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Study abroad : Subject Guides

What are foundation programmes?

Looking to get your study abroad journey off to a good start? Foundation programmes provide an opportunity to begin a study abroad journey. We explore what they’re all about.

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When considering your options to study abroad, you might think that there is only one way to start your academic journey. This would be applying to an undergraduate or postgraduate course and being accepted. Luckily there are several ways that you can pursue your ambitions. Many universities offer programmes and courses that prepare you for full degree study and help you meet academic entry requirements. These courses are called foundation programmes. We give you the details of what to expect, what you can study and what makes these programmes unique.  


What is a foundation programme?


A foundation programme is a structured one-year course that aims to develop the skills and knowledge required for degree study. Foundation programmes are sometimes called a “gateway” or “year-zero” programme. Courses focus on academic skills and the subject-specific knowledge you may need for your chosen degree course.


Depending on where you study, a foundation programme may be a stand-alone course or form part of a degree curriculum. Foundation programmes are most common in the UK but are also available in the USA, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia.  


Foundation programmes are generally appropriate for students who have not achieved the results they were expecting at A-Level or International Baccalaureate Level. They can also be for professionals who did not have the opportunity to pursue an academic education but demonstrate the required ability.


Find universities in the UK offering foundation programmes.


What do you study in a foundation programme?


Foundation programmes do differ between universities. However, there are some common elements to such courses. Firstly, foundation programmes cover a variety of subjects and specialisations. While you can do a general academic preparation course for a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science, if you wish to study for a professional degree, you will need to focus on a specific or related subject.


Some of the subject areas that you could study with a foundation programme include:



Foundation programmes are usually divided into modules across two semesters. For example, you may take four subject modules over a year. Some of the components you’ll learn will be subject-specific but may include study skills, academic skills, and English language support.


Don’t forget that foundation programmes are offered at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. This may take the form of a pre-masters course.  


How is it different from a pre-sessional course?


A foundation programme differs from a pre-sessional course in a few crucial ways. The first is the length of time and structure. A foundation programme will usually last for a minimum of 12 months while a pre-sessional course can be as short as six weeks.


The second difference relates to the focus of the course. Pre-sessional courses often focus on general academic and language skills rather than subject-specific skills. They are ideal for students looking to achieve the English language entry requirements, including IELTS scores. These courses are also helpful for those wanting to start on a foundation programme.


Lastly, pre-sessional courses are condensed and offer a less in-depth curriculum when compared to foundation programmes. The learning outcomes and objectives are different between the two. A foundation programme aims to get you ready for a university degree. A good way of thinking of it is that a foundation programme is essentially the same as a pathway programme, except for small differences in structure and approach.


Find out more about universities offering pathway programmes.


What are the entry requirements for a foundation programme?


These may change depending on the university of your choice, but there are a few boxes that you must tick. You generally need to be 17 years or older to apply and must hold a GSCE or O-Level equivalent qualification.


There will also be an English language level entry requirement. This is usually an IELTS score of 5.5 with no band score lower than 5.0. For most foundation programmes you will also need to prove that you have been taught and studied in English for at least five years.


Explore more on the entry requirements for a master’s degree.


What qualification do you get from a foundation programme?


Upon completing a foundation programme, you will receive a qualification equivalent to a diploma. However, it is important to remember that not all foundation programme qualifications are transferable between institutions or countries. It’s critical to check this before registering for a programme.


Many foundation programmes are offered as part of a degree course. This means that passing the foundation year allows you to continue to full degree study. This will be at the same university where you studied the foundation programme. The great thing is that completing a foundation programme means continuing the path to achieve a university degree in your chosen subject.


If you’re starting on your study abroad journey, we can help. We’ve got advice on the top 10 reasons to study abroadhow to compare universities and information on university prospectuses. We could also help you find your perfect course.

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