What are Professional Qualifications?
Alistair Stafford

What are Professional Qualifications?

Professional Qualifications FAQs

First published date November 25 2013 Amended date October 05 2015

Want to break into a particular industry but not sure how to? Whether you’re looking to gain a new skill or give your CV and job prospects a boost, then a professional qualification will give you the best chance possible to turn your passion into a career.

A professional qualification is the generalised term given to the qualifications awarded and accredited by the governing bodies in different sectors. Sound confusing? Well fear not, as our professional qualification FAQs will help make things clearer....


What counts as a professional qualification?

Basically, a professional qualification is one that is either fully accredited or has modules recognised by a professional body and is essential to forging a career in that industry. That could be an NVQ or BTEC that incorporates a series of industry required examinations in a particular subject, or a specialist industry run programme which gives you a specialist qualification such as the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants). A professional qualification can also often be awarded as part of a degree programme.


How is a professional qualification run?

A course usually contains a substantial amount of practical training, to give students as much as experience as possible to develop their skills for a career in that particular industry. The theory of your chosen subject will be studied while there can be lots of exams involved, often with demanding grade boundaries to pass.


Which subjects offer professional qualifications?

There are a huge number of different professional qualifications available in a wide range of industries. From computing to PR, there is a governing body accredited course for you to study. Examples range from the NCTJ (National Council for Training Journalists) diploma for budding hacks to CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) courses for those looking to pursue a marketing career.


How long does it take to gain a qualification?

The length of the course and time it takes to complete varies hugely depending on the subject and the level you’re studying. Full time professional courses will often be completed in under a year and university degrees can take three or four years to achieve if part of a bachelors programme, while a professional qualification can also take considerably longer if being studied part time alongside work or other study.


Where can I study a professional qualification course?

With literally hundreds of centres nationwide hosting the thousands of professional courses available in the UK, you should have little trouble finding a study location to suit you. Undergraduate degrees tend to be studied at a university, which may require additional travelling and accommodation expense, although the vast majority of non-degree qualifications can be studied at college or a higher education centre. If you don’t like the idea of travelling to go and study your qualification or feel uncomfortable learning around others, then with many subjects offer you the opportunity to learn  from home via distance learning or online professional courses.


How much will a professional qualification cost to study?

Again, how much you will have to pay can vary significantly. Students gaining a professional qualification as part of a university degree will be entitled to student funding, which will give you a loan to cover the cost of the course as well as provide means tested maintenance loans and grants to help with living costs. In some industries such as accountancy, employers will make grants available to trainees which will cover the cost of gaining the qualification, in exchange for them going to work for that company once they’ve passed. With different levels of professional qualifications available, the price of a course can vary hugely from a couple of hundred pounds to well in excess of several thousand pounds (yes, that much), so like purchasing anything else it’s best to ‘shop around’ first to find a programme at a price to suit you.  


Is a professional qualification essential for my career?

While it’s recommended to gain a professional qualification in any industry that has one available, it isn’t always essential to take that course. For example, a career can be made in industries such as journalism or PR without a NCTJ or CIPR qualification, although opportunities without the qualification are extremely rare, so completing an industry accredited course gives you a massive advantage when looking for a job. In some careers though such as accountancy, you can’t become qualified in the industry without completing a professional course.


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.