How to choose the right school for your university foundation programme
Many international students come to the UK for a year before they begin university, to study for a university foundation programme (UFP). Programmes last for one year and are designed to provide students with the skills they need to succeed on an undergraduate course. This includes teaching students a high level of academic English, equipping students with advanced subject knowledge and helping them to settle into their new life in the UK before they begin their degree. There are a number of university foundation programmes available. Students need to choose a foundation programme and choose an institution to study at, which can be a university or a school.
Studying at a school is a very different student experience to studying at a large foundation provider such as a university. The benefit of a school is that the environment is smaller and more personal. This allows staff to get to know students well and to help them progress (including supervising university applications), as well as making them feel welcome in their new environment.
What are the key questions to consider when choosing a UFP provider?
1) Is the institution an approved training provider?
Visiting schools and universities in person is often an impractical option for international students and therefore many base their decisions on where to study on recommendation or website research. It is therefore very difficult to ascertain the standing of an institution, as a website can be misleading; many embellish details or overstate a provider’s credentials. A good measure of an institution’s standing is whether it has been approved as a training provider as this indicates that other experts in the industry value that institution’s teaching and approach. It also means that the UFP being offered by that institution has been approved by universities as an appropriate preparation course for undergraduate study. Training providers who have been accredited will indicate this clearly on their website; it is likely that if a provider does not explicitly state its accreditation then this is because it does not have any.
2) What are the class sizes?
Universities are accustomed to catering for large numbers of students. As many have expanded their academic offering to cater for pre-university students, they have applied current teaching models to the new cohort. This means that in some institutions, UFP students might experience a university-style education, based around lectures in large groups. It is worth asking what the group size will be in advance because some students might not be ready for this style of teaching. Lecture-based courses, or courses with large groups, require students to have the maturity to organise their time effectively, to have advance English language ability to keep up, and to have high level study skills. Some students appreciate the chance to develop these competencies in a classroom setting during their pre-university year, which is much easier in a small group when a teacher has more time for each individual student. Class sizes do vary in schools too, so it is worth checking the provision of each institution separately and comparing them.
MPW Student Case History
Mahina from Tajikistan
"I chose MPW because of the learning support they offer. The teachers are great. They helped me a lot and explained everything very clearly. My favourite thing about MPW is the way the lessons were structured."
3) What level of English Language support can I expect?
For many international students, the opportunity to spend a year developing their English language proficiency is a key reason for choosing to spend a year in the UK in advance of beginning a degree. Wherever you choose to study, it is important to find somewhere that can meet your needs in improving your English as well as in learning the subject matter for your UFP.
4) What level of support will I receive with my studies?
Some institutions concern themselves with students only during lesson time. Although they educate, they do not provide for their students in a wider context. For many foundation students, attending a course is a big adjustment. Not only do they have to cope with a new syllabus, but they may also be studying in English for the first time, they may be adjusting to life in a new city and this might also be the first time they have lived away from their family. Such an upheaval is a lot to manage and some schools provide support to assist students on a pastoral level. Mentors will help overwhelmed students by being a friendly face to speak to and also someone who can provide support on a practical level, for example with registering at a doctor's or opening a bank account. They can also ensure that students stay on the right track academically by supervising their progress and feeding back to agents and parents.
MPW student case history
Katherine from Malaysia
"MPW offers a lot more support than my previous school, for example helping me with my UCAS application and providing surgeries whenever I have doubts in my study which I find extremely helpful.”
5) Will I receive any support with my university application?
For the most part, UFP students will need to apply to university. Even those with ‘guaranteed progression’ may still need to apply in order to indicate their interest in a course (and to ensure that the guaranteed progression is to an institution that they would be happy to attend)! Applications usually consist of completing a form and writing a 4,000 character ‘personal statement’ explaining a candidate’s interest in and suitability for a course. At some schools, staff will assist students with this task to ensure that they submit the strongest possible application. They can advise students on how to start a personal statement and the kinds of things to include. Then they help students edit each draft of the statement until it is perfect. If there are any additional entry requirements they will support students with those too: this usually includes organising tuition for entrance examinations or arranging a mock interview to allow for some practice in advance of a real admissions interview. If support with an application is important to you, then make sure that you investigate whether this will be provided by the institutions you are considering.
MPW Student Case History
Dan from Belarus
“The support from every member of the MPW team has resulted in me receiving offers from Queen Mary and Royal Holloway University to study Economics which I am thrilled about. My Personal Tutor was constantly going through my personal statement drafts and making insightful comments and offering valuable advice."
6) What is the study environment like?
Studying for a UFP is an intensive year. In addition to your lessons in the classroom, there will be assignments to complete, revision to do and notes to review in your spare time. When you are considering a course, think about where you will do this work. A school or university library is very important and also consider things like IT provision. Do you need access to a computer, or Wi-Fi? Then ensure that your training provider can meet these requirements.
7) Does the location suit me?
Schools and universities in towns across the UK offer UFP courses, so narrowing down the choices and selecting the right one can be daunting. A good idea would be to consider what kind of environment you would like to live in, and then find somewhere that meets this criteria. There are MPW colleges located in London, Birmingham and Cambridge. As the UK’s largest city, London is very busy and MPW London is located in the centre, in close proximity to a number of prestigious universities and facilities such as museums, theatres and restaurants. It is lively and varied which suits some students well, while others might find it somewhat overwhelming. Birmingham is the UK’s second largest city, with a cosmopolitan and lively atmosphere and a similar range of facilities to London. MPW Birmingham is located in a quiet suburb near to the city centre and the college itself is the smallest of the MPW group, giving it a friendly, family feel. MPW Cambridge is located in close proximity to the various colleges of the world-class Cambridge University: an inspiring setting for a student. The city of Cambridge is very small, with many beautiful and historical buildings, and a city centre that is easily navigable on foot. Many students are attracted by its quaint charm and quieter atmosphere.
Another consideration for UFP students is choosing whether they would like to live in the same city as their preferred university destination. On one hand, this enables students to ‘settle in’ prior to beginning their course; on the other, they may wish to experience living in more than one city in the UK and deliberately choose somewhere different.
8) What are the results and destinations of previous students?
The performance of previous students says a lot about an institution’s teaching methods and support. If a school or college has a good academic record of achievement, then it is likely to be able to provide the tools you need to do well there. Be wary of schools who refuse to share information with you as their reluctance may be because their results indicate underperformance. Make sure that a school or college has a tradition of success and previous students are now studying at the kind of university you would like to go to, with the kind of results you would like to achieve. Also be careful when comparing results that you are comparing the right thing. Some schools are academically selective, which means they will only accept extremely bright students. Those students should do very well. If a school is not academically selective, then remember that it is likely to be teaching students of all abilities; in this situation, a high percentage of top grades, or an impressive number of placements at top universities is even more impressive.
UFP students have two key decisions to make: which course; and at which provider? It is a daunting decision but with an appropriate amount of research and consideration, it should be possible for all students to select a programme and location that they are happy with.
MPW Student Case History
Balthazar from Belgium
"The IFP course at MPW exceeded all my expectations in terms of the level of teaching and support."