Why should you consider a foundation year?

When you’re looking at applying for an undergraduate degree in the UK, you might notice that many UK universities offer the opportunity to study for a foundation year ahead of entering the degree programme. Foundation years are not mandatory, for every degree course, and because of that, you might wonder why you should consider registering to study a foundation year. Despite the foundation year being optional, many students find that it offers significant advantages for their future study. In this post we’ll be looking at what a foundation year is, who should study a foundation year, and the reasons it might be right for you. 

Table of Contents

What is a foundation year?

A foundation year is a year-long programme that is designed for students to study ahead of starting a degree. Foundation year courses are designed to increase academic skills and give students a broad understanding (a ‘foundation’) of the subject area, as well as building confidence ahead of starting a three year undergraduate degree. 

Foundation years are sometimes referred to as gateway programmes, or year zero. For some subjects, foundation years are embedded into degree programmes. 

Foundation programme is ideal for students who know the field that they want to study in, but haven’t narrowed down the exact subject they want to study yet.

What subjects can I study a foundation year in?

There are foundation years available for a wide range of courses. Many foundation years are programmes that offer learning across a broad range of subjects, such as arts and humanities or life sciences. This type of programme is ideal for students who know the field that they want to study in, but haven’t narrowed down the exact subject they want to study yet.

Other foundation year programmes are more focused, and cover a smaller subject area. Examples of focused programmes include engineering, mathematics, or psychology. If you already know for certain what subject you want to study for your undergraduate degree, then this type of foundation year is ideal. 

Some foundation year programmes, such as the International Foundation Programme in Business at UWS London are designed specifically with international students in mind. Like other foundation years, they’re designed to give students an overview of the subject (in this case, Business) and to build study skills, but also include English language modules, allowing students to increase their confidence in both their spoken and written English, ahead of starting their degree. 

Isn’t a foundation year the same as a foundation degree?

No, they’re not the same. The foundation year is studied in order to help secure a place on a degree course, while a foundation degree is a stand-alone qualification that is equivalent to the first two years of an undergraduate degree. 

Where students have studied a foundation degree, they are often allowed to use this as credits towards their undergraduate study, and may be able to enter their undergraduate degree at the start of the second year. 

A foundation year does not usually count towards an undergraduate degree. Some universities may require the foundation year to be completed as an entry requirement, but won’t count it as credit for the degree.

You can find out more about foundation degrees in our guide to qualifications

A happy group of teenage students smile as they make their way to their classes for university. They are carrying their bags, books and technology with them.

Advantages of studying a foundation year

Although you might already see the benefits of studying for a foundation year, there are plenty of other reasons that you might not have considered.

You’ll be prepared for academic study

Some students struggle to make the transition between school and undergraduate study. It really is a huge jump, and a quite different way of learning. If you find learning academically doesn’t come naturally to you, then a foundation year could help you to be better prepared for degree study. 

When you start an undergraduate degree, you’ll usually attend a mixture of lectures, tutorials, and seminars, sometimes with workshops, but you’ll also be required to do a significant amount of independent study. A key part of foundation year study is to help you to feel ready for this type of learning. You’ll work on your academic skills, such as accurate research skills, learning how to think critically, and how to write at length and in an academic style. 

You’ll have more time to consider your future

If you’re not 100% certain that the degree you’re thinking about is for you, then your foundation year will give you a bit more time to decide, while continuing to develop both personally and academically. Education is rarely wasted, and so even if you decide at the end of your foundation year to switch to a different path entirely, you’ll have gained valuable academic skills which will be useful in any future study and potential employment.

You’ll be making friends who will also progress

Of course, you won’t be the only person doing the foundation year. While you’re studying your foundation year, it is likely that you’ll make friends with your course mates, who may join you on the same degree programme. Your course mates may come from all kinds of backgrounds, and this will almost certainly help you to feel more confident in making more friends when the degree starts. 

You’ll be guaranteed to get a university place

Many universities guarantee students who successfully complete all assessment on foundation year programmes a place on the associated degree course. That’s because admissions staff can be certain that students who have completed the foundation year programmes are academically prepared for degree level study, with a good general knowledge of the subject. Course teams can also be confident that students will achieve more in the first year of their degree than they otherwise might, and that they are less likely to drop out.

If you decide that the undergraduate degree that you had intended to join isn’t for you, but you have achieved well on your foundation year, you may be able to secure a place on an alternative degree programme. If you find that this applies to you, then you should talk to your foundation year tutor and the admissions staff at the university. There are nearly always options, and if the right course for you isn’t available at the university you have studied your foundation year with, then support staff will help you to decide which is the best move, and to apply to other institutions.

You won’t necessarily need formal qualifications

Specific entry requirements do vary between foundation year programmes and universities, and can also depend on what you are going to study and your personal circumstances. Previous qualifications and work experience may lend weight to your application, but applications for foundation year programmes are usually assessed on the quality of the application, the amount of enthusiasm that you have to learn, as well as your passion for the subject. 

Although enthusiasm and passion are necessary for your application, there may be some formal qualifications required. If you’re an international student, you will need a strong grasp of the English language, which is necessary to study for a foundation year in the UK. Different schools and colleges set their own requirements, but you’re likely to need a minimum IELTS score of 4.5 or equivalent, and certificates and transcripts from your high school study, a reference from your school and a personal statement. 

They’re ideal for international students

When you’re moving to the UK from overseas, there is a lot to get used to pretty quickly. Entering the first year of university study can be a pretty big leap from school study, and that’s without adding the pressure of adjusting to a new country and looking after yourself (sometimes for the first time!) on top. Choosing to study a foundation year means that you can get used to life in the UK in a lower pressured environment, allowing you to settle and adjust while working towards your goal of achieving the degree you want. 

Cultural differences are a given, but many countries have different standards of education. If you find that you need to catch up in certain areas, your foundation year will ensure that you are ready to start the first year of undergraduate study, and will mean your degree is much less of a struggle than it otherwise could be.

As we mentioned previously, many universities offer foundation year programmes with English language courses. Even if your spoken English is excellent, studying an English language course alongside your foundation year will ensure you are ready to write in academic English, and further prepare you for employment in English speaking countries.

Do I have to study a foundation year?

As we mentioned in our first paragraph, if you already meet the entry requirements to start a degree programme directly, then studying a foundation year is very much an optional extra. Many students who are in this position progress directly to the first year of their degree, since additional study costs more in terms of tuition fees, and takes up more time.  

There are some students who may choose to study a foundation year ahead of starting a degree. Some people who have been out of formal education for a number of years may be advised to do the foundation year before they enter their degree in order to increase their confidence, and to improve their academic ability, for example.

Some students will need to study a foundation year as a condition of being given a place on their chosen degree course. For these students, if they don’t study the foundation year, they won’t get onto the degree course they want to do, so would need to look at alternative qualifications or universities.

Who should take a foundation year?

Anyone can study a foundation year, but the majority of people who choose to do so are: 

  • Mature students (usually anyone who is over the age of 21 is in this category) 
  • Students who haven’t achieved the exam results that they needed to go directly onto the degree programme 
  • International students 


Mature students are usually invited to study a foundation year if they don’t have the academic background that they need to progress directly to their preferred degree course.  

Students who haven’t achieved academically, are sometimes advised to study a foundation year as a more efficient way to gaining a place at university, especially if this was due to ill health or other personal circumstances. If your studies have been interrupted due to reasons outside of your control, rather than re-entering a GCSE and A-level programme or equivalent, then the foundation year might be a better option.  

If you’re a mature student or you didn’t achieve at school due to circumstances out of your control, this is something you will need to discuss at length on your application, and what you have learnt from these challenges and experiences. University study requires plenty of resilience, open-mindedness, and the drive to succeed in the face of significant challenge. You’ll be able to show the practical skills that you have gained from employment, as well as life experiences and any periods of travel. 

We’ve already spoken at length about why foundation years are fantastic for international students who hope to study for their degree in the UK. But just to recap, they are great for preparing students for whom English isn’t their first language, and who are moving from a very different culture to adjust before they start their undergraduate programme.

Where can I study a foundation year?

There are many UK universities that offer foundation years for students that want to enter their undergraduate programmes. New programmes are being launched regularly, so search online for the most up to date lists of available courses. 

Universities in many different countries are offering foundation year programmes too – and there are thousands of options available. At UWS London, we specialise in our International Foundation Programme. However bear in mind that studying overseas may have significantly higher costs for UK students. 

However, it is not just universities that are offering foundation years. Some further education colleges and specialist schools offer the foundation year programme on behalf of, or in partnership with a local university, so be sure to do appropriate research to find the best programme for you before deciding.

Costs of tuition fees for a foundation year vary between institutions, and may be different depending on your circumstances.

How much does a foundation year cost?

The short answer is that it very much depends. Costs of tuition fees for a foundation year vary between institutions, and may be different depending on your circumstances. 

Colleges may offer foundation years at no cost to students who are under the age of 19, and some universities may charge lower tuition fees for foundation years. If the foundation year that you have chosen is delivered at a university and is an essential part of a degree, then fees may be set at the same level as the degree study. 

Many UK colleges and universities charge higher tuition fees for international students, whatever level of study they choose to apply for. You should check the website for the institution that you want to study with for current fees.  

When and how should I apply for a foundation year?

Colleges and universities offering the foundation year will each have their own timeline for applications to be submitted, but it is a good idea to apply as early as possible in the year before the start date. If the entry date is September, applying early would mean any time from October or November onwards. 

For international students, it is even more important for applications to be in early, so that visas and accommodation can be arranged. In addition, this will ensure that tuition fee money can be sent to the UK in time, to avoid any additional fees for late payment. 

If you don’t manage to apply early, or miss the application deadline, there may still be a chance to get a place on the foundation year you want to study, since some students change their plans, especially when results day comes around. Even if you think you have missed your chance for the current year, it may not be too late. Get in touch with the institution that is offering the foundation year you’re considering.

Final thoughts

Not all students who are thinking about studying for a degree will need to complete a foundation year. But if you don’t meet the entry criteria for entry directly onto your preferred degree, you’ve been out of formal education for a while or you’re not from the UK, a foundation year can be a valuable first step towards your degree. 

The majority of students who complete a foundation year complete the programme feeling ready to take on their degree, and with a much deeper understanding of the field that they have been studying. Whether they then progress immediately to their degree programme, change direction, or take a gap year, the foundation year ensures they are completely prepared for the rigours of academic study.

Find out more about the International Foundation Programme (Business) and apply.



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