Sometimes in life not everything goes as planned. College applications, documents, studies – months of waiting and preparation. But what do you do if you find out that your school-leaving exams didn’t go as expected?
The preparatory programme – the foundation year (or zero year) – is an added year of study at the beginning of your studies, designed for applicants who, for distinct reasons, do not qualify for direct entry into a bachelor’s degree programme. It enables you to get the specialised knowledge and skills needed for higher education. From day one, the student is recognised as full community member and has access to the university’s library and facilities. During this alternative route to university, students from abroad also have the opportunity to improve their language skills. After completing such a year, it is possible to start studies in the normal mode without a need to revise the Matura exams.
Have passed Matura exams in the subjects other than those required for the course;
Have not obtained the grades and results required to enrol to university, e.g. too low Matura exams average or too low IELTS score;
Do not speak English well enough;
Do not have qualifications accepted in the course (exams from some countries may not be accepted);
Are not fully decided on a particular course of study;
Had an extended break in their education and are considering going to university.
The entry requirements at most universities are usually not difficult to meet. Usually, the required results are a few percent (5-10%) lower than those required for admission to a standard field of study. Very often, however, it is sufficient just to pass the Matura exams or to have good grades on the school-leaving certificate.
Basic language knowledge is also required to start the foundation year. Depending on the university’s requirements, this may be supported by an IELTS or other certificate, or the Matura exam in English.
During a foundation year you usually study at the university where you later gain your degree. You then apply for a course of study that includes this year, e.g. “Engineering with Foundation Year.” You then study for four years at the same university.
In some cases – e.g. arts-related courses – you often study at a separate school and then must apply to university.
During the foundation year, you study subjects related to your chosen course, introductory university courses and English language. Most universities also provide subjects related to the development of critical thinking, reflective learning, and effective study skills. Examples of classes in the preparatory year for business-related subjects are Introduction to Studying, Introduction to Accounting and Business Mathematics.
Those unsure whether they want to study at university can use the zero year to gain knowledge of their area of interest and get used to the higher education mode.
The zero academic year differs from the standard academic year in terms of the number of classes, as more hours are needed to fill the gaps in knowledge. During standard studies, about 15 hours per week are spent at university, while during the zero year, about 15-20 hours are spent.
The assessment system during the zero year is like that during the standard course of study and includes examinations, presentations, projects, essays, and other written work. To successfully complete the foundation year and move on to a bachelor’s degree programme, you will usually need to complete all modules and obtain the minimum required grade point average (this varies depending on the university).
If the degree programme (4-year course) includes a foundation year, a university will charge a tuition fee. A student loan covers this year on the same basis as the other years of study. Certain universities charge less for the zero year or offer additional scholarships. As a rule, a foundation year costs between £4,000 and £9,000.
Remember that a foundation year is not the same as a foundation degree. A zero year allows you to start a standard bachelor’s degree, while a foundation degree is a stand-alone qualification equivalent to a two-year diploma.
Increased chances of admission – completing your zero year will give you full qualifications to start studies at the university of your choice. The programme will provide you with a specific set of skills and the necessary knowledge, which will also make studying much easier.
The foundation degree for foreigners always includes language courses to help you communicate during your studies and everyday life. That allows you to develop your skills enough to meet the requirements for university admission.
The zero year allows you to get to know your chosen university directly and check whether it is the right place for you. Unlike your gap year, which you’ll use to study at home and improve your Matura, during the foundation year, you can get to know the lecturers and students, which will help you decide on your next steps.
Many students from foreign countries, who fulfil the admission criteria for universities, choose to take a zero year to equip themselves better for their academic journey. That is a preparatory period in which you get to know the campus, the university, the lecturers, and other students. It also helps to reduce the culture shock of starting your studies properly and allows you to focus solely on your studies.