Foundation Year

An often misconstrued topic is that of the Foundation Year. What is it? What does it replace? What is it worth? What do you achieve? Those who have experienced it, or know those who have, will know how challenging but rewarding it can be. Further to a recent request, I thought it was about time someone answered the questions about what the year really entails.

Firstly, at UEA, applications are welcome due to a host of different reasons. It offers mature students a pathway to get pack into education, students who have not previously studied the subject area but wish to begin studying it, and those students who have been disadvantaged during their secondary education. The later can be a variety of different reasons, from personal reasons to lack of quality of your secondary school. For this reason, the age range within the students on foundation years is varied between 18 – 60+. Often the majority of the class are quite young, but try not to group yourself off from anyone older/younger than you! There is much to be learned from someone in a different generation to you and interacting with a variety of people is an essential skill for any career path.

How it compares to A-Levels
The year offers an intensive alternative to the A-levels that would normally be required to get into degree programmes in the first year. I studied maths, chemistry and biology at A-levels and actually found whilst there was some necessary repetition for those who had not, it featured extended topics and information that I had not encountered in previous studies. The year requires, in some parts, more detail than A-levels I felt. Most of this being due to the encouragement of thinking independently and not having to regurgitate learned answers such as in A-level exams. Having a year to learn how essays and scientific methods etc should really be written is an advantage that you will end up being most thankful for. Looking back as a first year student, the skills I picked up in labs and these extra pockets of knowledge really gave others and I on the foundation year an edge when going into first year. When you move onto your chosen degree, you will feel more prepared than those coming straight from A-levels.

Was there enough time?
I’m not going to lie, coming from someone who had studied the A-levels prior to the course, it’s not going to be an easy ride. It’s intensive and designed to fast track you to where you need to be. This is not a bad thing, and there’s so much support along the way. My personal advisor was Kelly Edmunds (course director for biological sciences with a foundation year) who was simply fantastic and really helped myself and fellow course mates progress into our chosen degrees.Whoever your advisor is, they will ensure that you are coping well with balancing your time throughout the year.

Coursework and exams
As previously mentioned, coming from a science foundation year I cannot express how valuable the foundation year was in teaching the proper write up for scientific methods. This is something no one will have been taught properly in their secondary education, and it is so essential to the rest of your degree. Your write-ups for labs etc are assessed in coursework. Towards the beginning of the year some of these coursework’s will be formative, in that they do not count towards your mark at the end of the year. Don’t take that as meaning you don’t need to do them though, they are a chance to practise and learn without the pressure of marks being added on top. Not all of the coursework is based on lab write-ups, often you will be asked to research a particular topic for yourself and produce an essay on what you find. These assessments will help you learn to reference properly and how to conduct legitimate research. Also, you’ll figure out the maze that is UEA’s library. You may also have exams at the end of each semester. These are called ‘course tests’ and get you accustomed to the layout and procedure of exams at university.

After the foundation year
For those of you wishing to advance onto more specialised degree programmes within your subject area, you will need to achieve higher than average marks on each module. For example, in biological sciences with a foundation year you can choose to advance onto biochemistry or biomedicine etc. For these you will need to achieve an aggregated mark of roughly 60% and above on each module you take, the exact limit is based on the course you wish to progress onto. To stay on biological sciences you need only achieve 40%+ in each module to stay on the course. Most hard-working students who wanted to progress to specialised courses did achieve this, and those who do not are offered the opportunity to do so after a first year on the biological sciences course if they bring their grades up high enough.

Notice I highlighted you must achieve these marks on each module, so if you have a weakness in chemistry but a strength in maths, do not rely on your maths marks bringing up your average, it does not work that way!

Any questions? Please ask away!




4 thoughts on “Foundation Year

  1. Interesting article, I didn’t have that impression about foundation years at all. I guess it really varies between schools. My friend did the Humanities foundation year last year (she’s now doing History) and from what she said, it was frankly useless. It also seems like they treated them like kids (almost) by making them write a diary of their “achievements” and “goals”. On top of that, since it’s the “humanities” course, she had to do history modules AND literature one even though she didn’t apply for this at all. I couldn’t believe it, and couldn’t believe how much you have to pay for it. On top of that, she didn’t even fail history at her A-Levels so I find the whole thing revolting. But anyway, I know it’s different for other courses because another friend of mine did pharmacy foundation and it seemed super hard!


    1. Oh that is such a shame she experienced that. I think the context of the course is important here. Foundation years were designed for people to come back into education in specific areas for various reasons. For some this can mean there is a lot of repetition, which I experienced as well. However you have to take account of people who may not have studied these A-levels at all! The overlap in history and literature I imagine is to accommodate for those who wish to go into history and literature separately. It was only last year that the sciences split the foundation year into specific subject sections. So before then there would have been a wider content requirement as with humanities. Maybe this is because they do not have the capacity or popularity to divide the two? Just one of those things I guess. With your friends previous experience I can see why she may find the repetition dull, but there are other ways to utilise a first year other than the course. You can talk to lecturers and gain extra insight into where you may want your degree to lead, explore societies and clubs before some real hard work sets in, and generally find your feet!

      Science foundation years are very different. In secondary school/ college there simply isn’t the availability of equipment to teach a lot of skills when it comes to lab work. These are the most essential components to foundation years as you simply could not do them outside of a university environment! I think that alone warrants the years validity, as well as the help that comes with writing scientific papers accurately. Again, this is not something taught to any A-level students.


  2. Thanks for the reply :). I would also like to ask how flexible they are in letting people onto the course, especially with meeting the entry criteria, did you meet any of the entry criteria? How to write a personal statement for the foundation year (how did you write yours?). I had certain things that effected me during my a-levels which meant, after three years of sixth form, I came out with a B in Biology (A-level), an E in maths (A-level), a C in AS Chemistry, a C in AS Psychology and a D in AS English. I have 7 A’s. 3 A*’s at GCSE (and a half GCSE at grade B). I finished sixth form in September 2014. I am thinking of going back into education, but am not sure whether to resit my A-levels this September or apply to do a foundation year for next September (2017), i will have had three years out of education since then). Do you think I would have a realistic chance of being accepted onto the foundation year? Which pathway would you recommend (a-level repeat or foundation year)? I am a bit lost as to what I want to do. Also, how good is the biological sciences department at UEA as I would like to study MSci biochemistry (and how good is the chemistry department also if you know of anybody who studies chemistry)? Sorry for the bombardment of questions.


    1. To my knowledge, you would have to meet entry criteria in order to be considered. I met a couple of the criteria. There is only a small group of people accepted onto the course (around 30-40 when I was in my foundation year) with 3x more than this being interviewed, so from this I would imagine meeting entry criteria is very strict, as in most other applications!

      In terms of your personal statement, just write it as you would normally. It is no different to applying onto a first year of a course. Mention your interests, and hobbies that you think show you to have particular passions and skills. It’s important to show what you will provide the Uni, and what you think the Uni will do for you and how it will benefit you.

      In terms of your grades, as far as I’m aware A-level students need 3 C’s. I cannot advise you on what would be best for you here or whether you would be considered with these grades, I advise contacting uea admissions or attending an open day to talk through these questions. I am a current student so play no part in admissions processes!

      The biological sciences department is fantastic and I hear the same of the chemistry department. Again, I strongly suggest coming for an open day. Everyone is different so what I like and enjoy about a university may not be the same for you, so come find out for yourself! However, I can vouch that you will receive an excellent education at UEA, if you put the work in of course!


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