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Should I take A level or Foundation Year?

If you are planning to study in the UK, be sure to read my article how to study in UK university as an international student.

So if you are reading this article you might want to study at a university level in the UK. Good point! But do you have the qualification that universities in the UK would accept in order to admit you as their students?

I had that question 5 years ago, 1 year before I finished my IGCSE in Nigeria. I know that I need to take another qualification before I can study at the university because I cannot enter university with my high school qualification. There are many qualifications that I can take in order to gain access to university, but the 3 main options that I consider are A-level, IB (International Baccalaureate) and foundation year. These are the 3 most popular routes that international students take to gain access to university.

IB – quickly eliminated

I eliminate the option of IB pretty quickly. The reason being that I see my friends taking IB and they are super stressed most of the time. Both A-level and Foundation Year seems easier from what I heard and all 3 curriculums can take me to university, so I don’t see the point why I should take the hardest path if it all leads to where I want. Moreover, IB is less common in the UK (much more common in the US), so I thought it might create problem afterwards. Later on I witnessed this by myself. One of my friend has an IB curriculum and she put so much more effort than everyone to get to the university and still end up not getting her first choice of university. When we did discuss, she did point out that she would have taken another path if she knew about it. She still got a university, but if we all put 50% effort in our sixth form, she put probably 110% effort and at the end I got my first choice and she didn’t get any offer. I know her personally and I know how clever she is, so to see her struggling with IB scared me. One of my classmate also took IB and yeah, he did say that it’s so hard and if he knew about it earlier, he would have chosen to take A-level instead.

Foundation Year or A-level?

I knew that A-level is the most common path to take in the UK and with A-level I could go to top universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial – and I can’t go there with a Foundation Year qualification. Sure enough, 1 or 2 people got Cambridge offer with a Foundation Year, but it’s very rare. I can also take Foundation Year and save 1 year of my life, money and effort, but I might not have the chance to go to really top universities in the UK. At the end I chose to take Foundation Year. My logic is that, even if I take A-level and spend 2 years worth of money, effort and time, but it still doesn’t guarantee that I get to Cambridge, Oxford or Imperial. So after weighing this, I decided to take Foundation Year. I also determined that my target university is the University of Manchester, and it’s possible to go to this university through a Foundation Year.

My biggest worry: Will I struggle at uni later on?

Everyone else has 13 years of education and by taking Foundation Year I skipped 1 year entirely- will I struggle at university?

From my experience (now I’m 4th year at university) – yes I did struggle to a certain extent in my first year, but I don’t think it’s because I took foundation year. It’s more about me stressing whether university is too hard for me or not. If I don’t think that way and have confidence in myself, I think it would have been easier for me. Also the struggle that I have is not confined just to foundation year students, it’s something common to all students – transition between school and university is quite large.

Sure, I think I did need to put more effort than some people because they have learnt about some stuff that I haven’t. But the point of university is to learn how to learn something that you don’t know previously, how to learn independently. So I think in some sense taking a foundation year provided me with a gap where I can learn on how to learn independently and it helped me in my 2nd and 3rd year immensely.

After 1st year, that knowledge gap disappear because the pre-requisite for 2nd year is knowledge taught in 1st year. If I stumble upon something that people learnt in A-level and I didn’t learn it, I just use google engineering to learn whatever I need to know. And surely, as a university student it’s not hard to learn A-level stuff.

Did I regret taking a foundation year instead of A-level?

No, I didn’t. The reason being because I love being a student at University of Manchester and I think I might hate being at Cambridge/Oxford/Imperial . Which I might explain in a separate post because many people asked me the same question. I also think that saving a year’s worth of money, effort and time is worth it compared to going to Cambridge.

Any advice for students choosing?

I only have one advice: plan ahead on where you want to be. There is no right or wrong answer. My flatmate wanted to study in LSE and so she chose to take A-level. In her situation, taking A-level is the right choice because the probability of her getting in with A-level is much higher compared to Foundation. For me, I want to take chemical engineering at the University of Manchester, so there is no point of me doing 2 years of A-level because I can get in with 1 year of foundation year. So my advice would be to think which university do you wish to go to and work backwards, weighing both advantages and disadvantages in the process.

Feel free to drop any question or comment or just say hi to me 🙂

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