What is a National Diploma?
Alistair Stafford

What is a National Diploma?

National Diploma FAQs

First published date January 03 2014 Amended date October 05 2015

Want to gain a qualification to push for your dream career? Think a work related qualification is more suited you than the stress of exams? Whether you’re looking for a less-academic focused qualification to help you progress to university, or want to complete a course with a specific career in mind, a national diploma could be for you.

A national diploma is a vocational programme that focuses on practical study and plenty of hands-on experience, to give you a qualification that will help you get started in a particular industry. Sound like the ideal option for you? Our national diploma FAQs will give you more information and answer any questions you may have....


What subjects can I gain a national diploma in?

There are literally hundreds of different options for you to study in a variety of industries, ranging from art and design diplomas to construction courses. So, whether you’re a budding cook wanting to take a catering course or a petrol head keen to study vehicle maintenance, they’ll be a course to suit your career ambitions.


Are there any entry requirements to take a national diploma?

Although different courses will have slightly different entry requirements, the general expectation is to have a minimum of four GCSE A*-C grades, including maths and English. Diploma courses in animal based careers may also expect a science GCSE pass. As it’s a vocational qualification most courses will consider any other equivalent Level two NVQ qualification, such as a BTEC first diploma. It’s worth contacting the course directly to see what they expect from their enrolling students.


Who usually studies for a national diploma?

Traditionally, a large percentage of those enrolling on diploma courses are those in the 16-19 age range who have recently left high school, or those who have just finished an alternative NVQ level 2 course. However, diplomas are available to all ages, so it’s never too late to enrol on a course.


Where can I study for a national diploma?

There are hundreds of colleges across the country that offer national diploma courses, so you should be able to find a centre near you. If there’s not a college nearby that covers the course you want to study, then many programmes are available to study online.


How long does the national diploma take to complete?

The majority of courses take two years to complete, although can take longer if studied part time.


How is a national diploma graded?

Like most vocational qualifications, the national diploma is graded on a three-tier marking system; with pass (P) being the lowest and distinction (D) being the highest, with merit (M) being the grade available in between. A national diploma gives you three marks, meaning the highest available grade is a triple distinction (DDD).


Can I use my national diploma to apply for university?

 The vast majority of university courses accept entries from national diploma students, with the diploma appearing on the UCAS tariff. A pass is worth 40 points, a merit is worth 80 points and a distinction is worth 120 marks. As a national diploma is worth three marks, you can earn up to treble those amounts of points, with a triple distinction being 360 UCAS points – the equivalent of three ‘A’ grades at A level. Not every course accepts the qualification though, so if you’ve got your heart set on a particular university or undergraduate degree it may be worth enquiring about their entry requirements first. 


What else can I do with a national diploma?

Having completed your national diploma, you will be able to use your new qualification to get a job in the industry you’ve been learning in, as the hands-on experience you will have gained from studying will mean you’re ready for work. However, if you feel you’d like to keep on studying, then a higher national diploma (HND) means you can gain further knowledge in the profession you’re interested in.


What is a Higher National Diploma?

A HND is a level five qualification, so is the equivalent of studying a foundation degree or a level five NVQ. The course is essentially a more advanced version of the ordinary national diploma, with plenty more practical skills be taught to prepare you for a particular job.  It typically takes two years full time to complete the diploma, although usually can be studied part time if you’re prepared to split your learning over a longer period. The qualifications can be studied at one of hundreds of further education colleges nationwide, so you should be able to find an institution near you that is covering the subject you love. One potential setback is the cost, with full time education costing into the thousands each year, so it’s worth weighing up the possible options.


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.