Choosing a College Preparatory Year to Start a Degree | Education
BEcky Reavell was in the crowd at Silverstone watching a Formula 1 race with her father when she realized she didn’t want to study English at university and become a journalist. What she really wanted was to study engineering to pursue a career in motorsport.
Her sixth-grade teachers were supportive, but the problem was her A-level choices. She was already immersed in studying English literature, classics and economics, not math and physics, the subjects usually required for engineering.
But she didn’t give up. With her grades – A*A*A – she found a place in a science studies course at the University of Leeds, which led to a three-year engineering degree. In August, she started working as a composite design engineer for an F1 team.
The foundation years are an additional preparatory year before starting a bachelor’s degree and are usually linked to this course – like BSc psychology with a foundation year. Students apply in the usual way, through Ucas, for the year plus the three- or four-year undergraduate course.
“Before sixth grade I was at another school, an all-girls school, and I never really thought about engineering,” says Becky, 25, from Essex, who was chosen to join the council of the early careers of the Women’s Engineering Society.
“Foundation year really helped. It was quite a daunting thing to do as I hadn’t studied maths or science since GCSE but the teachers were very supportive and even after I started studying they were in touch just in case I would need help.
Becky completed a first-class BEng in Automotive Engineering at Leeds, followed by Honors for a Masters in Motorsport Engineering at Oxford Brookes University.
The English exam system requires students to make subject choices at age 13 for GCSEs and then again at age 15 or 16 for A levels. Now, in the wake of the pandemic, students are more likely to rethink what they want to do with their lives. Others may have missed the grades they deserved due to family illness and bereavement or the disruption of schools.
A preparatory year, which leads to a three- or four-year degree program, opens up options for those who change subjects or miss the grades they need, says Ray Le Tarouilly, adviser to the National Careers Service.
“They can also be a very good bridge for adult students who have left school because they introduce them to university life. More and more universities are offering them in more subjects, but entry can be competitive, especially in medicine and biological sciences.
Most courses cost the same as one year of an undergraduate degree – £9,250 – although some universities, such as York and Manchester, offer fee reductions or scholarships for the additional year. Students are eligible for loans for tuition and living expenses in the same way as for undergraduate degrees, but this will mean higher debt, says Le Tarouilly.
“That’s the downside. However, graduates will no longer be paying monthly once they start working because repayments are based on income, not debt level,” he adds.
The preparatory years differ from university to university. others offer courses that broaden participation; and others free entry.
Leeds considers backgrounds for its founding years, with the exception of its very popular studies in science year. The university describes the course as “a conversion course for candidates with a high A level – ABB or above – who wish to progress to a scientific discipline, but have not studied science or mathematics at A level”.
Science and engineering are also popular choices for foundation years at UWE Bristol, but the biggest competition is for places in health courses, such as nursing or art and design.
Andrew Carter, UWE Admissions Officer, explains that some students apply directly through the normal Ucas cycle for a degree with a foundation year, but others go because they have not passed the grades required for the undergraduate course they have chosen.
Another group of students are those changing career direction. “There is pressure to make decisions at an early age, which could impact opportunities later in life. A preparatory year opens up options for them,” he adds.
There are also plenty of first-year students who have missed out on education for the first time, such as Hollie Baker, from Weston-super-Mare, who is studying for a BSc in Computer Science with a foundation year at UWE. Hollie, 24, is visually impaired and struggled in school, then, again, is trying to make it up to college.
“There was very little support for me. I couldn’t follow because I couldn’t read the material. If anyone asked me about education, I would say I hate it. Now I love it. UWE changed my view of education. I want to find ways to use technology to make things better for others like me,” says Hollie, 23, who uses the pronouns them/them.
It was an introductory course at the University of Bristol which gave them the confidence to apply for the foundation year at UWE. “This year introduces you to university life in a more relaxed and supportive way. If you panic, they say, “Just breathe” and they help you find a solution.
Hollie says they benefited from being “softened into a degree”. “A preparatory year is a great opportunity because you learn all sorts of general and degree-specific skills. So when you enter the first year of the degree, you don’t feel like you’ve fallen into it.”