February 20, 2018, by studentcontributor

A foundation for life, not just a degree

I was stumped. I wanted to study at higher education (HE) but knew nothing about university lifestyle apart from the rather active nightlife, and dissertations being the bane of every students’ existence. Hardly mind-blowing stuff.

So, it’s no wonder when a guy from an under-achieving comprehensive school in South London said, ‘I want to read Medicine’, people thought my vocation was heading towards comedy. Through my no-holds-barred experience of a Foundation Year (FY), I want to pass on some gems I learnt so that you can make a more informed decision about your future!

What is a foundation year?

A Foundation Year, or Foundation Course is simply an alternative route into university for persons of all backgrounds. Most undergraduate courses now have a foundation year, are open for EU and international students and can be stand-alone qualifications.

The main selling point of an FY is that it makes certain degrees more accessible to more than capable people who may not have attained the right grades, background, schooling or help back when they were thinking of becoming that doctor.

Take me for example: I didn’t get the grades I wanted, I’m a mature student, and as previously established, I was pretty clueless as to what university could offer. With a bit of research, I found I was eligible to for Medicine with a Foundation Year and at a Russell Group university; suddenly I had a real opportunity to read Medicine without having straight As! A Foundation Year doesn’t circumvent hard work, but it gives people a stellar opportunity where there wasn’t one.

How can an FY help me?

Good question! Here’s a few answers:

  • An FY offers individuals time to decide whether degree-level study is for them if they are still unsure.
  • An FY provides access to higher education courses for those who don’t have the grade requirements for any reason.
  • An FY is a great option if you are returning to study and feel you need some help to get up to speed with the demands of higher education before embarking on a degree.
  • An FY can be an efficient use of time as you get used to university living and receive a qualification all while you decide on your choice of career.
  • You’re almost guaranteed a place on the course if you take an FY because that’s the purpose; the university expect you to transition onwards (and upwards)!
  • You get to specialise in your interests, not your teachers’! This has to be one of my favourite things about an FY (and HE in general) because it’s so much more flexible! If you’re passionate about 3D printing, there’s a module for that, and if you’ve thought about throwing yourself out of a plane with little more than an oversized bedsheet and some string, then there’s a club for that here, too!

University is very much what you make it, but if you’re still undecided or want a refresher, then a Foundation Year is an ideal choice. There are more foundation courses than ever before, with a plethora of opportunities to delve into before you commit to one.

Are there any other options?


Unconventional ways into university are popping up everywhere! Here are some to be aware of:

  1. Degree Apprenticeships– No longer are work and academia separate! Fancy getting paid while you study? This could be the one for you then! Backed by high-profile companies like BMW, Rolls Royce and IBM, a scheme that has been around 2015 is finally getting big!
  2. Two-Year Degrees– ‘Save time, save money!’ could be the slogan of this option. It condenses 3 years into 2 which allows you more time doing what you went to university for. This accelerated option is estimated to save the savvy student thousands of pounds in tuition fees.
  3. Online Study- The most flexible option going! Online study doesn’t necessarily mean the Open University anymore. The University of Nottingham, for example, record many of its lectures and post them online for students to study as if in real time- I even do it myself! Many courses offer part-time, or online lectures with physical attendance kept minimal. Give it a look if you already have a hectic lifestyle or simply cannot get into university every day.
  4. Yourself– Yes, you yourself can get you into a degree without any A-levels, IBs or equivalents! This is perhaps harder and less certain, but it’s still an option. Key things to consider are employment experience, any evidence of relevant work, and a reference or two that can back your claim to fame. Best suggestion is to give UCAS a call, especially if you’re applying as an individual like I did.

There are so many more routes into university than people usually think, and more are opening up. Be sure to peruse them all, because they may be better for you than you first think!

Break the Mould

There’s no right or wrong way into a degree, and no one should feel bad for taking the road less trod. While I was in my foundation year I heard phrases like “When you’re a real Medic…”, and even, “Next year, when you start your degree…” despite Medicine with a Foundation (A108) actually being more competitive than Medicine (A100). I felt terribly ignored, until I realised most staff and students didn’t know Nottingham had a foundation course for Medicine at all. They weren’t being mean, they just didn’t understand!

That’s where this blog comes in; I want to promote understanding: No one should feel less than a student for the path they took to pursue their ambition; and everyone deserves the same high-calibre teaching I received to make the most of everything university has to offer.


A Foundation Year is an extra year added to a degree to make it more accessible to a greater variety of students. Universities do this by lowering grade boundaries, targeting less opportunistic demographics, and supporting the transition to typical higher education. A Foundation Year can help in a variety of ways that most don’t think to look into, but they’re not the only options out there and many options are on the rise, so give every option some research to find the one best for you! Because once you do, you’ll never look back.

Contributor: Daniel McDonald-Smith, first-year medical student 

Posted in Medicine