Dr Alex Pryce, Foundation Year Course Director at the University of Cambridge thinks all students should explore whether a Foundation Year might offer them an alternative route to Higher Education.
What is a Foundation Year?
A Foundation Year offers a gateway to Higher Education for applicants who, for whatever reason, need an alternative route. It offers a full year of preparatory tuition for those who don’t currently have the relevant subjects or the right grades for their preferred degree course.
Some people confuse ‘foundation years’ with ‘foundation degrees’. A foundation degree is a 2-year degree course, while a foundation year is best understood as a pre-degree course that bridges between your school or college studies and university.
Why opt for a Foundation Year?
Foundation Years can provide an alternative pathway to selective universities like Oxford and Cambridge. In the Oxbridge context, they are quite a new offering, creating an opportunity for students who haven’t yet realised their full potential due to circumstances outside of their control.
Many students, and even teachers and advisors, are often unsure who Foundation Years are for, what they involve and how to apply. You might find it isn’t the right option for you or it might be just what you’ve been waiting for…
Want to find out more? Consider this your fundamental Foundation Year crib sheet!
Is it for me?
Foundation Years can appeal to a wide range of students. The thing all potential students have in common is that something in their educational journey so far has left them less than well prepared for direct entry to a degree course at their chosen university.
- Some target specific students who have faced educational disadvantages such as having attended lower-performing schools or coming from low-income backgrounds;
- Mature students (those over 21) may use them as part of their route back to education;
- Some cater to International students who haven’t got the right qualifications or English language skills;
- Others are open to all but particularly target certain skills or knowledge you haven’t been able to acquire through your prior studies (like practice-based art);
What universities offer a Foundation Year? What are they like?
Foundation Years are increasingly common. The University of Cambridge has opened applications for our first Foundation Year beginning in 2022.
Other top-ranked universities that offer Foundation Years include:
- Lady Margaret Hall (University of Oxford)
- Durham University
- University of Leeds
- University of Nottingham
- University of Bristol and more.
Just as with other courses, you can find out more about the courses available through University websites and prospectuses.
While the exact content of courses varies across different universities, you can expect to be taught in similar ways to all other undergraduates and will usually be living and studying alongside other university students. So, it isn’t just like another year of school.
There is usually a ‘progression’ pathway to degree courses after the Foundation Year. You should ensure you find out more about your options following the course to ensure you’re happy with the suggested next stages.
What grades or subjects do I need?
If you’ve ever looked at the entry requirements for a course you’d like to study but have been concerned that you won’t be able to meet them, you could consider this route as an alternative to writing off your chances on courses with high entry requirements. The academic entry requirements will generally be lower than what is asked for in a degree course.
For example, for undergraduate courses at Cambridge, we ask for A*AA minimum at A-Level or equivalent (156 UCAS Points). For the Cambridge Foundation Year, we ask for 120 UCAS Points which translates to BBB/ABC at A Level.
You might also investigate a Foundation Year pathway if you find if there is a degree you are particularly interested in that you haven’t done the right subject or combination of subjects for.
What is the Cambridge Foundation Year?
At Cambridge, our recently launched Foundation Year offers a free and fully-funded stepping stone to Cambridge for those who have experienced educational disadvantage.
It offers a pathway to eighteen degrees in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. This includes courses such as English, History, Law, Modern and Medieval Languages, Philosophy and many more.
Am I eligible to apply for the Cambridge Foundation Year?
To be eligible to apply, you have to meet certain criteria such as having had a disrupted education, having been in care, coming from a low-income home or a school that doesn’t send many people to university. There is a wide range of experiences that might make you eligible, so you might be surprised to find you can apply.
It is worth saying that just because you’ve experienced some of these challenges on your educational journey so far, it doesn’t mean you won’t succeed in applying to Cambridge directly for a degree if you can still meet the academic requirements of A*AA or above at A level (or equivalent).
As mentioned above, the academic entry requirement is 120 UCAS Points. You can reach that number with a range of qualifications, including A levels and BTECs. For this course, we also accept EPQ and the Advanced Skills Challenge Certificate if you’re taking these.
How much does the Cambridge Foundation Year cost?
The course is free and fully-funded with no tuition fees. All students on it will receive a full scholarship that covers their living expenses such as accommodation costs.
This is a bursary – not a loan – so you don’t need to pay it back!
Will I get the full university experience?
Just as all other students at Cambridge, you will join a College and have all the benefits of living in that community and benefitting from the facilities there. Thirteen Colleges are offering the course and there will be around 5 Foundation Year students in each College every year. You can find out about the different Colleges at Cambridge here.
You’ll also be a full member of the University of Cambridge, and have access to all libraries, sports facilities, clubs and societies and other services you might need.
You’ll study a specially designed course that focuses on preparing you for further study. You will choose papers from across different ‘streams’, depending on your future subject interests, and be taught through lectures, seminars and small-group supervisions. You’ll also be assessed through written assignments such as essays and a written examination.
During the course, you’ll be supported in selecting a degree subject. You won’t need to ‘apply’ to Cambridge in the usual way to continue to a degree with us, but you will need to meet certain milestones on the Foundation Year to ensure you are ready for the demands of degree study at Cambridge. We’ll also help you to keep your options open by supporting you in applying to other universities should you wish.
I’m interested! How do I apply and when is the application deadline?
The application deadline for the Cambridge Foundation Year programme is 26 January 2022, and all applicants for this course must apply via UCAS by this date.
To find out more, visit the University of Cambridge undergraduate study website
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