Find out what qualifications are available in Scotland, and who offers them.

What's on offer?

There are lots of different types of qualification in Scotland. These include: 

  • Access courses
  • Nationals, Highers, Advanced Highers and Scottish Baccalaureates which you normally sit at school
  • Foundation Apprenticeships are chosen as one of your subjects in S5 and S6 but include hands-on learning at a local employer or college. They are the same level as a Higher
  • Modern Apprenticeships mean you learn on the job. You get paid and work towardsa a qualification at the same time
  • Graduate Apprenticeships are designed for industry and you'll spend most of your time learning at the job but you'll also go to uni or college. You'll get a job, get paid and work towards a qualification at the same time
  • Skills for Work which combine study in school or college with learning at work
  • National Certificates and National Qualifications which you normally sit at college 
  • Scottish Vocational Qualifications – these include work-based learning. For example, if you’re doing a Modern Apprenticeship you could achieve an SVQ
  • SQA Wider Achievement awards which recognise the life and work skills learners have gained
  • Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas which you usually sit at college
  • Degrees, Masters Degrees and PhDs which you usually study at university

You can find qualifications at all levels on the Learn and Train search.

Learning outside of school, such as through youth work awards, is as important as formal learning.

Programmes such as the Youth Achievement Awards, Sports Leaders UK Awards and Duke of Edinburgh Leadership Award are all recognised qualifications, as well as programmes owned by the police, fire service and the NHS. Find out more on the Awards Network website.


General entry requirements

You can apply to college courses at NC level (SCQF Level 5 or 6) with some National 4 or 5 qualifications.

To enter an HNC (SCQF Level 7) or HND (SCQF Level 8) course, you would usually require some National 5 qualifications and 1 or 2 Highers or a relevant NC qualification. Some HNC/HND courses allow entry to the 2nd or 3rd year of a degree.  You should check progression pathways with individual uni or college.

To enter a Degree course (SCQF Level 9/10), you would normally need 4-5 Highers plus some national 5 qualifications or a relevant HNC/HND.

Adjusted entry

Some universities offer Adjusted Entry where they may accept lower grades than those specified. If you expect to gain three Higher passes (grades A-C) and one of the following apply to you, you should still apply.

If you:

  • Have been in care
  • Have taken part in a university preparation programme such as LIFT OFF, LEAPS, FOCUS West, ASPIRE North (or similar) 
  • Are a carer
  • Come from a school or area where few people go to university or you are the first in your family to go to university
  • Have experienced disruptions in home and family life that impacted your learning, such as multiple moves or family disputes


The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) accredits and awards most qualifications in Scotland, other than degrees. It also approves organisations which offer qualifications. The SQA works with schools, colleges, universities, industry and the Scottish Government to make sure qualifications are up to scratch.

It also issues certificates – it’s the SQA who send the school exam results out.


The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) helps you understand the main Scottish qualifications offered by schools, colleges, universities and training providers. It also includes learning programmes delivered in the community and in the workplace.

SCQF Interactive Framework

How does the Framework help you?

You can find an interactive version of the framework on the SCQF website.

It helps learners, employers and learning providers understand how different qualifications and learning programmes relate to each other. It can help everyone understand the different routes available to gain new skills and qualifications.

Being aware of where your own qualifications sit on the Framework makes it easier to demonstrate the knowledge and skills you have.

Qualifications and learning programmes are awarded an SCQF Level and SCQF Credit Points. The SCQF Level gives an idea of the difficulty of the learning programme. SCQF credit points show how much learning has been achieved.

You might see SCQF credits on a job advert, and be able to show that your qualifications match the requirements. It can also help you find out where to start if you want to take on new learning or training. For example, with some Advanced Highers or Baccalaureate qualifications, you can enter the second or third year of some degrees.

If you’ve studied outside of Scotland, you can use the Framework to show how your qualifications match up to those in Scotland, to make them clearer for employers or learning providers.

You can also use the SQA’s Ready Reckoner if you’re planning on studying outside Scotland. This shows you how the SCQF matches up with the Qualifications Credit Framework (used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the European Qualifications Framework (used in other areas of Europe).

Need more information? The SCQF has lots of helpful information on its website, including:

Recognition of Prior Learning

The skills and knowledge you pick up through work, family life, community and voluntary activities can be as valuable as formal qualifications. You may also be able to use Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) to make a claim for SCQF credit points. This helps you show the value of this learning to help you access courses and jobs.

The SCQF website gives detailed information about how RPL works

Going back to learning

If you left school with few or no qualifications, you can get help to get back to learning.  The Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) is for adults who have been out of full-time education for at least three years (or five years if you have an NC or Highers).  

SWAP helps people build on their skills and gain entry level qualifications and move on to college or uni. Most programmes last one year and you’ll get support and guidance while you’re studying. It doesn’t matter how old you are – or if you haven’t studied for years.

Visit the SWAP website for more information.

National Qualifications

Confused about what National 4s and 5s are? Don't worry. Donna Vickers, CfE Support Manager from the SQA, explains what each of the new National Qualifications are, and how they fit in with the Curriculum for Excellence.

You can find out more about Nationals at the SQA website

Get help to develop skills for work

Skills for Work help you develop the skills employers are looking for. These SQA qualifications are for pupils in third or fourth year of secondary school and focus on the world of work. You’ll probably spend some time at a college, training provider or an employer and have a chance to learn in a new environment.

As well as general skills for work, you’ll also have a chance to find out about different workplaces like construction, hairdressing or hospitality. Learn more about Skills for Work on the SQA website.

IT skills

The European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) is for people with little or no previous IT experience. It gives you a good grounding in how to use a computer for work or at home.

It is also a helpful qualification for learners with some knowledge of IT to increase their skills and  show employers that they have a good working knowledge of computers.

Visit the ECDL website for more information.

Learning English

If English isn’t your first language and you want to improve your verbal and written skills, an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course could help. ESOL is the most common course for people learning English and can be taken in many learning centres and colleges.

You can use the Learn and train search to find ESOL courses.