If you're not ready to commit to a full Bachelors degree but would benefit from the flexibility a combined academic and work-based study programme can provide, a foundation degree may be the ideal solution

What is a foundation degree?

Created in partnership between universities, higher education (HE) colleges and employers, foundation courses focus on developing in-demand technical skills for a particular job or profession.

Foundation degrees provide a strong platform for candidates seeking employment while also opening doors for those looking to study a full undergraduate qualification further down the line.

If you choose to study the qualification full time, it will typically take you two years to complete. The part-time route usually lasts for around four years.

Similar to Bachelors degrees, foundation degree courses are classified according to subject area - for instance, FdSc and FdA awards relate to the sciences and arts respectively.

What level is a foundation degree equivalent to?

A foundation degree is the academic equivalent of two-thirds of a Bachelors degree, a Higher National Diploma (HND) and Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) - at Level 5 of the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF).

For more information, see our guide to qualifications.

Foundation degree or foundation year?

Note that a foundation degree is not the same as a foundation year. A foundation degree is a standalone qualification equivalent to two years of a three-year degree, whereas a foundation year gives you access onto a degree course. See why you should consider a foundation year.

Choosing a foundation degree

Foundation degrees are vocational qualifications that give you the flexibility of studying while you work, so they're ideal for those who aren't yet ready to commit to three years of a full degree.

Whichever course you choose, as well as the role-specific skills you'll gain, it should also give you a range of sought-after qualities as an employee - see what skills do employers want?

However, it's important to pick a subject you'll enjoy, as studying for a foundation degree requires motivation, high levels of organisation and the ability to adapt to different working environments.

Popular foundation degree subjects, according to HESA's Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education data, include:

  • academic studies in education
  • others in subjects allied to medicine
  • social work
  • nursing
  • sport and exercise science
  • hospitality, leisure, sport, tourism and transport
  • business studies
  • animal science
  • drama
  • management studies
  • agriculture
  • design studies.

Before settling on a subject and course, it's important to research the entry requirements for your chosen career. You can do this by exploring relevant job profiles.

Search for foundation degree courses in the UK through UCAS.

You should also keep a look out for university open days and events aimed at prospective foundation degree students.

Entry requirements

There are no set entry requirements for foundation degrees, as having the relevant industrial or commercial workplace experience and skills in a particular sector is often more important than any formal qualifications. It's up to individual universities and colleges to stipulate their requirements, which you can find out via their websites.

For example, to embark on a two-year Foundation Degree (FdA) in Media Production at Bedford College in 2023/24, you'll need 32-48 UCAS Tariff points from your Level 3 (A-level standard) qualifications.

On the other hand, the Foundation Degree in Children, Young People and their Services at Burnley College looks for 80 UCAS points. As well as considering your educational achievements and predicted grades, the college will take into account any non-standard qualifications such as relevant work or life experience. The main requirement is the ability to cope with degree-level study.

How to apply for a foundation degree

If you're looking to undertake a foundation degree on a full-time basis, and the college or university is a UCAS course provider, you'll need to follow the guidelines for an undergraduate application - see how to apply for university.

For part-time degrees, you'll need to apply directly to the college or university providing the course.

Read more about how to apply for college in the UK.

Fees and funding

Course fees for foundation degrees will vary - for example, an Early Years Foundation Degree (FdA) from Kingston University London (with attendance at a choice of local colleges) costs £6,300 per year for 2023/24 entry, while a Foundation Degree (FdSc) in Computing from Ulster University is set at £2,700 per year.

Foundation degree students of recognised UK institutions will qualify for government funding. Tuition fee loans from Student Finance are available, as long as this is your first undergraduate qualification.

You may be entitled to additional funding if you're a parent, carer or have a disability.

Universities also have their own grants and bursaries to offer to students with additional needs - see GOV.UK - Funding and finance for students.

'Topping up' to a degree

Most candidates studying a full-time foundation degree choose to extend their studies to a full degree the following academic year. However, with no time limit on topping up a foundation degree, this doesn't have to be done immediately - as many students return to their studies at a later date.

If you decide to change subjects for your full degree, you may need to complete more than one year's additional study to graduate with the right number of credits.

If this subject has little or no relevance to your foundation degree, you may not be allowed to transfer and be expected to start a Bachelors degree from the first year. This will depend on the modules you've studied and credits you've gained. Alternatively, you may be able to enter the second year. Transferring to a programme within the institution that validated your foundation degree is the easiest way to make the switch.

Funding for top-up degrees as part of your first degree is not unconditional, so check with Student Finance and your university to see what's on offer.

Postgraduate courses aren't covered by Student Finance, as loans can only be used for full Masters courses and not to top up to a higher qualification.

Candidates completing a PGCE can consider applying for funding from the Department for Education (DfE). Read about what's available at Get Into Teaching - Fund your teacher training.

What can I do with a foundation degree?

As you look for jobs, you'll find that many traditional graduate recruiters are accepting job applications from candidates who've studied qualifications other than a degree.

In addition, alternative routes into their structured training programmes are emerging. Unlike standard graduate schemes - which typically ask for a 2:1 Bachelors degree as a minimum requirement - these have more flexible entry criteria geared towards critical thinking tests, relative work experience and other merits.

For example, if you've studied a finance, consulting or technology-related foundation degree, major recruiters such as Ernst & Young (EY), PwC and Deloitte run a range of early careers programmes.

If you have a career path in mind, discover roles where your foundation degree will be accepted, as you search graduate jobs.

How can I do a Masters degree?

You won't be able to make the leap from foundation degree to a postgraduate course. To enrol onto a Level 7 Masters course in the UK, you'll need a full Bachelors degree (at Level 6). Once you have this, you'll be able to head straight into postgraduate study, and may even be eligible for some PhDs.

If you're aiming to become a primary or secondary school teacher, you'll need to obtain a Bachelors degree to be accepted onto the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) teacher training course. You can also find out more about how to become a teacher.

To discover your options after topping up to a Masters degree, search postgraduate courses.

What do other foundation degree graduates do?

Two-thirds (66.7%) of foundation degree graduates from 2018/19 were in some form of employment 15 months after graduation, while 5.6% were studying either full or part time. By including those studying while working, this figure increases to a fifth (19.4%).

Foundation degree graduates enter a variety of professions each year, including:

  • medical and dental technicians
  • health associate professionals
  • paramedics
  • teaching assistants
  • early education and childcare practitioners
  • educational support assistants
  • sales and retail assistants
  • early education and childcare services managers
  • care workers and home carers.

For ideas on what to do with your foundation degree, search what can I do with my degree?

Working full time50.8
Working part time15.4
Further study5.6
Working and studying13.8
Destinations of foundation degree graduates
Type of workPercentage
Teaching and childcare support occupations9.4
Caring personal services5.4
Other health professionals5.2
Teaching and childcare associate professionals5
Types of work entered in the UK

Destinations data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

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