Higher education

Researching higher education will take the best part of one year, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to do it properly. You will need to work out what to study, where to study and apply. It is best to begin your research two years before you want to start your higher education, so you do need to plan ahead.

This page will tell you the basics of what you need to know and where to go for more information.

Higher education (HE) describes the range of courses you can take after you have completed your A Levels, BTEC National qualification or other Level 3 course including Advanced Apprenticeships.

There are thousands of HE courses offered in the UK and overseas. When choosing a course to study you need to make sure you do your research and choose the right course and place to study. You can go on to Higher Education (HE) to study for a:

  • Foundation degree – Equal to the first two years of an Honours degree, they combine academic study and workplace skills. This means they are work-related and designed to equip you with the skills and knowledge employers need for higher-level technician or associate professional posts. They can be studied full or part-time. With extra study they can be topped up to a full degree.
  • Honours degree – Usually known as bachelor’s, undergraduate or first degrees, they take three or four years of full-time study to complete. You usually study one subject, but can take two subjects (50:50 or 75:25) or two or more subjects (combined Honours). Some offer work experience where you work for a year in a relevant industry, known as a sandwich course.
  • Higher National Certificates and Diplomas (HNCs/HNDs) – These are vocational qualifications offered by universities and colleges and are available in a wide range of subjects. They can help to prepare you for a specific career. Like a Foundation degree, it can be topped up to a full degree.
  • Diplomas of Higher Education (DipHE) – These are two year, full-time courses generally linked to a vocational area such as health and social care, accounting, technology. A DipHE can also be topped up to a full degree.

Higher Education is not just offered at universities. There are many opportunities to study to this level at local further education colleges too, as well as distance learning from the Open University and other providers. A good place to start your research into higher education courses is at www.ucas.com but you will find other useful websites in the ‘You may also be interested in’ box on the side of this page.

An increasing number of young people study locally and stay at home while they study and others are now considering taking an HE course at a university abroad.

Find out more about the HE courses in Norfolk by searching the Higher education section in www.helpyouchoose.org or by visiting the different websites:

For advice about the applications system visit the UCAS website.

It is really important to try to go to the open days of any university or college you are interested in so that you can see for yourself where you might be living and learning for the next few years. This will also give you the chance to talk to students and staff, view the facilities and get a feel for what the place is like.

Most importantly if you have a disability, it will give you a chance to meet and talk to a disability liaison officer and start to get information about the support you might receive to help ensure your needs are met.

You can find out when the open days are at www.opendays.com.

But if you really can’t make the open days, UCAS has virtual tours, so you can watch a video to see what it is like at www.ucas.com/open-days.

There are no upfront costs to higher education and currently you only repay when you earn over £21,000 per year.  The £21,000 threshold will rise in line with average salaries.

There are two main costs while you are at university or college - tuition fees and living costs.

Tuition fees and tuition fee loan

From 2017, universities and colleges can charge full-time English students a maximum of £9,250 a year in tuition fees.  This does not need to be paid upfront. You can take out a tuition fee loan to cover the cost, which you only pay back after you have graduated and are earning over £21,000 per year.

Living costs and the maintenance loan

The maintenance loan is designed to help you with living costs (accommodation, food, travel, clothes, going out). The exact amount you can borrow depends on various factors including where you study and their household income.

To apply for a loan you need to complete an online application.  You do this separately from your UCAS application, usually in January before you go, whether or not you have got a confirmed place.


Tuition fee and maintenance loan repayments are based on how much you earn after leaving university.  You do not start to repay anything until you earn more than £21,000 per year.

Repayments are automatically collected through your Pay As You Earn (PAYE).  This means your loan repayment will be taken from your wages or salary before it gets to you.

Find all the latest information about student finance.

Disabled students’ allowances

Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) are paid on top of your other student finance. It is to help you pay the extra costs you may have because of your disability. It does not have to be repaid.

How much you get depends on your individual needs and not your household income.

Find out more about Disabled Students’ Allowances.

Bursaries, scholarships and awards

These are extra funds that you don’t have to pay back and which are paid by the universities and colleges themselves.

Each university and college has different types of bursaries, scholarships and awards available, and they may be linked to particular courses or aimed at certain groups of students or reward academic success.

Each has their own rules about who can apply.

For more information go to the GOV.UK website or search university and college prospectuses and the scholarship SEARCH website.

University and college hardship funds

Available direct from your university and college for anyone in financial hardship who needs extra help to start a course or stay in higher education.  Your college or university decides who gets the money and how much you get.

Find out about university and college hardship funds.

Students with a disability or special need can get help and support in higher education from the university where they are studying.

You can search each university website for information about their disability support services to find out more about the support they can offer.

It is important to talk to a disability liaison officer at each college and university you are applying to so you can discuss what you might need to help you with your studies, accommodation or daily living.

You should also disclose your disability or special need when you complete the personal details section of Apply. By telling the university or college about your needs, it will help them to ensure you get the right support when you start your course.

They will want to meet you to find out more about your disability and how it affects you so that they can work out what support you will need at university.

If you were in the care of a local authority after you turned 16 you will be asked to disclose this in Apply.  By disclosing this, you may be able to get help with such things as your accommodation, finance, bursaries and other support services such as counselling, childcare or help with disabilities.

You can find out about the support available to you when applying for or studying in HE by visiting www.propel.org.uk

There is also a range of resources for care leavers including information on financial support at www.nnecl.org

The Care Advice Line provides free and confidential advice and information on a range of issues and can be reached by phone, Monday to Friday 10.30am-3pm on 020 7017 8901 or email advice@thewhocarestrust.org.uk

Some universities and colleges carry the Buttle UK Quality Mark showing that they are committed to help Care Leavers apply, prepare for and attend their institutions.  Visit the Buttle UK website for more information.

Help for care leavers

If you have been in our care you can apply to Norfolk Children’s Services for a Higher Education Bursary of £2,000, as long as the course you plan to do lasts for at least two academic years.  This is paid in instalments over the duration of your course.

You may also get help with equipment, accommodation costs and travel.  You are entitled to the full Maintenance Loan.

For more information, read this leaflet and talk to your Children’s Services worker.

Was this webpage helpful?