You want to go to a great university, but you’re lacking key skills. You may think your only option is to downgrade your hopes and aspirations – but there is another way to get what you want.

Foundation programmes are often overlooked, but career counsellors and other professionals have known for years that a good quality foundation programme pays for itself many times over. If you’re worried that you can’t get into the university that’s right for you, it might be that a foundation programme is the answer.

What is it?

A foundation programme can last for a few weeks (usually over the summer), a semester, or a full academic year.

Most are based on a broad subject (eg arts, business, sciences, social sciences), and some are based on learning a language. Most good courses include study skills and cultural learning.

Why study a foundation programme?

  • You need more qualifications. Perhaps your country’s school qualifications don’t meet the needs of the country you want to go to university; or maybe you didn’t do as well at school as you hoped to.

  • You are changing subject area. Sometimes you choose school subjects in an area like science, but later realise your future is in the arts.

  • You are an older student who hasn’t studied for some years.

  • You want to improve your language skills.

Why aren’t they more well-known?

There’s a wide range of foundation programmes out there. Some are run by universities, but these are often only for degree courses at that university.

Among private providers there is a huge variety of courses. The best ones provide life-changing opportunities, are accredited by organisations like the British Council, and universities recognise that they develop students who will thrive at their institution.

Others may be tied to certain universities, so will push you towards these places even if they aren’t right for you. Unfortunately there are also a few that are little more than immigration scams – which is why it’s always worth getting independent advice when choosing the best programme for you.

At My Next Step, we’ve seen students achieve their dreams after using a foundation programme as their first step. Here’s just some of the reasons we think they are great:

Learn the study skills for new country

Different cultures use different learning styles. If you’ve learnt in a country with a fact-based learning style where there are a lot of exams, you may struggle at a university where learning is based on discussion and assessment is through essays and presentations. Taking the time to learn these study skills before you start university will mean you get much more from your higher education course.

Learn how to think like a university student

The transition from living at home to looking after yourself is a big step, especially if you plan to do it in another country. Foundation programmes are often a great bridge between the two – offering you independence whilst giving you some structured activities and support.

Demonstrate the difference between good and great language skills

We all know the best way to learn a language is to live it. Demonstrating great language skills will help your university application. Just as importantly, you will do far better at university – the better your language skills, the more you will understand lectures, the quicker you’ll write essays, and the easier it will be to make friends.

Make it pay for itself

One of the reasons why the ‘best’ universities are so good is because their graduates have better career prospects. A degree from a competitive university may mean you earn a lot more money when you graduate, and rise through the company more quickly. So if your foundation course gets you into a university that gets you into a great job, it will pay for itself within a very short space of time. Of course, you’ll also get more out of your university experience if you’re studying what you really love at the place you really want to be!

Have fun!

Time learning something you love, experiencing somewhere new, working with like-minded people…what’s not to love about taking a foundation programme?