Do I need to take a foundation course?

A foundation course is a pathway course for international students to prepare them for entry to a full degree.

Not all international students undertake a foundation degree and this post explores whether a foundation course is the right option for you.

If you have studied at a private or international schools in your home country (which follow the British curriculum) you will likely have graduated from high school with either A levels or an International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma. These are the qualifications that are taken in UK and are therefore instantly recognised as being at the same level as British students applying for university (who have studied at least 13 years of education by the time they leave high school).

However, if you have not studied at an 'international school' you will most likely have studied fewer years of compulsory education and the qualifications you take when you graduate from high school are not always the same level as those taken by UK students. This, coupled with the challenge of studying at degree level in a non-native language, means that many UK universities will require you to undertake a foundation course (which tends to take one academic year) before you are accepted onto a full degree course.

Do all universities require students without A levels or IB to do a foundation year?

No, some universities will take students with 'non-standard' qualifications if they can prove that these qualifications are at an equivalent level to the required A level/IB entry grades.

However, you should be aware that there is a large divergence in university entry requirements in the UK. Highly selective universities often require A*AA at A level (which is equivalent to around 95% in the Chinese GaoKao or around 90% in most Indian exam boards). These universities will require you to take a foundation year if you can not clearly demonstrate that your current qualifications are equal or higher than those of a high achieving A level student.

On the other hand, less selective universities have lower entry requirements and may be more willing to accept international students directly onto their degree courses with an A level equivalent of CCC or lower (or 45-50% in Indian high school equivalent). These universities can be quite flexible in accepting a range of entry qualifications and sometimes even accept a high-level of professional work experience for some of their courses.

What are the benefits of a foundation course?

A foundation course prepares students in a number of ways. It can:

  • help you reach the academic level required to study at degree level in your chosen subject area in a top university
  • open up a wider range of university options for you
  • provide you with the right study skills to succeed at university
  • help you improve your English language skills and confidence (not only academic English but also the every day English language skills you will need to enjoy life in the UK.
  • get you used to life in the UK and independent life as a university student

Do I need to take an English language test to do a foundation course?

You must still be able to prove that you have a good level of English in order to be accepted onto a foundation course and to get your study visa. This is commonly demonstrated by a good IELTS grade, but also many universities also have alternative methods of assessing English language proficiency (which is also accepted by UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI).

The English language requirements are often lower than those required for a full degree and, as part of your foundation course, you will have intensive training in English language (which is often tailored to you academic study area).

Who provides foundation courses?

There are a number of different foundation course providers. Some courses are delivered directly by the university as part of an 'integrated foundation degree'. These courses are geared to both UK and international students and you apply to them as you would to any other UK degree course (generally through the UCAS process). Once you complete the foundation year you progress directly on to the full degree course at the same university.

Most foundation courses, however, are coordinated and delivered by large international foundation course providers such as Kaplan, INTO, Navitas and INTO. These providers have partnerships with particular UK universities and develop their curriculum around the degrees into which students are likely to progress. They are focused solely on international students and, as well as preparing student for academic study, they help students settle in UK life and improve their English language and study skills. Some of these foundation providers are very integrated into the campuses of their partner universities with foundation students living and socialising alongside students studying at degree level.

There are also smaller foundation course providers, such as International Foundation Group, which provide courses that prepare students for degree-level study at a range of UK universities. These providers often deliver their courses in a smaller more intimate environment and provide a strong foundation for students who are not yet sure which university to choose and want to keep their options open.

Does a foundation course guarantee a place in my preferred university?

This differs by foundation provider. Some providers such as Kaplan have a very integrated relationship with their partner universities and, provided you attend class and pass your exams, you will have a guaranteed place at your preferred university (on the course of your choice) without having to re-apply. In other words, you can simply progress directly into the first year (or sometimes even into the second year) of your chosen degree.

Other providers such as INTO do not offer direct progress and you will have to apply e.g. via UCAS to your chosen university. But, although there is no absolute guarantee of a place, the foundation provider will have tailored the course to their partner universities and you will stand a very good chance of securing a place on your preferred course.

If you would like to find out more about whether a foundation course is the right option for you and, if so, what the best options are, get in touch with our team for an informal chat.

Rachel Burgon
Co-Founder & CEO
Published on 3 May 2020