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What is a foundation degree and how can it benefit me?

Foundation degrees combine academic study and career ambition. Get into your chosen industry or further your career with this tailored qualification.

Girl studying on laptop at a desk.

Academic study and formal education are important, but so is your work and career. If you’re reading this, you may be thinking about studying but want to make sure you get employed when you’ve graduated. Or, maybe you already have a job and want to boost your skills to increase your expertise and climb the ladder. Read on to find out if a foundation degree is the right option for you.

What is a foundation degree?

A foundation degree is, in essence, a vocational degree. It is designed to teach you specific skills for a particular job or sector. Courses are often designed by universities in partnership with professional organisations, so they are tailored to develop skills in-line with the current needs of employers.

Like a traditional vocational qualification (an NVQ for example), foundation degrees can combine academic learning (in a classroom or online) with time working in a job setting. Whether you’re a trainee or an experienced professional looking to increase your promotion potential, there are foundation degrees to meet all needs.  

You can study for a foundation degree part-time while still earning money in your paid profession. Alternatively, you can study a foundation degree full-time, obtain the qualification, and then go into your chosen field, armed with the skills, knowledge and certification you need. What you learn throughout your degree will be designed in a way to help you apply the skills in your workplace. If you’re looking for a flexible approach to gaining a foundation degree, online degrees may be the best option for you.

Depending on the institution you study with, you could also have the option to convert a foundation degree into a full bachelor’s degree by continuing on to do an extra year of study. 

Online Degree

BA (Hons) Business Management

  • 3+ years
  • undergraduate
  • Flexible Learning
Apply now

What level is a foundation degree?

A foundation degree is Level 5 in the UK education qualifications system. That’s the same level as a higher national diploma (HND), one level above a higher national certificate (HNC) and one below a bachelor’s or undergraduate degree. For reference, GCSEs are a Level 1, A Levels are Level 3 and a PhD is Level 8 – the highest possible. Find out more about undergraduate degrees in our What is an Undergraduate Degree article.

Because the two-year foundation degree can be converted into an undergraduate degree by taking an additional third year, it is in effect two-thirds of an undergrad degree. It is worth 240 credits compared to 360 credits for a full undergrad degree.

How long is a foundation degree?

Full-time foundation degrees are normally two years in length. Part-time courses take longer – usually three or four years. There are often flexible learning options, such as block release.

Full-time courses work well if you are not currently in employment and want to get an academic qualification in a shorter timeframe than it would take to do an undergrad degree. Part-time courses are designed for people studying around a full-time job.

What’s the difference between a foundation degree and undergraduate degree?

Undergraduate degrees take longer to complete than a foundation degree. They take a minimum of three years unless you take an accelerated course (intense and more expensive). Some undergraduate degrees take 4-6 years (for example, if you’re studying in Scotland or taking medicine).

Generally speaking, undergrad courses involve immersive learning. You will normally have lectures and seminars (small group classes) five days a week, and you’ll submit essays and sit end-of-year exams. The focus will be very much academic study – you’ll read about theories and ideas and your teachers will help you analyse and understand what they mean from an intellectual perspective. 

Foundation degrees contain some academic learning, but they are focused on teaching you more than just theoretical knowledge. You’ll also acquire practical skills to use in a professional job. 

If you complete your two-year foundation degree and decide you really love learning, most institutions will give you the option of taking a third year of study which will convert your foundation degree into a full degree (known as a BA, BSc, bachelor’s, honours or undergraduate degree.)

How much does a foundation degree cost?

Different institutions will charge different prices for foundation degrees, and the field of study will also affect the cost of a course. The range of tuition fees will fall somewhere between the low end of circa £2,500 up to the high end of around £6,500 per academic year. Multiply that by two for the full cost.

As with undergraduate degrees, student loans, grants and other forms of funding are available to help you afford the cost of studying. If you’re working and your studies will elevate your standard of work and value to the company you work for, it’s worth asking if they will support your studies financially. 

Choosing a foundation degree

When deciding which foundation degree to study, we recommend that you have a pretty definite idea of what you want to do afterwards. You wouldn’t take a course on agriculture if you want to work as a hotel manager, for example. Yes, you’ll learn about farming and crop cultivation, but that’s only useful if you want to work in the agricultural sector. If you want to be a hotel manager, you need to study something like hospitality, or leisure and tourism.

Here are just a few categories that offer foundation degree options:

Online Degree

BA (Hons) Criminology

  • 3+ years
  • undergraduate
  • Flexible Learning
Apply now

How to apply for a foundation degree

There are no standardised entry requirements for foundational degrees. Some may want to see some evidence of formal education qualifications, such as GCSEs, while others won’t. Some may consider experience of working in a chosen sector as enough to gain entry to a course. 

Check out our range of online degrees to get started on your higher education journey and find the right degree for you.

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