Highers and Advanced Highers In Scotland

Scotland’s Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications are the next step for students who have completed their National exams in Scotland. They’re the equivalent to A-levels done in the rest of the UK. You can learn more about what’s involved in getting a Higher and decide if they’re right for you below.

A young man is thinking. He wants to take Highers in Scotland. This is a wide-angle image.

What are Highers in Scotland and Advanced Highers?

Scottish higher qualifications are post-16 qualifications that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) offers. This means that the Scottish Qualification Levels (SCQF) judge them. Highers are considered a higher level compared to Nats (get it?). Students usually take them in the last year of school or college after completing your Nationals (Nats).

Courses are usually one year long. Higher exams/Advanced Higher exams in Scotland get taken at the end. You’ll be happy to know that a wider range of subjects are available for Higher courses than for Nationals. This includes everything from traditional options such as higher English courses to more specific subjects like Fashion or Childcare.

What’s the difference between Highers and A-levels?

Since AS-level results don’t count towards your A-level grades anymore, there actually isn’t much difference between the two. A Higher and an Advanced Higher in the same subject are two separate qualifications. Basically the same structure as AS- and A-levels. Higher marks don’t contribute at all to your Advanced grades, just like AS grades don’t contribute to A-level ones.

That’s why, although it is not often recommended, it’s technically possible to do an Advanced Higher without taking a Higher in that subject first.

If you want more info on other UK qualifications, then see our article on AS and A-levels here.

Can anyone take these Scottish Highers?

Generally speaking, you’ll need a minimum of five Nat 5s of grades A-C to move on to Highers. But, as with anything, there are exceptions to the rules. In some cases it’s possible to take Highers after your Nat 4s. 

Other than that, anyone with the right grades can take Highers and Advanced Highers. People will usually tell you that a sympathetic National 5 qualification or a GCSE are good prep for a Higher in that subject. However, loads of Scottish students are now starting to take Highers with no previous qualifications in their chosen subject.

Can I get a Higher if I’ve already left school?

You don’t just have to take Highers in college anymore, People can get back into education at any stage of life. Even if you’ve just completed your sixth year out of the education system. Whether it’s at a local learning centre or a college evening class, learning outside of school is becoming increasingly flexible and accessible. There’s even Higher English courses online nowadays. Plus, financial aid is also available to help make this process easier

For instance, if you live in Scotland and you’re over 16, you can apply for an SDS Individual Training Account (ITA) and get up to £200 towards the cost of a training course for your development. Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in Scotland could also help you complete a course at school or college. You can find out more about EMA here.

And if you’re wondering about alternatives to Highers then, check out our article on your options after GCSEs here.

Where will Highers get me?

You can either go on to take Advanced Highers or do a Higher National Certificate or Diploma course (HNC and HND). Tonnes of universities in Scotland will accept applicants who only have Highers for undergraduate degrees. This is because most of their courses are one year longer than degrees in the rest of the UK.

Where will Advanced Highers get me?

Unlike up North, English universities ask for two or three Advanced Highers to get onto their courses. Although most university prospectuses list entry requirements in terms of both A-levels and the equivalent Scottish qualifications. On this topic, Mick Warwicker from Newcastle University says: “Any student that meets the specific entry requirements for higher education, in Scotland or the rest of the UK, is treated equally.”

Plus, students throughout the UK apply to university through UCAS. This means that they’re starting on an equal footing. So An A at A-Level is worth the same number of points as an Advanced Higher, although Highers are worth slightly more than AS-Levels.

As side-note, you don’t have to worry about this if you have an unconditional offer. In that case, as long as you’ve got Highers and grades, you’ll be let in.

For more qualifications advice, check out our ‘what qualification’ resources here, or share your thoughts with the community on our discussion boards.

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By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 23-Apr-2022