Degree or Professional Qualification? What's the Difference?

This article sets out not to define or guide you to any specific route but to explore further the choice available and maybe open your mind to the different educational options available to unlock your potential through learning.

Once you’ve decided to commit to studying again, the best type of course for you depends on who you are, how much spare time you have, how you work, your prior qualifications, experience, personal motivation and most importantly the goals you’re attempting to achieve.

Often there are a number of different ways to achieve the same goal.
So What is a Professional Qualification?
A qualification which shows that someone has successfully finished a course of study which validates professional competence supporting them to work and seek employment within one of the professions.
Some certifications require periodical review, or may be valid for a specific period of time, it is common for the individual to show evidence of continued learning to retain their status, each professional body is different, having their own set of rules, regulations and fees, it is therefore very important to make yourself fully aware of these details as professional body fees are generally not included in the training provider course fees.
Examples of Professional bodies include
·         Accounting and Finance – Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) or Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
·         Marketing – Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)
·         Leadership and Management  - Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM)
·         Legal Executives  - Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx)
Some professional qualifications will have a defined level. The higher the level, the more difficult the qualification, some professional qualifications do not follow any specific level. There are 9 recognised qualification levels from ‘Entry level’ through to Level 8. E.g. Doctorate, Doctor of philosophy (PhD or DPhil)
The following link will give more detail with regard qualification levels
Some professional qualifications also have grades made up from Credit Value weightings, this determines the breadth of professional qualification that you’re embarking upon.
E.g. ILM Level 4 Award – May only be made up from 12 credits and take 3 months to complete whereas and ILM Level 4 Diploma will be made up from more than 37 credits and take 12 months to complete. Both are professionally recognised qualifications at level 4 but one has a lot more depth, content and intern credits than the other.
Sometimes your professional qualifications can be used to progress you onto academic study saving you time and money, if you think that this applies to you please speak to one of our Business Development team who will be happy to advise.
Academic/Degree Qualifications
An academic degree is a qualification awarded on successful completion of a programme of study in higher education, normally at a college or university.
Institutions commonly offer degrees at various levels, typically including bachelor's, master’s and doctorates. The most common undergraduate degree is the bachelor's degree.
There is often strict rules regarding entry onto these types of qualifications which include prior learning attainment.
Higher Education (HE) programmes begin at Level 4 including Higher National Certificates (HNC’s), then progress to Level 5 which include Foundation Degrees (eg, FdA, FdSc), Level 6 includes Bachelor's degrees with honours (eg, BA/BSc Hons), Level 7 includes Master's degrees (eg, MPhil, MLitt, MRes, MA, MSc) and Level 8 to include Doctoral degrees (eg, PhD/DPhil).
The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has more publically available detail if required.
Elements to Consider
·         Cost - Education must be seen as a personal investment however finance does need to be considered, degrees and some professional qualifications may be funded by loans but remember these are loans and will probably need paying back at some stage so take your time to ensure you’ve looked at your options and chosen the right course for you.
If you or your chosen course can’t be funded by an educational loan, make sure you consider all your options, instalments or employer funded opportunities etc.
·         Personal Goals - Will this course set you on a path to achieve your goal/s?, research the course and its’ progression routes and make sure you’re given all the Information Advice and Guidance to make an informed decision, understanding routes for progression once you’ve passed the final assessment
·         Time Commitment - everyone of us is different, most people these days have busy lives both at home and at work. Before enrolling make sure you fully understand the commitment you’re making, assess the days of study and make sure you’re on a study mode that’s right for you.
Newcastle College offers a huge range of vocational HE programmes, the college was recently Award Taught Degree Awarding Powers which will support with the development of our HE provision
NCG Direct is the supported online learning school of Newcastle College, delivering a wide range of vocational HE programmes and Professional Qualifications using supported online learning as the mode of delivery.
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If you’d like to find out more about our distance learning courses, please contact our enquiries team.

0191 226 6313


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