Skip main navigation

What is an undergraduate degree? Types, benefits and qualifications explained

Need advice on choosing an undergraduate degree? Explore what an undergraduate degree is and how it could help your career path.

Teen learns online at home on her laptop

The language of higher education can be confusing. Words like undergrad, Masters, post-grad or PhD are daunting when you’re new to it all. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.

After reading this guide, you’ll feel more confident about what an undergraduate degree is, whether you want to study for one, and how to go about it.

What is an undergraduate degree?

An undergraduate degree is often referred to simply as a degree. It is also commonly known as a bachelor’s degree, BA, BSc, or honours degree.  

It’s the first degree you will take at a university or college and is a fundamental building block for learning about a chosen subject. It’s a qualification that massively enhances your career opportunities.

The usual path is to take an undergraduate degree after completing school, but you can take one at any age. Obtaining an undergrad degree is a major achievement and normally requires three years of study, including written exams and essays. 

They require commitment and hard work, but they are highly rewarding and open doors to employment and higher salaries that make the effort incredibly worthwhile.

Online Degree

BSc (Hons) Psychology

  • 3+ years
  • undergraduate
  • Flexible Learning
Apply now

What level is an undergraduate degree?

Undergraduate degrees are Level 6 in the qualifications system. In the UK, the education system is structured according to levels of difficulty. Level 1 means GCSE or equivalent, Level 3 is A levels, and the system goes up to Level 8, a PhD – the highest level possible. 

Other countries use different qualification systems. To find out what a UK undergraduate degree is equivalent to in another country, you can ask ENIC or look at this comparison guide.

How many credits is an undergraduate degree?

To complete your degree you’ll need to acquire 360 credits during your course. You’ll achieve these credits by taking different classes (modules) that make up the full degree.

Each module is worth credits reflecting the number of hours spent studying them and their significance to the subject. You will receive a mark or grade for every module (usually a percentage out of 100%) and from this, your overall degree classification will be calculated.

Typically, undergraduate degrees are awarded the following classifications, which you can think of as the equivalent of an A, B, C, D or pass.

  • 1st (or first class honours)
  • 2:1
  • 2:2
  • 3rd
  • Pass

How long does an undergraduate degree take?

The usual length of a full-time degree course is three years, but some degrees last four years. That extra year can involve studying abroad or going on a work placement. There are also accelerated degrees which take two years to complete and involve fewer holidays and more condensed studying. 

Some institutions offer part-time courses which can affect the length of the course. The traditional format of studying for a degree on a university campus is no longer the only choice. Different course formats are available, and this affects the time needed to complete them.

Can I study for an undergraduate degree from home?

The short answer is yes! In fact, FutureLearn was founded exactly for that reason. Distance learning, or learning from home, has existed since 1969 when the Open University was established to give more people access to higher education.

In 2012, FutureLearn took distance learning a step further – offering degrees and short courses online. With our courses designed and taught by leading universities, it’s now possible to do a degree online and fit it around your other life commitments.

Are flexible courses available?

Whereas traditional degrees require students to start a course in the autumn term (September or October), online degrees can allow flexibility around when they begin a course and take exams and other assessments. 

Types of undergraduate degree

Undergrad degrees exist in any academic field you can think of, from anthropology to zoology. The subject you study will determine the degree award title you will receive.

What’s the difference between a BA and BSc?

A BA is a bachelor of arts undergraduate degree on a subject that comes under the umbrella of arts and humanities. This includes subjects like history, music or sociology. 

A BSc is a bachelor of science and falls under the science umbrella that includes subjects like maths, psychology or geography.

There are other, more specialised, types of degrees which we’ve listed below:

  • Bachelor of Education (BEd)
  • Bachelor of Engineering (BEng)
  • Bachelor of Laws (LLB)
  • Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB)

How to get an undergraduate degree

Getting a degree requires commitment, but what about the practicalities? Here’s the information you’ll need to take your first steps.

What qualifications will I need?

Getting a place on a degree course depends on your life stage and the type of university. For school leavers, universities tend to set minimum requirements. Every university is different – the best ones might ask for 3 A*s at A level, while others might ask for 3 passes at grade A-C.

A levels are not always essential however. If you have qualifications such as NVQs, BTECs, HNDs, HNCs these can count as an equivalent. If you are an adult learner or mature student (i.e. in your 20s, 30s, 40s or older) universities can be more flexible on entry requirements.

Which university should I choose?

Choosing a university is subjective. We can’t tell you which to choose, but we advise that you do your research.

Consult guides, university rankings, comparison sites. Read prospectuses, attend open days, speak to former students, study course guides, make a shortlist. Choose wisely.

How much do undergraduate degrees cost?

The cost of an undergraduate degree course in the UK has changed significantly in the past decade, because of changes to government legislation.

Currently, universities can charge tuition fees up to a maximum of £9,250 per year. So, for a 3-year course, that adds up to £27,250 in fees. Most students borrow this money in the form of student loans and pay it back in instalments over a number of years once they begin working.

Bear in mind that you may well need to borrow additional funds to cover your living costs while studying full-time.

Studying for a degree with FutureLearn can be significantly cheaper and we have special offers and discount options. Browse our list of online degrees and contact us for more information.

Online Degree

BA (Hons) Business Management

  • 3+ years
  • undergraduate
  • Flexible Learning
Apply now

The benefits of having an undergraduate degree

  • Enhanced career prospects – Desirable jobs often list a degree as an essential requirement
  • Better pay – Jobs that require degrees often come with higher salaries. Research suggests that the average starting salary of someone with an undergraduate degree is between £27,000 and £33,000 depending on which part of the UK you live in.
  • Self-empowerment – People who complete degrees often feel an increased sense of confidence, motivation and accomplishment, all of which are hugely important to wellbeing
  • Increased knowledge – Simply put, knowing more about a subject and broadening the mind, particularly through academic study, is a beautiful thing
  • Prepare you for a Masters degree – An undergrad degree is the perfect foundation to taking a post-grad, which you can read about here

Related stories on FutureLearn

FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now