 240 credits, with a few key differences. For example, foundation degrees include some written academic assignments alongside practical learning, they are awarded by the same university they are taught by rather than a separate examining body, and the entire two years must be completed for any qualification to be awarded so they can’t be split into smaller parts.

What can you do after an HND?

Employers value the vocational focus and workplace experience that an HND provides. By the time you complete your HND you’ll have developed a portfolio of work that is directly related to your learning in the workplace. You can either work in a closely related area or change direction using the skills you’ve gained.

You could also consider further study if you have an HND and would like to continue developing your knowledge and expertise. Your HND is a potential stepping stone to a number of options:

What jobs can you get with an HND?

HNDs are vocational courses, so the subject you’re studying is likely to be linked to a particular career path. For example, your HND may be preparing you for a career in one of the following areas:

  • agriculture
  • business
  • computing
  • construction and civil engineering
  • engineering
  • health and social care
  • hospitality
  • sports science
  • performing arts
  • retail.

However, HNDs provide you with plenty of transferable skills and work experience that is likely to be valued by employers in any industry, so you could also consider sectors other than those listed above if you’re not sure about pursuing a career in the same sector as your HND.

Can you get a ‘graduate job’ with an HND?

Many graduate programmes require applicants to have a bachelors (honours) degree. If this is the case, your HND won’t be an eligible qualification and you will need to either top up your HND to a full honours degree or to look for other entry-level jobs with the employer you want to work for. That said, some entry-level training schemes are open to students with HNDs and foundation degrees, so it is worth looking at the entry requirements of schemes that interest you. You can search for jobs and graduate programmes on targetjobs and register to follow employers – and take a look at our ‘What is a graduate job?’ feature for more about entry-level roles and training programmes.

How do you find jobs after an HND?

If you have been working while studying for your HND, you might consider asking your current employer for more responsibility. Show how your course has developed the skills that you have to offer and ask about other career development opportunities and career options.

If you’re not already employed, or you’d prefer to find a new job with a different employer, bear in mind that your HND will be of most interest to employers in the relevant vocational area. Research both local companies and those further afield to establish which roles and related roles are currently in demand. In your applications, highlight skills, work experience and placements related to the industry to show what you can bring to your employer.

If you have decided you’d like a new challenge and your HND isn’t directly relevant to the type of work you’d like to do, concentrate on how your skills and the workplace experience you’ve gained could be transferred to each role you apply for.

There are many different ways to find out about suitable vacancies:

  • the careers service at your college
  • graduate recruitment websites such as targetjobs – set up job alerts to update you when a vacancy becomes available that meets the criteria you’ve set
  • social media including LinkedIn – follow employers that interest you to stay up to date
  • job fairs
  • trade associations and professional bodies with student career networks
  • keeping in touch with employers where you’ve had placements for word-of-mouth recommendations.

It’s estimated that a large proportion of jobs are never advertised. Talk to friends and family and keep an eye on social media posts and network to find these ‘hidden’ vacancies and read our advice on applying speculatively .

Can you turn your HND into a degree?

Yes, you can convert your HND to a full honours degree. If you decide to do so, you’ll be giving your academic qualifications an extra boost as well as potentially widening your career options. Most graduate schemes and many graduate employers specify an honours degree as an entry requirement. If your HND covers similar content to the degree, you should be able to start in the final year. This is known as a top-up degree.

You may choose to complete a top-up course at your current institution, at the university that validates its qualifications, or another university. There is no time limit for topping up, so there’s no need to do it immediately after finishing your HND unless you want to.

If you’d like to study for a degree that isn’t directly related to your HND, you may be able to start in the second year of an honours degree. However, you might also find that you need to start your degree from the beginning. Course providers will make individual decisions about the point at which you would enter on to a degree programme, so it is essential to get in touch with those on your shortlist to talk to about your course, experience and study ambitions.

Can you do a masters with an HND?

Unfortunately not – or at least, you’ll need some further study or work experience first.

With your HND qualification and a number of years’ experience in the industry, you could be eligible for entry onto a postgraduate course. The choice will be from a limited pool, but there are some vocationally focused courses where your relevant work experience is recognised as being as important as an honours degree. Research your options using the postgraduate course entry requirements on university websites.

To be accepted onto a masters or other postgraduate-level course, you’ll usually need to have a full honours degree – this is one of the reasons you might consider topping up your HND. With a top-up degree, you’ll have a much broader set of options to choose from:

  • taught or research masters courses (eg MA, MSc, MRes and MPhil)
  • postgraduate conversion courses preparing you for a change of career
  • shorter postgraduate courses such as a six-month PgCert, or a nine-month PgDip
  • an MBA
  • professional qualifications in careers like accountancy, law, teaching, social work, and engineering.

In some professions, a professional qualification is a requirement for entry. In others, a related qualification can enhance your career prospects and future earning potential. Bear in mind that not all professional qualifications require you to have completed a degree, so some of these may be an option straight after your HND depending on the career sector.

Can you get funding for a top-up degree or postgraduate course?

Student finance is usually only available for your first higher education qualification – your HND – so access to funding for a top-up degree is more limited. For example, if you study a top-up course lasting one year (effectively the final year of an undergraduate degree), you may receive funding for that as you would only be doing three years of study in total. You are less likely to be completely covered by student finance if you start in the first year of a three-year degree after an HND. Contact Student Finance England (or your applicable student funding body) for details on the funding that you will be eligible for.

Postgraduate loans are available for masters students from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and (if certain conditions are met) the EU. The eligibility criteria and funding amounts vary across the individual student funding bodies, so check online for your eligibility.

Universities offer scholarships and bursaries at department and university level, and can give advice on other funding sources like grants and awards.

Other sources of funding include:

  • employer sponsorship
  • commercial loans for students
  • awards and grants from charities and foundations
  • working as you study.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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