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Choosing a university foundation year to kickstart a degree

 When Becky Reavell realized she didn't want to study English at university and become a journalist, it was while she and her father were in the throng at Silverstone watching a Formula One race. She genuinely desired engineering studies in order to pursue a career in motorsport.

Her sixth-form professors were encouraging, but her A-level choices were the issue. Instead of studying math and physics, which are typically prerequisites for engineering, she was already well into her studies of English literature, the classics, and economics. She didn't give up though. With her A*A*A scores, she was accepted to Leeds University's studies in science foundation year program, which prepared her for a three-year engineering degree.

She started working as a composite design engineer for an F1 team in August.

Foundation years are an additional year of preparation before the start of a bachelor's degree and are typically tied to that subject, such as a foundation year for a BSc in psychology. Students who want to enroll in a three- or four-year undergraduate program plus one additional year must apply as usual through Ucas.

"I never really thought about engineering before the sixth form," says Becky, 25, from Essex, who has been selected to join the Women's Engineering Society's Early Careers Board. Becky attended a different school before the sixth form, an all-girls institution.

"The foundation year was quite beneficial. Since I hadn't studied math or science since GCSEs, it was a bit intimidating, but the instructors were very encouraging and stayed in touch with me even after I had begun my degree.

Becky received a distinction for her MSc in motor sport engineering from Oxford Brookes University after receiving a first-class BEng in automotive engineering from Leeds University.

Students must choose their subjects for the English test system at the age of 13 for GCSEs and again at the age of 15 or 16 for A-levels. Students are more likely to be reconsidering their career goals now that the pandemic has passed.

Others might not have received the grades they deserved because of school disruptions, bereavements, or illnesses in the family.

For students who switch topics or don't get the grades they need, a foundation year that leads to a three- or four-year degree program opens new choices, according to National Careers Service adviser Ray Le Tarouilly.

Because they acquaint adult students who have been out of school with university life, they can also be a great bridge for them. Although they are being offered by more universities in more fields, admittance can be difficult, particularly in the medical and biological sciences.

Although some universities, like York and Manchester, provide fee discounts or grants for the additional year, most programmes cost the same as a year of an undergraduate degree, or £9,250. As with undergraduate degrees, students are eligible for loans to cover their living expenses and tuition, although Le Tarouilly warns that this will result in more debt.

"That is the drawback. However, once they begin working, graduates won't be paying any extra each month because repayments are dependent on income, not the amount of debt owed, he continues. Universities have different foundational years. Some only make them available to "widening participation" students from underserved home or educational backgrounds; other people offer them as open admission; and still others as widening participation courses.

With the exception of its extremely well-liked studies in science year, Leeds takes background into account for its foundation years. The course is a "conversion course for applicants with high A-levels — ABB or above — who aspire to proceed to a scientific subject, but have not studied science or math at A-level," according to the institution.

At UWE Bristol, science and engineering are also popular foundation year options, but the health-related programs, like nursing or art and design, face the strongest competition for spots.

Some students apply directly through the regular Ucas round for a degree with a foundation year, but others move onto them because they have not obtained the necessary grades for their preferred undergraduate degree course, according to Andrew Carter, head of admissions at UWE.

The students who change their job paths make up a different category. "Decisions that are made at a young age may have an impact on chances in the future. A foundation year gives them options, he continues.

Many foundation year students, like Weston-super-Mare resident Hollie Baker, who is pursuing a BSc in computer science at UWE, lost out on schooling the first time around. Hollie, 24, who is visually handicapped, suffered in school and is currently making up lost ground at a college for continuing education.

"There wasn't much help for me. I was unable to read the content, thus I was unable to keep up. I would answer that I detested education if someone asked me about it.

I now adore it. I now see education differently thanks to UWE. According to Hollie, 23, who uses they/them pronouns, "I want to find methods to use technology to improve things for those like me.

They gained the confidence to apply for the foundation year at UWE thanks to a taster course they took at the University of Bristol. "This year gives you a more laid-back, encouraging introduction to university life. They advise you to "just take a breath" and assist you in solving your problem if you become anxious.

They benefited from being "eased into a degree," according to Hollie. "A foundation year is an excellent chance because you learn a variety of general skills and ones unique to your degree, so when you go into year one of the actual degree you don't feel like you've simply been dropped into it," says one student.

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