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Study abroad : Applying to University

The ultimate guide to pre-sessional English courses

In this guide we take a deep dive into pre-sessional courses, which are designed to boost your English and academic skills so that you feel ready for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

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If you’re an international student looking to study an English-taught undergraduate or postgraduate course, you may be required to study a pre-sessional English course first.


What does pre-sessional mean?

Pre-sessional English courses are designed to help international students prepare for the demands of learning an English-taught course at university and meet the language proficiency requirements for course entry. Studying in an English-speaking country like the UK, Canada, Australia, USA or New Zealand you will need the requisite level of English for academic study.


Pre-sessional courses aim to boost the skills of international students so that they don’t struggle on an undergraduate or postgraduate programme. Another reason is that the quality of teaching and conversion of qualifications can differ between countries and so universities need to ensure that international students will be able to cope academically.


When researching pre-sessional courses, you might find a range of different terms, but they refer to the same type of qualification as shown in the table below.


table of pre-sessional English terms, pathway, foundation, pre-masters

In response to Covid-19, many universities around the globe are working hard to make accommodations for students. This means that some courses will be moved online to meet your educational needs, including pre-sessional courses.


Why study a pre-sessional English course?

There are a few other reasons why international students may choose to do a pre-sessional English course:

  • To develop and improve English language abilities
  • To become familiar with the academic standards and required study skills of that institution
  • To help you grow and develop academic independence


What does a pre-sessional English course cover?

In this course you will develop new and existing skills that will improve your ability to study at degree level. Pre-sessional English courses will usually involve:

  • Academic writing: Grammar, punctuation, spelling, essay writing and reporting, academic style and referencing, avoiding plagiarism.
  • Speaking skills: Academic notetaking, discussion and debating, pronunciation
  • Research: Citing, referencing, and use of academic journals
  • Presentation skills
  • Group work
  • Analytical and critical thinking skills


At the end of the course, you may be expected to pass various assessments to demonstrate your English language abilities. This grade can then be used when applying for undergraduate or postgraduate courses. Some universities will consider other factors when assessing your skills, such as participation in class and overall attendance. Don’t forget to check the specific details about the institution you wish to apply to by visiting the university’s website.


Some universities offering pre-sessional English courses online:


Entry requirements

Some universities will accept a minimum IELTS (or equivalent) score of 4.5, while others will require you to have a minimum score of 5.5. Some degree courses will expect a minimum IELTS (or equivalent) of 6.0. So that’s where a pre-sessional English course helps you to get your English and academic skills to the required level. Make sure you check out our essential guide to IELTS testing for some extra insight.


Entry requirements onto pre-sessional English courses may vary according to each institution, particularly within the context of the current coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, in some cases, an equivalent test score may be accepted such as TOEFL, DuoLingo or Pearson PTE. Make sure you refer to a university’s website for further details and recent updates.


How long does this course take?

Typically, universities offer various course lengths to meet the different needs of students. You can usually choose between a few options depending on your abilities. For example, The University of Reading offers several options based on existing IELTS (or equivalent) scores. So, at this university, pre-sessional English courses can last anywhere from six to 41 weeks.


Keep in mind that degree courses may have different English language requirements, so make sure you check for the course(s) you are applying for.


In terms of hours per week, again, this really does vary between universities. However, here is a list of examples to give you an idea of the weekly teaching hours for pre-sessional courses:


University of Warwick (UK) – Ten hours per week

University of Missouri (USA) – minimum 20 hours per week

Humber College (Canada) – 18 hours per week

Western Sydney University (Australia) – 20 hours per week

University of Otago – (New Zealand) – 23 hours per week 


It is likely that you will also be expected to study outside of teaching hours in order to achieve the best possible grade. This will also provide you with the necessary independent study skills.


Pre-sessional English course fees

For shorter courses of 6-10 weeks you can expect to pay at least GBP 2,000 and for longer courses of 20-40 weeks, tuition fees tend to reach GBP 7,000 to GBP 8,000.


Remember that these figures are only guidelines. You should always check a university’s website for more specific information on tuition costs.


Benefits of pre-sessional English courses

Although you might be eager to start your undergraduate degree, a pre-sessional English course will support your learning and help you to be successful in your next steps in higher education and beyond. Other advantages include:


  • Making friends with other international students and working together to improve your language skills
  • Learning more about the culture and traditions of your study destination
  • Generally smaller class sizes which fosters more contribution and discussion opportunities


So now that you’ve gained more information on pre-sessional courses to inform your next steps, get started on your study abroad journey and browse online and/or on campus courses today.


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