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Pathway to university: why you shouldn’t feel bad about doing a foundation year

There’s no shame in going through a foundation year before going to university, writes blogger Gwen Sim. There are many positives to bear in mind

Student life
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Gwen Sim

May 15 2018
University foundation year


While entering university through a foundation year is not really a big deal in the UK, some students will still feel ashamed of doing one.

When I was getting to know people at the beginning of my foundation year at Durham University, I came across many students who felt as though they had to justify why they were doing one. They also liked to tell me how well they scored for specific subjects in their A levels or International Baccalaureate or how they received other university offers, as if to reassure me that they were academically capable. Even though I didn’t ask.

They were the types of students who had set a high bar for themselves or had graduated from prestigious high schools and were now feeling ashamed for doing a foundation year instead of entering their first year of university. Although I found it amusing to listen to them come up with a long-winded way of telling me that they did not get the grades to gain direct entry into university, I empathised with the way that they felt.  

It can be difficult to see your friends and classmates start university while you do a foundation year. You may even feel embarrassed or ashamed of not doing as well as your friends and classmates. However, I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t be feeling that way. Here’s why:

1. You’ll be better prepared for first year

This is probably the biggest benefit of doing a foundation year. The curriculum of foundation years that are partnered with universities is tailored towards the academic demands of the affiliated institution. For that reason, you’ll actually have an advantage over students who went directly to university. You’ll also have experience of using the university’s databases, get used to their referencing requirements and have a general idea of how the university works. Knowing where to go for lectures and where to get your groceries also makes starting university a lot less daunting. 

2. It gives you more time to think about what you want to do

Foundation years are flexible as you are still able to apply to other courses if you think that the one you are on is not for you. Although I am currently studying the law foundation year, I am still unsure as to whether I would like to pursue a law degree upon completion of my foundation year. It’s comforting to know there are other options available to me if I wish to pursue them. The foundation centre will also support you in your application to other courses or universities.

Catch up on Gwen’s journey here

Pathway to university: an open letter to racists
Pathway to university: seven essential things to know
Pathway to university: moving from Singapore to Stockton

3. Everyone achieves goals at their own pace – it’s not a competition

It’s easy to start feeling anxious or worthless when you see your friends and classmates going through their first year of university and thinking about how they will graduate earlier than you. When it starts to feel as though it’s a competition, it’s important to remember that you are achieving these goals and completing this education for yourself. A couple of years won’t make any difference in the long run anyway – we’re all eventually going to be working. If anything, I think it’s a plus that we can put off having real responsibilities for one more year.

4. Actual friends wouldn’t shame you for doing a foundation year/you get to find out who your real friends from high school are

I have a friend who has yet to tell her high school friends that she is doing a foundation year. Instead, she tells them that she’s doing a gap year. While I empathise and understand her reasons for doing so, I can’t help but wonder – if your friends would be bothered by your doing a foundation year, are they really people you want to be friends with? It’s also important to remember that most people you went to school with don’t care about what you’re doing anyway – they’re too busy living their own lives just like you are.

5. You’ll be entering first year with the friends you made in foundation year

I’ve met some wonderful people during my foundation year and I cannot wait to start university with them if I choose to go to Durham. I won’t have to wander around awkwardly during freshers’ week and I feel a lot less anxious about starting university knowing that I already have a bunch of friends.

6. You’ll be more motivated to work hard on your second chance

Not completing or not doing well in your foundation year is not really an option. At least, this is the case for me. I am grateful that the UK has the foundation year system in place to give students another chance of studying at a university they were not able to get into the first round – I definitely didn’t want to mess up this opportunity. Furthermore, knowing that my parents had to spend extra money for me to attend this foundation year is another important factor that motivates me to do my absolute best in this course.

Of course, even with the reasons listed above, insecurity tends to creep up on many of us – we are human after all. Whenever you start feeling insecure about what people may think of you, it may help to do as I do and remember Dr Seuss’ wise words: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”.

Read more: Reflections from a University of Oxford foundation year student

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