What are National Certificates?
Alistair Stafford

What are National Certificates?

National Certificate FAQs

First published date January 03 2014 Amended date October 05 2015

Looking to give your career prospects a boost with an additional qualification? Have a dream career in mind and need to improve your skills to reach your goals? Whether you want to achieve the next level of academia without the stressful exams or want to enrol on a course with an industry focus in mind, a National Certificate could be the qualification for you.

A National Certificate is a course where students get lots of practical experience in a particular industry, with some classroom study built into it to give you a qualification likely to boost your career chances in an industry. Think it sounds like a suitable course for you? Our National Certificate FAQs will tell you all you need to know about to expect...


What courses can I study to gain a National Certificate?

There are a massive range of courses available in a wide selection of subjects, ranging from health and social care to business management for retail. So whether you’re looking to make your first step in a business career or dream of turning the performing arts in to a profession, there’ll be a national certificate to suit your interests.


What qualifications do I need to take a National Certificate?

Typically, a course will require you to have at least 4 A*-C GCSE grades, including passes in English and maths. If you haven’t got those grades, then key skills or other NVQ level two qualifications are usually accepted. These entry requirements do vary, with some programmes asking for more GCSE passes and others significantly fewer, while others expect a portfolio showcasing your work, so it’s worth searching to find a certificate best suited to your grades.


Where can I study for a National Certificate?

There are hundreds of colleges across the country which have National Certificate programmes as part of their list of courses, so you should be able to find a course in the subject you’re interested in at a location suitable to you. If that isn’t possible, then there are lots of certificates that can be worked towards by studying online.


What level of qualification is a National Certificate?

The National Certificate is a level three qualification, so is the equivalent of A Levels or an alternative Level three NVQ. It is usually worth 12-units, which is the same as two thirds of a national diploma. People who work towards a national certificate have often recently left secondary school, although many use the qualification as a way towards retraining for a different profession.


How long does a National Certificate course take to complete?

Typically, a National Certificate takes around 15 months to complete, although many programmes condense the whole qualification in to one year. Many National Certificates can be studied part time, although that may take considerably longer.


Can I progress to university from a National Certificate?

Providing you have accumulated enough UCAS points from your National Certificate, then you should be able to qualify for university. A level three National Certificate is graded on a four-tier grading system; fail (F), pass (P), merit (M) and distinction (D), with the best grade available being a double distinction (DD). That’s worth 240 UCAS points, the equivalent of achieving three C grades at A Level. Be warned though that not all universities will accept anything other than A Levels, so it’s worth checking before applying for a foundation or undergraduate degree programme.


What are the alternatives to university after a National Certificate?

After completing your National Certificate, you could use your new qualification to start work in the profession you’re interested in working in. However, if you’re keen to carry on studying without getting a degree at university, then a Higher National Certificate (HNC) allows you to continue with vocational study but at a higher level.


How does a Higher National Certificate work?

The HNC is a level five qualification, so is the equivalent of a foundation degree for those studying at university. A course is still vocational focused, but will cover the skills required for a particular industry in more detail. It usually takes around one year of full time study to complete the HNC, which can be studied at one of hundreds of further education colleges across the country. The major difference between the HNC and the ordinary National Certificate is the financial commitment, with course fees often costing significant sums of money.


Alistair Stafford

With a BA in Journalism, Alistair has a passion for writing, especially if it's got anything to do with football or other sports. In his spare time, he's big on exercise and he once completed the London Marathon.