Many students in the UK find the transition to university education difficult. A sudden step up in intensity combined with living away from home for the first time is often hugely stressful. Foundation year degrees are a common suggestion for students to help bridge the gap between school and university. However, it can be hard to know what qualification you are getting while taking a foundation year. In this article, we will explain what a foundation year is equivalent to, as well as tips on how best to include it in your CV.
A foundation year is a qualification undertaken by many students before taking a full university degree. It helps to give them the skills required to complete the full course and gives them access to the course even if they do not have the grades. Foundation years are level 4 qualifications, one step above A-Levels. This means they are roughly equivalent to achieving a higher national diploma (HND) or foundation degree.
While this should have given you a short answer to your questions, please read on for a full list of what a foundation year is equivalent to, and further information about a foundation year degree.
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What qualification is a foundation year equivalent to?
The UK government labels qualifications by difficulty level. Level 1 includes GCSEs at grades 3-1, whereas level 8 includes a doctorate degree, among other things.
A foundation year is generally considered to be a level 4 qualification. This means it is one step above an A-Level qualification. A full degree, with or without honours, would be a level 6 qualification, while a two-year foundation degree would be Level 5. More information on foundation degrees can be found in the section below.
This level 4 ranking means that a foundation year is roughly equivalent to achieving a certificate of higher education (CertHE), higher national certificate (HNC), or any other qualification labelled level 4.
The government’s full ranking list of qualifications, and more details on each can be found here, from the GOV.UK website.
Do you get a qualification after a foundation year?
While a foundation year is a recognised academic experience, it does not typically lead to a qualification. This is because the aim of a foundation year is to prepare students for a full university degree.
Foundation years may include training in study skills, maths, and English. At some universities you may be able to also take introductory modules to the subject you hope to study as a full degree, to help reach the required standard. This is particularly common if you have not studied the subject in the past.
This training, while often not officially recognised, will be understood by your certificate of completion given at the end of a foundation year. However, this certificate is not necessarily a qualification, so check with your university for details of your specific course.
However, sometimes a foundation year includes the option to take official qualifications. For example, if your previous education was not conducted in English, you may be required to take an ESL qualification to ensure you are ready for a full degree taught in English. This would give you a certificate which would be a qualification in its own right and is often also requested by employers in absence of a GCSE in English.
Who can take a foundation year?
A foundation year is best suited to those who are nervous about taking on a full university degree. This could be for many reasons. For example, students who have been out of education for a few years may appreciate the chance to re-learn study skills before embarking on a degree.
Furthermore, mature students over the age of 21 often opt to take a foundation year if they have not studied at degree level before. This is often recommended by universities on application. If you are interested in taking a foundation year, speak to the university you would like to apply to, as they will have much more information and will be able to advise if it is a good fit for you.
Foundation years are also often recommended to students who do not meet the entry requirements for a full degree. Foundation year entry requirements are often lower, as discussed in the section below. They also help students who may need more time to reach the academic level required to take a full degree course.
What are the entry requirements for a foundation year?
Unlike typical university degrees, a foundation year often does not require formal qualifications. If you are currently in education, a common requirement is at least two Ds at A-Level, the same as an unconditional offer. They may also require 6 passes at GCSE level, including maths and English, or an equivalent qualification.
However, foundation years tend to have more of a flexible approach to admissions. This means that universities will typically discuss with applicants whether their current qualifications are enough, and what else they need to do prior to starting the course.
Some courses also take work experience, or other industry experience as a fulfilment of entry requirements. This is particularly appealing to mature students, who often have much more practical experience than younger applicants.
This foundation year can then often be used as a fulfilment of entry requirements to a full university course.
If you are concerned about your A-Level grades and want to know which universities may consider the grades you have, please read this Think Student article for suggestions.
Should you include a foundation year in your CV?
Most students choose to include a foundation year in their CV. This is because, even if they have higher level qualifications after this, it explains what you were doing for a year where otherwise there may be a gap in the CV.
The foundation year also shows employers that you have worked hard to get to where you are today, including by less common pathways. This is often a trait valued by employers.
Furthermore, if you have not yet completed any higher levels of education than your foundation year, including this in your CV will still show employers that you have studied higher than A-Level. This may give you strengths over other applicants who do not have this qualification.
To include the foundation year, simply write, for example:
2023-2024 – University of Bradford, Foundation Year in Psychology (76%)
If you have achieved a degree from the same university with an integrated foundation year, you could simply extend the dates to include the foundation year. This implies that you have taken one, but takes up less valuable CV space.
More tips on writing an effective CV can be found here, from Think Student.
What is the difference between a foundation year and a foundation degree?
A foundation year is a qualification focussed on preparing students for university study. It teaches academic study skills, maths, English, and sometimes introductions to your subject. Students typically move on from a foundation year to complete a full undergraduate degree.
In contrast, a foundation degree is a vocational qualification approximately equivalent to the first two years of an undergraduate degree. It focuses on practical skills and knowledge, and typically is not followed by taking a full undergraduate degree. Students typically move straight into industry after taking a foundation degree.
More information on what a foundation degree is can be found in this helpful guide from Think Student.
However, a key similarity is that students are eligible to take out student loans for both qualifications. You can apply for a student loan for 4 years of your undergraduate course typically and may also be able to qualify for a bursary if you are completing a foundation year or degree. Think Student also has a full guide to student finance and foundation years, which can be found here.