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Think you’re not qualified for a healthcare career? Think again!

Think you’re not qualified for a healthcare career? Think again!


10 Aug, 2018

There are almost 410 Access to HE courses in health-related subjects and more than 200 specifically designed for progression to a degree in nursing. Each year, around 50% of Access to HE students study Diplomas in health, public services and care. Could you join them?

When I left school without the ‘necessary qualifications’ I thought I would never fulfil my dream of becoming a midwife. After almost giving up hope all those years ago, I am now working as a full-time midwife and enjoying every minute. I never tire of telling people about the benefits of Access to HE!

Linda White

The Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma is a qualification that prepares adults to succeed in higher education by giving them the skills, subject knowledge and confidence they need in a supportive and encouraging environment. It is equivalent to A-levels and is recognised by UK higher education providers. Every year, more than 10,000 students successfully complete an Access to HE Diploma in a health-related subject, and are accepted on to higher education courses in subjects and vocations allied to medicine, including nursing and midwifery. Around half of these students are aged 25 or older. Many left school with few qualifications.

The Access to HE course is nothing like school. The tutors are very supportive, and I think they recognise how life changing the Access to HE qualification can be. Life skills, experiences and personal stories are all valued on the Access to HE course, as well as the main study curriculum, which I have found very interesting and challenging.

Simon Hatch

Unlike many other qualifications there is no national curriculum for Access to HE Diplomas, therefore the subjects studied may vary between different Access to HE providers. However, if you are studying a Diploma designed for progression to a degree in nursing you can expect to study subjects including human biology, psychology and the context of health (including the role of the profession in supporting the health of people, the origins of public health and an awareness of the role of government and other bodies in health professions).

There are more than 340 providers of Access to HE Diplomas covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Diploma searchon our website at lists all QAA-recognised Diplomas and providers. A number of these providers and Diplomas are also listed on the ELCASwebsite at

Of all applicants accepted to higher education courses in subjects allied to medicine in September 2017, 48% were Access to HE students – that’s 22% of all students accepted. In addition, Access to HE students are just as successful on graduation as students with other qualifications, with more than 60% achieving first- or high second-class degrees. 


Gabrielle Holmes (pictured) was a full-time housewife before she enrolled on the Access to HE course. She is now a midwife. ‘The Access to HE course kick-started my self-belief,’ she says. ‘It opened up a whole new chapter for me. Would I be where I am now if I hadn’t done the Access to HE course? No way!’

Employment rates for nursing graduates with Access to HE Diplomas show that 93% were in employment or further study six months after completing their degree (data for 2015–16 graduates). If you are interested in a career as a health professional you might find the information on the Council of Deansof Health website useful:

Tuition fees for Access to HE Diplomas vary. However, if you take out an Advanced Learner Loan to pay for your Access to HE studies the fees will be around £3,350. The government-backed scheme makes Advanced Learner Loans available to eligible students aged 19 and over. More information is available at

Students successfully completing a QAA-recognised Access to HE Diploma will have the balance of their Advanced Learner Loan cancelled when they complete their university studies. Advanced Learner Loan repayments currently start when you earn more than £25,000 per year; this means you may be paying back the loan while you study.


You may also use Enhanced Learning Credits towards the tuition fees for an Access to HE Diploma, and, if you’re eligible, you may use the publicly funded FE/HE scheme to pay for your Access to HE and university studies. It is important to look in to your funding options carefully to make sure you make the best choice for you. Access to HE providers, your education officer or transition staff should be able to help you choose the best route.

If you are a student living in England and starting a nursing degree, you will need to take out a tuition loan to fund your degree studies. However, repayments won’t start until you graduate and earn more than £25,000 per year. Payments are usually taken out of your pay packet each month. This may not seem affordable, but many newly qualified medical professionals in the NHS earn a little under £25,000 so repayments may not start immediately after you qualify. If at any time you change your working pattern and your salary drops below the threshold, you stop paying the loan. Any unpaid loan amount is written off after 30 years.

Many people worry that they won’t be able to afford university. You don’t need to pay money in advance – tuition and living cost loans are not like commercial loans. If you live in England, you may also receive a childcare allowance grant that doesn’t need to be repaid. You can see if you get help for childcare using the calculator here: Many universities also offer funds to help with the cost of going to university.

Standards of education for health professional courses are the same in any UK home nation. However, funding is different depending on where you live. You can find out more on this government information sheet:

If you’re interested in a career in healthcare and you don’t have the qualifications you need to go to university …

  • Visit the Access to HE websiteat to find a Diplomato study.
  • Sign upto our free Access to HE newsletter at
  • Talk to your education advisers (find out about doing maths and English GCSEs before you start your Diploma, if you don’t already have them).
  • Check your funding options. Could you use learning credits? Could you use the publicly funded FE/HE scheme? Could you get an Advanced Learner Loan? 
  • Contact Access to HE providers to get more information about their Diplomas.
  • Look at the UCAS website at and the websites of universities, speak to higher education admission staff, look at the Council of Deanswebsite (see web address below).

Find out more 

You may find the following websites helpful.

Access to HE website: 

Advanced Learner Loans:

Enhanced Learning Credits:

Student finance calculator:

Council of Deans:

Funding for health degrees:

If you’re thinking of a healthcare-related career, take a look at our in-depth feature at