Among the various options available to Service-leavers, access courses tend to be somewhat overlooked. However, when it comes to career progression, an access course might be the ideal stepping stone to converting your Forces-acquired skills and experiences into the qualifications you need to meet your civvy ambitions.
What is an access course?
An access course is much as it sounds: a course in a specific area of study that provides the student with access to higher education, such as a university degree course. Access courses are most useful for people that don’t have the traditional qualifications that would ordinarily make up the required entry standards.
For example, you would usually need a certain number of A-level grades to be accepted on to an undergraduate degree course. Taking on an access course enables you to bypass the requirement to study for those A-levels.
Most access courses take a year to complete, although this does vary between the subject, provider and method of study. (Courses undertaken on a part-time basis will usually last two or three years.) Many courses, such as an Access to HE Diploma, are recognised as a full level 3 qualification, so do have some value as a stand-alone qualification should your original intentions change.
How do I find the best course for me?
Every case will be different. There are hundreds of access courses to choose from, covering a huge variety of subjects. In a sense you’ll need to plot a course to your final ‘destination’ and then try to find a course provider(s) that offers the various components to complete your journey.
Subject matter aside, you’ll also need to find a course that’s either near to you or that you can complete via distance (or correspondence) learning methods – in order to fit in with your current employment or family commitments.
Once you’ve found a course that you think suits you, it is worth contacting the provider to confirm that the course will enable you access to the desired higher education course you have in mind.
How will it benefit me?
The usual university application route will take you through the UCAS process, that applies a points system to A level grades. An A level at grade A on the UCAS points tariff is worth 48 points. An Access to HE Diploma with 45 credits at Distinction, attracts the same number of tariff points as three A levels at grade A.
The number of points needed depends on the course you are applying for; these requirements can be found at: www.ucas.com/ucas/tariff-
By completing a course you not only get a recognised qualification, but also improve your career prospects. Employers are inclined to look favourably on candidates that have completed access courses since it shows long-term commitment to the area of study.
Types of access course
There are a number of established access courses in the UK such as Access to Higher Education Diplomas that are widely accepted by universities. Alternatively, institutions such as the Open University will have their own courses designed specifically to help students gain access to the next level. See: www.open.ac.uk/courses/do-it/
As already mentioned, courses are available in any number of subject areas including those relating to traditional curriculum subjects that have broad application or more directly towards vocational career outcomes such as midwifery.
You can find more examples of access courses at: ava.accesstohe.ac.uk (The website is searchable by subject area and/or location.)
How do I enrol?
Once you have found your preferred course, you will need to contact the provider about enrolment. Each college and/or university is likely to have slightly different requirements and timeframes when it comes to applying. Key information they are likely to require includes: educational and work history, details about how you will pay for the course and personal and professional references.
Many courses, particularly those that are run on campus, start at the beginning of the academic year in September with recruitment commencing in January. However, some courses such as those run online or through distance learning may have multiple commencement dates throughout the year.