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Good Pre-Application Qualifications - BTEC and A-Levels

Protection online, especially for businesses, is vital. But with the industry facing a severe shortage of specialists able to create and manage powerful information security systems and quite literally ‘beat the hackers’, new qualifications are being developed to encourage the brightest and best IT-focused students to choose cyber security as a career.

We’ve covered some of the intermediate courses on offer, but what about the absolute beginning?

Before you go on to do an InfoSec degree course (other similar), there are a choice of excellent pre-application qualifications at both BTEC and A level that can give you a good starting point. They also give you a better chance of getting onto a degree course of your choice.


These are primarily aimed at students who want to develop a broad range of IT skills with either a plan to go on to study more advanced, degree-level courses, or to take up a junior position in cyber security. They are designed for anyone aged 16 or over, and while AQA does not set any formal entry requirements to take these courses, it is useful to have good passing grades in GCSE Mathematics (Grade B/6) and ICT.

The courses cover the main topics of computer programming, technology, network development, and, crucially, network threats and vulnerabilities. These are the type of practical skills that can be applied in a ‘real world’ situation, so while there is plenty of theory work involved in the courses, there is also a good degree of practical application development – the sort of skills that employers look for.

The courses have been developed to take into account ‘soft skills’ and how the more technical aspects of the courses can be transferred. In fact, a key factor in grading focuses on the student demonstrating the achievement of identified transferable skills within specific units.


Picking the right A-Levels can go a long way to securing a ‘head start’ when it comes to going on to higher education courses in cyber security. The right A-Levels can also count towards your points to give you a better grade. For example, a typical offer is 120 points from a minimum of 2 A-Levels (excluding General Studies). Again, it’s recommended that you take ICT and Maths A-Levels to benefit as much as possible from both a good grounding in the fundamentals of the subject, and accumulate the maximum number of points.


The BTEC qualification has been around for a long time and is highly regarded among employers and higher education administrators. BTEC diplomas are an excellent starting point for a higher education qualification such as a BSc Honours in Cyber Security Management. If you want to go for an extended diploma then you will need to achieve either a Distinction or a Merit on your initial BTEC. To achieve the full diploma you’ll also need to reach an A-Level standard to achieve the overall tariff.

A 90-credit Diploma can be accepted as part of your overall tariff, but you will also need relevant A-Levels or equivalent qualifications.

If you really want to push for the top, a Subsidiary Diploma gives you a much better chance of getting onto a BSc Honours course, but you will need to achieve a Distinction (and have two A-Levels or equivalent) to achieve the overall tariff.

New Honours courses

As the importance of cyber security becomes more of an issue, and the pool of expertise diminishes, some universities are starting to provide higher education qualifications to meet the increase in demand for highly skilled and qualified candidates. The University of Bournemouth, for example, offers a BSc Honours in Cyber Security Management, using state-of-the-art technology and the very latest in training. Entry is open to anyone holding 104-120 tariff points, including 3 A-Levels or equivalent (including the BTEC Extended Diploma DMM).