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Routes into Engineering

A motorway intersectionThere are lots of different ways into engineering. Find out more about your options with this guide.

Engineering degrees

A degree is the most direct route if you want to become a fully-qualified, accredited engineer. Courses usually last three or four years, and will involve lots of academic and theoretical work as well as practical work.

Applying for an engineering degree is the same as applying for any other university course. You will have to pay tuition fees, but these can be covered by a loan that you won’t start paying back until you graduate and are earning over a certain amount.

You will specialise in an area like mechanical, electrical, chemical or civil engineering, but each specialism can lead to a wide range of jobs. Find out more about specialisms, or take a look at some of the careers available.

Higher National Diploma (HND)
or Higher National Certificate (HNC)

HNDs and HNCs are one- or two-year courses designed to prepare you to go into work. They can be studied either at college or at university, and although there are fees for these courses they are usually lower than for a degree.

Because HNDs and HNCs are directed towards work, they include more work-based learning than theoretical study. You will do assignments, projects and other practical tasks during the course rather than sitting exams at the end.

An HND or HNC is a recognised qualification, and although you will not be able to call yourself a Chartered Engineer you will be qualified for a wide variety of engineering jobs. You can also later choose to go to university to “upgrade” to a degree, as it is often possible to start at the second or third year of a degree course if you already have a HND or HNC.

How you apply depends on where and when you want to do your course. If your course starts in September, you may have to apply through UCAS, but for some institutions and for courses starting in January you will have to apply directly. The easiest way to be sure is to get in touch with the university or college you are applying to, or check their website.


An apprenticeship is a work-based course: you will spend some of your time working for a business and some of your time studying. This means that you have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and to earn money while studying.

All apprenticeships will lead to a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) award, and some will also give you a BTEC or a City & Guilds certificate. The business running your apprenticeship might offer you a full-time job once you finish your apprenticeship, but if not you will have recognised qualifications and experience to show potential employers.

Engineering apprenticeships are based on more hands-on skills: you are more likely to be assembling, maintaining or installing things than designing them. Available apprenticeships include welder/fabricator, motorsport technician, airframe riveter and CAD (Computer Aided Design) operator.

Because apprenticeships are work-based, you apply for them like you would apply for a job: businesses will advertise apprenticeship places, and you will need to contact them directly to apply.

Find out more about getting into engineering at Tomorrow's Engineers.