A public library filled with books

If your a little older than the average university student (mature in university terms is described as starting at 21 and over), and have a complete absence of A-levels or equivalent qualifications, there are still many opportunities for you to attend and gain that degree you’ve always dreamed of. 

There are many reasons for wishing to return to education, be that to start a new career or change career direction, learn more about a subject of interest or to develop new skills and confidence. Whatever the reason, continuing with your education is an important decision and not one to be taken lightly.

If you're itching to start, but have no idea how and where to gain the right qualifications for your chosen degree here are a few pointers:

Access to Higher Education

An Access to Higher Education Diploma allows you to prepare for a vast range of different subjects at university including nursing, social studies, law, and art and design. These courses are offered at local colleges and take one year to complete if you study full time, while there are also a number of part-time, evening and distance options avaiable. After you've completed your diploma you'llbe offered help with the Ucas process (the process of applying to university).

Integrated Degree

An Integrated Degree is available at many universities for students who don’t meet the typical entry requirements. It’s a four-year course and, as well as the traditional three-year Bachelor element, it includes a foundation year to get you up to scratch in your chosen degree. You can apply for an integrated degree through Ucas, although unfortunately, there is no single listing of these courses – you can contact Ucas for help or call individual universities to ask if they offer these courses. According to Ucas, there are 1,097 courses in the UK that have a foundation year included as part of the main course. 

Foundation Degree

Foundation degrees (not to be mixed up with a foundation year), are intermediate higher education qualifications in their own right, mainly delivered in further education colleges. The entry requirements for these degrees tend to be lower, and having completed one you’ll have the option to ‘top-up’ your degree to gain full honours at university. For more information, see your local Further Education College. 

Alternative Entry Schemes

Some universities are even prepared to accept life and work experience as an alternative to qualifications through Alternative Entry Schemes. They may apply to only certain degrees, and favour certain students, for example those from the local community from less well-off backgrounds who have had less opportunity to study. Check with your local university to see if there's a scheme available for you and if the university is interested in your application they may ask you to attend an interview and submit work so that they get to understand you individually. 

Accreditation of Prior Learning

Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) recognises that some people may already possess an extensive range of skills and knowledge, gained through a variety of work and learning experiences. Through Accreditation of Prior Certificated Learning (APCL), which takes into account learning which has already been assessed and certificated as part of a completed or partly completed course or qualification, and Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL), which is awarded to individuals who can demonstrate learning and skills gained through experiences in work, voluntary, home or leisure environments, you may be able to gain exemption from part of your degree course as it’s deemed that you’ve spent enough time and gained enough experience to be competent in that area. Check with your chosen university whether Accreditation of Prior Learning applies to you. 

The Open University

At the Open University there are no entry requirements. They believe that if you have the commitment to study, that’s requirement enough. You can choose to study part-time or full-time via distance learning.

Degree Apprenticeships

Degree apprenticeships where introduced in September this year, and involve classroom and on-the-job learning. The cost of course fees is shared between government and employers, meaning that you can obtain an honours degree without paying any fees. Degree apprenticeships are suitable for school leavers as an alternative route to gaining a degree and existing apprenticeships looking to progress in their career.