Written by Elizabeth Koprowski

Foundation programs began in the UK as a way to prepare students for the rigors of certain degree programs, but they're now found in countries all over the world. Foundation programs, also known as pathway programs or preparatory years, aim to give incoming undergraduate students the skills and experiences they'll need to succeed at university. Here's why a foundation program could be a vital part of your international experience.

1. Help Fill the Gaps
When you apply to a university abroad, you'll need to submit your school records to the admissions board. Some countries, or universities, have higher standards than others , while some higher education systems require that students achieve specific academic benchmarks before entering university. Remember that curricula, length of education, and testing standards vary from country to country. Foundation courses are designed to help you complete the necessary requirements for matriculation in your host country. Whether you need to take additional mathematics classes or bring your language skills up to the next level, a foundation course will offer you the chance to fill in the gaps in your education. Most foundation courses include standard classes that all students complete, as well as specialized electives for specific studies.


2. Designed for International Students
While some foundation or pathway programs are open to domestic students who want extra preparation before beginning their undergraduate studies, most prep programs are created with international students in mind. It's no surprise that most foundation programs are found in English-language countries like the US, UK, Australia, and Canada and language-acquisition is often a priority in these courses. But prep programs also help to integrate students from abroad. They give students a chance to acclimate to their host country and often include cultural instruction alongside standard subjects like reading, math, and science.


3. Apply to Many Studies
Most foundation programs include a set curriculum aimed at giving all students a comprehensive basis for university studies, but they also include degree-specific classes that apply to the science, mathematics, humanities, medical studies, and business. Not only can you focus your prep program on your desired degree, the skills you'll acquire during the course will apply to university studies in general and will help you succeed in your studies. Foundation programs often include tutorials in things like study skills, time management, research training, and communication. So whether you're acquiring these skills for the first time, or honing them after years of practice, a foundation course will set you on a solid path for university success.


4. Only Take a Year
Yes, you've probably just finished years of secondary school and are anxious to begin your university studies. While you may not relish the idea of delaying your degree, for international students the benefits of a prep program can far outweigh the extra time. Consider that foundation programs are just that – a solid foundation – and a year of study now could be the key to completing your degree on-time...or at all. And for students improving, or learning, a second language one year is just the right amount of time to gain proficiency.


5. Offer Study Abroad Advantages
Besides giving international students a year to become familiar with their host-country before starting university, foundation courses have the added benefit of allowing students from abroad to gain access to a variety of opportunities that will aid and advance their studies. During your prep year you can visit universities throughout your host-country and decide which school is right for you. You'll also have a chance to explore funding options like scholarships and grants, and can attend admissions fairs and events at your top schools. This can increase your chances of admission, and will also make it easier to decide between schools.


6. Many Options
Though foundation programs started in the UK, and many programs are based in English-language countries, the format has become popular throughout the world. This means that students who want to study abroad, but prefer a non-English program have a variety of opportunities. Take Germany for example. The Western European country has become a popular destination for international students. It's universities are highly ranked, and the country is very open to international students. To top it off, German universities are free for both international and domestic students, which make them a smart choice for budget-conscious students from abroad. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) recommends that international students consider “Studienkolleg” or foundation courses before enrolling in German universities. These programs are open to students who have already been accepted to a degree course, to those who plan to apply, or to those who need to obtain higher qualifications before applying. German foundation courses, like many around the world include degree-specific course, as well as language instruction though some German proficiency is required.

Read more about preparatory year programs here.

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Elizabeth Koprowski is an American writer and travel historian. She has worked in the higher education system with international students both in Europe and in the USA.
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