My First Year at Uni – Foundation Year

Maybe you’re reading this because you’re wondering whether or not you should go to uni. Maybe you’re going to be starting your first year this year and want to read about someone’s experience. Maybe you’re just nosey and want to read more about what I’ve been up to this year. Whatever your reasons for coming here, hopefully you’ll get something out of this piece!

This year I completed the foundation year of my nutrition degree. A foundation year is a focused year that happens before a degree for those who did not complete the A Levels (or other exams) necessary to undertake the degree. I had little interest in science at school so when I decided to change career in my mid-twenties I did not have the necessary qualifications to start a nutrition degree. Luckily the option is available, at quite a lot of universities, to complete an extra foundation year which fills this gap in knowledge.

A Levels vs Foundation Year 

If you’ve already got the A Levels needed for your degree then that’s great you don’t need to do an extra year of study and can get on with what you want to study. A Levels are by far the easier option as you will have already spent this time at school. However, for those who haven’t got the relevant qualification it could work out better – although you do need to study for an extra year the great thing about the foundation year is that it is more specific and focused for the degree you’ll be doing. Depending on your subject you also get experience in different processes and techniques and using different equipment that you wouldn’t get to in a secondary school. For me this meant I had a lot of lab sessions – finding out more about setting up and using microscopes, using more quirky equipment like a Douglas bag and just getting comfortable in that environment. That extra year can give you so many extra experiences as well as just getting used to going to university, studying and managing your time.

What happens in a Foundation Year?

What modules you have will differ from course to course; mine was a life sciences foundation year. Our first semester ran from the end of September to the middle of December and the second semester ran from the end of January to the middle of April. We finished with an exam period at the beginning of May.

We had three modules which lasted the whole year and two modules which were one semester long each (one in the first semester and one in the second). For each of the modules we had a mix of lectures (2-3 hour long talks by a lecturer about a topic), tutorials (1 hour to embed learning from a lecture and ask a teacher any questions you have) and lab practical sessions (2-3 hours in the lab doing experiments and embedding learning from lectures). The lectures are long, most students found it difficult to keep their focus and attention for the whole 3 hours and there was just too much information to take in. The tutorials were often very loosely structured and for one module we were told not to attend unless we had questions and were struggling with a topic. Individual self-learning is therefore pretty important to make sure you complete all the learning and really understand the topics.

Each of the modules had two or three assessments. These were a mix of essays, reports, presentations, exams and practical assessments. Some were coursework (completed at home and submitted online) others were done in class under exam conditions. Most were individual assessments but some required group work. The variety of assessment methods inevitably means that there will be some which you prefer and are more comfortable with and some you will dislike.

Is it full-time?

Each week we had 2 days at university with an extra half day every other week. Other than these allocated sessions we were advised to do preparatory work for the sessions during the week and also our own study around each topic to make sure we fully understood each subject. As you could imagine it could easily be full-time; it all depends on the way you learn and how dedicated you are to the studies. The prep work was usually not available online to access until very last minute before the lecture so it was often not possible to do this work before the session. In reality, there isn’t too much extra work outside of the timetabled hours of lessons. It would be very easy to do this alongside a part-time job. This is something which would need to be reconsidered going forward (the timetable for next year means we are in lessons pretty much every day).

Other thoughts

Starting a foundation year I quickly realised I had to change my mindset. I went in looking forward to start my nutrition degree but the foundation year is completely separate; yes the content was more focused to what will help me in my nutrition degree but we were not studying nutrition. So, it’s important to embrace it for what it is: a year to give you the foundations, the basic knowledge, needed to be able to learn the content of the nutrition degree.

Be prepared to maybe find it harder than expected. I had a career before going back to study at university and had completed a number of trainings including a post-grad level course in Human Resources Management. I have always been an academic and enjoyed reading and learning; I’ve been lucky that learning has always been quite easy and enjoyable for me (Maybe it’s been easy because I liked it or maybe I liked it because it was easy?!) Anyway, going back to uni I thought this first year would be super easy for me but it wasn’t. It took me a while to get my head around the fact that I was struggling with the learning. For me it was a brand-new topic, one which I didn’t engage with at school so I had no prior learning still rattling around my brain from when I was younger. I was learning from scratch in subjects which aren’t natural for me. I’ve found I learn in a different way now from the way I used to study. Give yourself time and allowances; you may need to change your style in how you learn or study and just persevere, be persistent but also be patient with yourself.

If I missed anything or you have any questions please leave them in the comments below.

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