What is a BTEC diploma?

What is a BTEC diploma?

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BTEC Diplomas are more popular than ever. If you’ve ever considered studying while earning hands-on experience and gaining industry contacts, a BTEC diploma could be the perfect option.

This guide will give you all the information you need to get started on your path to a BTEC qualification.

What is BTEC, and what does it stand for?

BTEC, which stands for the Business and Technology Education Council, are specialist and/or vocational qualifications related to specific fields and trades. By combining practical hands-on experience with theory and classroom learning, BTEC qualifications help you gain entry into a field or industry. You get the knowledge, practice, and industry connections you need to succeed in your chosen career.

Did you know that there are more than 2,000 BTEC qualifications available in 16 sectors?[i] You can earn BTECs at an entry-level all the way through to level 7 (which is equivalent to a postgraduate level).

Why choose a BTEC Diploma? Simply put – they’re designed specifically for students who know they want to work in a specific field or industry, but they haven’t quite settled on exactly what role they’d like to pursue. A BTEC allows you to ‘try on’ and assess a number of different positions within a sector before you commit to your career path.

You can study for a BTEC on its own, or you can take a BTEC at a Level 2 or 3 alongside other academic qualifications. You can also include a BTEC in your apprenticeship programme to bolster your knowledge and improve your employability.

The 16 BTEC sectors include:

  • Applied Science
  • Art and Design
  • Business
  • Childcare
  • Construction
  • Engineering
  • Media
  • Health and Social Care
  • Hospitality
  • ICT
  • Land-based Studies
  • Performing Arts
  • Public services
  • Sport
  • Travel and Tourism

BTECs from these 16 categories are split into four levels of study, organised similarly to GCSEs:

  • BTEC Firsts –The Firsts category starts at entry-level and ranging to Level 2. BTEC Firsts give you an introductory taste of a field, enabling you to decide if it is the right path for you. When combined with other qualifications, they allow you to move on to further study, employment, or into an apprenticeship.
  • Next Generation BTEC Firsts – These are a newer level of qualification introduced in 2013.[ii] The subjects available at this level include Business, Health and Social Care, and Children’s Play, Learning and Development, all at Level 1 and Level 2. They have been specifically designed to develop your skills in the workplace, giving you a strong foundation in your chosen sector.
  • BTEC Nationals – BTEC Nationals range from Level 3 (which is a comparable standard to A levels) all the way up to Level 7, which is comparable to a postgraduate degree. Universities, employers, and technical colleges will regard these qualifications positively, allowing you to continue your studies and gain employment
  • BTEC Apprenticeships – If you want even more hands-on experience, a BTEC Apprenticeship is available in more than 25 sectors, from Levels 2 to 5.

In order to apply for a BTEC programme, you may need to fulfil certain entry requirements, but this depends on the college and specific BTEC course. In most cases, you’ll need between three and five GCSEs at grade 9 to 4, or A* to C.

Different types of qualifications include:

How do BTEC qualifications work?

Once you’ve chosen the BTEC qualification that works best for your needs and educational pathway, it’s time to decide how they’ll fit into your schedule. Thankfully, BTECs are very flexible. Many students take them alongside GCSEs and A levels, while others choose to do BTECs instead of GCSEs and A levels.

Your BTEC course of study will be divided into units, each of which includes different areas of knowledge and skill-building that you’ll need when working in that sector. You’ll take the core BTEC units, which give you the foundation of the subject matter, as well as optional units that allow you to dig deeper into a topic or interest. At this point, you can make plans for your apprenticeship, further study, and/or employment.

During your course, you’ll complete a series of written or activity-based assignments. These might include planning a performance, filming a short video, making a webpage, or creating a business plan for an existing or imagined business. In some cases, you’ll work independently, while in others you’ll work in a team. No matter what, you’ll earn valuable real-world experience that you don’t typically get when studying A levels.


What can you do with BTEC qualifications?

Your BTEC qualifications will help you reach your goals and embark on your career path. More employers and Higher Education institutions are choosing BTEC-qualified candidates than ever before.

    • BTEC Firsts
      Your time spent completing independent projects, working in the field, and learning from experts will set you up nicely for a variety of different career and educational options. Once you complete a BTEC First, you can you can continue on to a Level 3 qualification (such as a National), apply for an apprenticeship, apply to University, or immediately enter the job market.
    • BTEC Nationals

After you complete your BTEC National qualification at a Level 3, you can enter into the second or third year of a University degree programme, a professional development programme, or an apprenticeship. If you continue to a Level 5, 6, or 7, you then have the equivalent of a postgraduate degree, and you are ready to enter into the workforce or specialised training.

Keep in mind that some BTEC National qualifications are recognised as technical certificates, which are a part of the apprenticeship framework and can earn you UCAS points.[iii] However, before you set your sights on University or higher education at a specific institution, ensure that they accept BTEC Nationals.

How do BTEC grades work?

It’s essential to understand how BTEC grades work as you enter into this course of study.[iv]

Grades are calculated with a points-based scale, and you will always be given information on the individual specifications and how your grades will be assessed. Your grades are taken very seriously and are subject to quality assurance.

At the outset of each unit, you will receive specific information on the learning objectives of the course, the assessment criteria (what you need to do to reach Pass, Merit, or Distinction for each learning aim). Upon completion of each BTEC First unit, learners are given a grade of Distinction, Merit, Pass, or Unclassified. Next Generation BTEC Firsts include a Level 1 Pass (at the unit and qualification levels), and a Distinction* grade at the qualification level.

Your unit grades will reflect your personal achievements in different areas of knowledge, while your qualification grades reflect your performance during the entire course. For more information about how grades are calculated and what you can do to excel, speak with your course instructor.

All teachers and tutors are committed to assigning fair and honest grades. They receive extensive standardisation training to ensure that they understand the rubrics and apply them fairly across the student population.

UCAS Tariff Points for BTEC Qualifications

British Universities accept students into programmes of study based on the number of UCAS points they have accrued. If you are hoping to earn UCAS tariff points for your BTEC qualifications, you need to understand how the points are awarded.

The UCAS system awards points based on grades achieved in BTECs and A levels. It is vital that you check the number of points required for admittance into your University and course of choice.

Here are the UCAS conversions for some of the most popular BTEC qualifications.

Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma

Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Diploma


Grade Tariff points:

D* D* D* – 168

D* D* D – 160

D*DD – 152

DDD – 144

DDM – 128

DMM – 112

MMM – 96

MMP – 80

MPP – 64

PPP – 48


Grade Tariff points:

D* D* – 112

D* D – 104

DD – 96

DM – 80

MM – 64

MP – 48

PP – 32


Size band: 4 + 4 + 4 = 12

Grade bands: 4 – 14


Size band: 4 + 4 = 8

Grade bands: 4 – 14


BTEC Lvl 3 National Foundation Diploma BTEC Lvl 3 National Extended Certificate BTEC Lvl 3 National Certificate


Grade Tariff points:

D* – 84

D – 72

M – 48

P – 24

Grade Tariff points:

D* – 56

D – 48

M – 32

P – 16

Grade Tariff points:

D* – 28

D – 24

M – 16

P – 8


Size band: 3 + 3 = 6

Grade bands: 4 – 14


Size band: 4

Grade bands: 4 – 14


Size band: 2

Grade bands: 4 – 14


For easy comparison, here are the UCAS points for A levels:

A* – 56

A – 48

B – 40

C – 32

D – 24

E – 16

The difference between BTEC & A Levels

There’s no doubt that both BTECs and A levels help you gain mastery of a topic and give you the knowledge you need for your career. Both qualifications give you a certificate that allows you to apply for further study at University and/or apply for certain jobs.

The main difference is that BTEC qualifications give you the chance to do a lot of practical and ‘hands-on’ work alongside your studies, while A level courses include more lectures, exams, oral presentations, and written essays. As with A levels, some BTECs are equivalent to GCSEs; it just depends on the level you complete.

BTECs allow for a lot of flexibility, so much so that some people choose to do BTECs and A Levels concurrently – at the same time. You can also work on a BTEC qualification on a part-time or full-time basis at college or Uni. Feel free to mix and match and choose the options that work best for you.

It’s important to note that a BTEC Subsidiary Diploma is equivalent to one A-level, a BTEC Diploma is equal to two A levels, and a BTEC Extended Diploma is the equivalent to three A-levels.

What are the BTEC equivalents of A Level and GCSE grades?

Before you embark on your BTEC Diploma, it’s important that you understand how BTECs compare to A level and GCSE grades.[v]

As mentioned above, you can choose from more than 2,000 BTEC qualifications across 16 different sectors. According to Pearson, an official exams board, how do the grades stack up against A levels and GCSEs?[vi]

  • Level 1 BTEC Tech – Equivalent to GCSE grades 8 to 3 (A – E)
  • Level 1 and 2 BTEC Tech Awards – Equivalent to GCSE grades 8 – 3) A to E
  • Level 2 BTEC Firsts – Roughly equivalent to GCSE Grades 9 to 4 (A* to C)
  • Level 3 BTECs (including BTEC Nationals) – Comparable to A levels, allowing you to join many University programmes in the first year

Here is a simple chart to help you understand the comparison between A level grades and BTEC grades:

BTEC grade UCAS tariff UCAS equivalence to A-Level Equivalence to A Levels
Starred distinction 56 A* A
Distinction 48 A Between B and C
Merit 32 C Between C and D
Pass 16 E Between D and E

It’s crucial that you speak directly with your university department of choice to ensure that they accept BTEC qualifications. While most do, confirming this in advance will prevent disappointment or wasted time.

Can you get into Uni with a BTEC qualification?

You can absolutely get into Uni with a BTEC qualification. In fact, more than 100,000 BTEC students do just that each year and are admitted directly into the final year of many degree programmes.[vii] This means you won’t have to redo any subjects or be forced to sit through lessons about knowledge you already have, saving you both time and money.

Approximately 95% of UK universities accept BTECs, including prestigious institutions in the Russell Group. Recently, certain universities in the United Arab Emirates have also started to accept British BTECs, which expands your horizons even further.

Nearly one-quarter of all Uni students in 2015 earned their place with a BTEC qualification. In many instances, instructors find BTEC students a pleasure to have in their course, as they have a better grasp of the amount of independent study required at a degree level. After all, they’re already used to the amount of portfolio work Uni demands.

To move from a BTEC to a university degree, there are two common pathways:

  • BTEC Level 3 – As this is the equivalent of an A-level, you can join a degree programme in its first year.
  • BTEC Level 4 HNC and Level 5 HND – At this level of qualification, you can often join a degree programme in the second or third (final) year of the course.

If you’re planning to apply to University with a BTEC qualification, keep the following factors in mind:

  • Triple check entry requirements – If you have your heart set on a specific course or a specific university, ensure that you check the entry requirements carefully. If you have any confusion or doubt, get in touch with the registrar’s office or departmental office as soon as possible.
  • Find out if you will need any additional A levels – Some subjects and courses require you to bolster your BTEC education with an additional A level to earn enough UCAS points. Finding this out far in advance gives you enough time to earn any additional requirements.
  • Always include your practical experience in personal statements – As you earned your BTECs, you gained valuable hands-on experience in your field and participated in work placements. Make sure you mention this experience in your personal statement, as it may give you a leg up against students who only studied A levels.This is especially true in fields such as childcare, healthcare, and social care – your experience sets you apart and makes you a well-rounded candidate. For even more of an edge, you can consider boosting your education with online childcare courses, online social care courses, and online healthcare courses.
  • Remember to be flexible – Your BTEC education armed you with skills that transfer into other subjects. Even if your BTEC Diploma is in one subject, you can apply to study different subjects at University. For instance, a BTEC in Travel and Tourism could lead you to Uni Programmes in History, Geography, or Cultural Heritage Studies.

The Most Popular BTEC subjects

The most popular BTEC subjects often change to meet the demands of the economy and the job market.[viii]

As of 2018, the five most common subjects at Level 3 were Business, Health & Social Care, Applied Science, Information Technology/Computing, and Sport. At Level 2, the five most popular subjects were Sport, Health & Social Care, Business, Performing Arts, and Information Technology/Computing. Which subjects are you most keen to study?

Is a BTEC Diploma right for you?

Many students get wrapped up in the idea that GCSEs and A levels are the only way to enter University or get on their desired right career path, and they forget about BTECs.

A BTEC Diploma can arm you with the knowledge and experience to excel in more than 2000 different roles across 16 sectors. Offering as much prestige and value as GCSEs and A levels and arguably even more employability, more and more students across the UK are seeking BTEC qualifications over other options. Which BTEC qualification best suits your needs?

Reference list

Higher Education Liaison Officers Association (2018). Can you get into University if you’re studying Btecs? – The Uni Guide. [online] www.theuniguide.co.uk. Available at: https://www.theuniguide.co.uk/advice/ucas-application/can-you-get-into-university-if-youre-studying-btecs [Accessed 18 Nov. 2020].

Johnson, L. (2014). UK qualifications. [online] Available at: https://www.ucas.com/sites/default/files/2015-uk-qualifications.pdf [Accessed 18 Nov. 2020].

Knight, M. (2018). What is a BTEC, and why is it seen as a popular alternative to A levels? [online] Youth Employment UK. Available at: https://www.youthemployment.org.uk/btec-popular-alternative-levels/#:~:text=A%20key%20difference%20is%20that [Accessed 18 Nov. 2020].

McGinley, M. (2018). Quick guide to BTECs – The Uni Guide. [online] www.theuniguide.co.uk. Available at: https://www.theuniguide.co.uk/advice/a-level-choices/what-are-btecs [Accessed 17 Nov. 2020].

Pearson (2018). 2018 BTEC results data shows more students acquiring the skills required to meet the changing needs of employers. [online] www.pearson.com. Available at: https://www.pearson.com/uk/about-us/news-and-policy/news/2018/11/2018-btec-results-data-shows-more-students-acquiring-the-skills-required-to-meet-the-changing-needs-of-employers.html [Accessed 18 Nov. 2020].

Pearson (2019). Pearson qualifications | Edexcel, BTEC, LCCI and EDI | Pearson qualifications. [online] Pearson.com. Available at: https://qualifications.pearson.com/en/home.html [Accessed 18 Nov. 2020].

Pearson (2020). Assessment and grading | Pearson qualifications. [online] qualifications.pearson.com. Available at: https://qualifications.pearson.com/en/qualifications/btec-firsts/assessment-and-grading.html#:~:text=Grading- [Accessed 18 Nov. 2020].

Pizzichini, L. (2013). Change for Good: BTEC on the move – Collins | Freedom to Teach. [online] Collins | Freedom to Teach. Available at: https://freedomtoteach.collins.co.uk/change-for-good-btec-on-the-move/ [Accessed 18 Nov. 2020].


[i] https://www.theuniguide.co.uk/advice/a-level-choices/what-are-btecs

[ii] : https://freedomtoteach.collins.co.uk/change-for-good-btec-on-the-move/

[iii] https://www.ucas.com/sites/default/files/2015-uk-qualifications.pdf

[iv] https://qualifications.pearson.com/en/qualifications/btec-firsts/assessment-and-grading.html#:~:text=Grading-,BTEC%20First%20learners%20receive%20a%20grade%20for%20each%20individual%20unit,are%20subject%20to%20quality%20assurance.&text=the%20highest%20standard.-,We%20calculate%20the%20final%20grade%20for%20a%20BTEC%20First%20by,using%20a%20points%2Dbased%20scale.

[v] https://inews.co.uk/news/btec-grades-explained-a-level-and-gcse-equivalents-for-level-2-and-3-results-as-2020-grades-finally-released-610263

[vi] https://qualifications.pearson.com/en/home.html

[vii] https://www.theuniguide.co.uk/advice/ucas-application/can-you-get-into-university-if-youre-studying-btecs

[viii] https://www.pearson.com/uk/about-us/news-and-policy/news/2018/11/2018-btec-results-data-shows-more-students-acquiring-the-skills-required-to-meet-the-changing-needs-of-employers.html

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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