• Applying for law as a mature student

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So you made the first step and are considering studying law at university. For those who are returning to education and do not have any recently gained academic qualifications, there are a number of routes available, such as studying for A levels, Access to HE course or a foundation year, provided by some colleges and universities. Another route for those who have already graduated and gained a different degree, is studying for a law conversion course, commonly known as GDL.


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How do universities and colleges view the QAA-recognised Access to Higher Education certificate?

Most universities and colleges accept the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) recognised Access to HE qualification as equivalent to other level 3 qualifications. Indeed, some have policies to encourage applications from Access to HE students, who are often valued for their maturity and willingness to contribute to discussion.

Some HE courses may require GCSE grade C or equivalent in English, mathematics and/or science. It is a requirement of the QAA Recognition Scheme for Access to HE that, 'where an Access to HE programme is intended to lead to further study for a professional qualification, students are made aware of, and given the opportunity to meet, the entry requirements of the professional body concerned'. In order to meet this requirement, many Access to HE courses offer ‘GCSE-equivalent’ courses either within, or alongside, the Access to HE course. Further information on GCSE- equivalence

Each university and college sets its own criteria for nursing and midwifery courses, so there are no national minimum entry requirements. However, their own criteria for diploma courses is generally 5 GCSEs or equivalent at grade C or above including English, and a science subject. For degree courses, the same criteria applies, plus two A levels or equivalent.

A brief introduction

The Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma is a qualification which prepares students for study at university. It is designed for people who would like to study in HE but who left school without the usual qualifications, such as A levels.

Many Access to HE students go on to succeed at university and beyond, with a large number pursuing new careers and seeing changes in their lives that they had never thought possible.

There are over 1,000 different courses leading to the Access to HE Diploma and courses are available in most further education colleges in England and Wales. Access to HE Diplomas are available in a range of different subjects, such as Access to HE Diploma (Nursing), Access to HE Diploma (Art and Design), Access to HE Diploma (Business Studies) and a range of others, so you should be able to find a course not too far away that caters for your interests or career ambitions.

What does an Access to HE Diploma course involve?

To achieve an Access to HE Diploma, you need to complete a programme that includes certain units of study in relevant subject areas. You'll be taught study skills - learning how to approach study and the different techniques that you'll need to be a successful student. The whole package of units will have been designed to ensure that you're thoroughly equipped for studying at university. For each unit successfully completed, you'll earn credits that gradually build towards the 60 credits that are required for the Access to HE Diploma.

Many people are nervous when they start an Access to HE course, particularly if they haven't been in a classroom for some time. Tutors are aware of this and take it into account in their teaching: you won't be 'thrown in at the deep end' or tested on things which you forgot years ago. Though you can expect the course to be challenging, the whole purpose of an Access to HE course is to help you to be successful.

How long will it take?

Most Access to HE Diplomas can be completed in a year or less. For one-year courses, you will typically study for up to 16 hours a week in college (though there is some variation between different colleges), as well as doing a certain amount of private study outside classes. However, many people with family or work commitments prefer to study over two or more years, and most courses allow you to do this.

There are also courses provided in the evenings or by distance learning if you need to continue with a full-time job while you study. You still have to accumulate the same number of credits, but if your circumstances change and you find that you can't complete the course in the time you'd planned, you'll be awarded the credits that you've earned.This gives you the flexibility to pick up where you left off at a later time and complete the course, if you're able to.

Am I too old?

No! Almost everyone considering an Access to HE course worries that they may have left it too late. Your life experience will be valuable on the course and you'll find that other Access to HE students - and students in universities - are of a wide age range.

What qualifications do I need?

One of the key features of Access to HE courses is that most don't require you to have any particular previous qualifications to start -and it doesn't matter how long it is since you last studied. The Access to HE course will help you to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence you need to prepare you for university, without any assumptions about what you may have done in the past.

If you're not certain which university course is best for you, you will receive advice about the different courses available, as well as advice about how to apply to university, while you're on the Access to HE course.

Is the Access to HE Diploma recognised by universities?

Access to HE courses have been around since the 1970s and have been designed and developed with the support of universities. Access to HE is therefore widely recognised by UK universities.

Each year, around 20,000 Access to HE students apply to universities across the UK. What's more, the framework for the approval of Access to HE courses is managed by the universities' own quality assurance organisation, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). A course which is recognised through this framework is permitted to use the Access to HE logo (below), and this also appears on the actual diplomas which are awarded to students.

How do I apply?

Once you've found a course you're interested in, simply contact the course provider and they will advise you about what you need to do next. There will be forms to fill in and you may be invited in to the college to discuss what you'd like to study and whether Access to HE is suitable for you. Most courses start in September, with recruitment starting the previous January and going through to the summer before the course starts. However, courses have different start dates: colleges will be pleased to hear from you at any time if you want an informal chat about your options.

Access to HE courses that would be suitable for students applying for law at university usually are

  1. Access to Social Science and Humanities
  2. Access to Law

These can be studied at a number of HE colleges (see below for list of those in London)

  1. City and Islington college does Access to Social Science and Humanities course, which starts twice a year (September and January). The latter is a fast track course and lasts for 6 months only, as opposed to one year. for more information look here
  2. Lambeth College (Clapham) offers a specific Access to Law course. Starts in September and operates a waiting list. http://www.lambethcollege.ac.uk/courses/law-ocnlr-access-to-higher-education/category/adults/
  3. City Lit College for more information look here
  4. Wesminster Kingsway College does Access to HE Diploma: Law and Access to HE Diploma: Humanities, Social Sciences and Criminology for more information look here
  5. City of Westminster College does Access to HE Diploma in Humanities and Social Sciences, both daytime and evening for more information look here or here
  6. Kensington and Chelsea College does both pre-Access to Humanities and Social Sciences and Access to Humanities and Social Sciences more information look here
  7. Stanmore College: Access to HE Humanities and Social Sciences Pathway Access to HE Law Pathway
  8. Newham College: Access to HE Diploma Social Science Pre Access to Social Science
  9. Morley College Access to HE Humanities and Social Science
  10. Birkbeck, UOL, does Certificate of HE in Legal Method, which is accepted by a variety of universities as a valid entry qualification. It is graded differently from Access course and is worth 120CATS at Level 4 (equivalent to one year of undergraduate study). more information here

For further list of HE colleges please see here

Should you choose to study for A levels instead, have a look at

All of the above, except for City and Islington college, also provide Intensive A level studies which you could complete in a year.

There are also a number of options to study A levels through distance study with

However, be aware that you will need to find a centre to sit your examinations as a private candidate, which is often not a very easy thing to do, but certainly possible.

When talking about distance learning, one should not forget the Open University, which provides a number of preparatory courses for law, as well as a possibility to study for an LLB for more information see here

Law is a very competitive subject and the process of applying to university can be stressful, requiring a lot of work and determination on one's behalf. Therefore, whichever course you choose, you should be aiming for the highest results. Before you choose the Access course, you should also contact universities that you are thinking of applying to and make sure that it is accepted by them as a valid entry qualification and that your application will be considered. It is essential to do, since (if you are applying to study law full time) UCAS allows only 5 choices to be made on your application form, therefore be careful not to waste them! Start looking at universities early and give yourself enough time to research the ones you are interested in and to think of their pros and cons carefully. Have a look at their websites, prospectus etc. and the TSR Wiki university guides. Make sure that your chosen degree is a qualifying law degree, otherwise, should you wish to practice as a solicitor or a barrister, you would need to complete a GDL, which is a year long intensive course and, for that matter, a pretty expensive one too! For a list of qualifying law degrees look here

Some universities offer an opportunity to study your LLB part time. According to [1], "A part-time degree must be completed in no less than four years and in no more than six years. This timeframe includes re-sits and deferrals – except in exceptional cases, which may be dealt with under the provisions of Section 2.7.6 below.

If a student has changed from full-time study mode to part-time study module or vice versa, the maximum period permitted for completion of the degree is normally six years."

An example of such universities would be:

Westminster University London,
London Metropolitan University,
South Bank University,
Greenwich University,
University of Kent,
Birkbeck College, University of London

You might also want to get some work experience at solicitors offices or barristers chambers, of which you could talk in your Personal Statement. It is not a vital thing to do, but can be quite useful, in that it allows you to gain a better understanding of the profession. However, do not forget that law is an academic degree and your university will want you to be just as much dedicated to the task of studying as you might be to qualifying afterwards.

In addition, make sure you read a few introductory law books, which will give you a good idea of English legal system and substantial areas of law that you might encounter during your interview, as well as during the course of your degree studies at university.

Examples of such books are:

Glanwille Williams "Learning the Law" John N. Adams "Understanding Law" Goeffrey Rivlin "Understanding the Law" J.A.Griffith "Politics of Judiciary" Marcel Berlins "The Law Machine"

For a more relaxed, novel like reading about law school try: John Jay Osborn "The Paper Chase" Martha Kims "Ivy Briefs: True Tales of a Neurotic Law Student"

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