University life

What can I do after a foundation degree?

30 Oct 2023, 11:59

Pick up ideas for what to do after a foundation degree, discover whether you should top it up to a bachelors degree and find out whether you can apply for graduate schemes and postgraduate courses.

A foundation degree student looking down a road into the distance

What is a foundation degree worth and what work and study options can it lead to? In this article, find out whether you can apply for graduate schemes, do a masters degree or change university after a foundation degree – as well as how you can ‘top up’ a foundation degree would work if you choose to do that. Jump to:

  1. What are foundation degrees?
  2. What are foundation degrees equivalent to?
  3. What can you do after a foundation degree?
  4. What jobs can you get with a foundation degree?
  5. Can you do a graduate scheme after a foundation degree?
  6. How do you top up a foundation degree to a full degree?
  7. Can you change university after a foundation degree?
  8. Can you do a masters with a foundation degree?
  9. Can you get student finance for top-up degrees and postgraduate study?

What is a foundation degree?

A foundation degree is a qualification that includes a mix of workplace learning and academic study. It is typically awarded by a university and lasts two years full time or around four years part time. Foundation degrees typically focus on preparing you for work in a particular profession, which can be a good starting point if you’re thinking about what to do afterwards. They’re also a great option for students who aren't sure whether to commit to a three-year degree course, although many students who find that they enjoy the experience go on to complete a full honours degree.

What is a foundation degree equivalent to?

A foundation degree is equivalent to the first two years (240 credits) of an undergraduate degree, also referred to in this article as an honours degree or bachelors degree. It is at level 5 on the national qualifications framework for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and can be used as a standalone qualification in its own right or ‘topped up’ to a full degree with an extra year of full-time study (or two years part time).

Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) are a similar qualification at the same level but are completely workplace-focused without any academic written assignments. They are typically awarded by a separate examining body rather than a university.

What are my options after a foundation degree?

Combining both academic and work-based skills, your foundation degree is a gateway to a couple of options. You may prefer to take your skills straight into the workplace, or if you’ve enjoyed your course you might decide to top up your degree with another year’s study. This would open up the possibility to apply for graduate schemes or postgraduate study and professional qualifications .

What jobs can I get with a foundation degree?

If you’re already working while studying for your foundation degree, you might decide to continue in that job. If your employer sponsored you, then this might have been part of the agreement.

Foundation degrees focus on a particular profession, so it’s sensible to begin looking for jobs in the sector relevant to your course. The careers service at your college or university will be able to advise you about the local market and companies who’ve previously employed course alumni. Professional bodies and organisations within your industry may also be able to give you advice on where to find vacancies.

If you are considering a change in career, many employers will value the vocational focus of a foundation degree and the practical skills and experience you can bring. Take a look at our job description section to get a snapshot of the range of different job options available and the qualifications you’ll need.

If you've undertaken work-based assessments or worked for an employer while taking your qualification, make sure that you highlight your experience on your CV and to employers.

Remember to mention any other work experience you've undertaken, including volunteering or work-shadowing and any relevant extracurricular activities. If your course had any modules or projects that you feel would strike a chord, mention those as well.

Can you do a graduate scheme after a foundation degree?

You’ll usually need to have completed a full honours degree to be accepted on to a graduate scheme. If you decide to top-up your foundation course to an honours degree, you’ll become eligible for a much wider range of graduate schemes.

Graduate schemes are offered in most sectors and offer a good salary along with professional training. As a result, they can be very competitive. Employers often expect applicants to have, or be on track, for a 2.1 or higher at undergraduate level, though there are exceptions .

However, don’t necessarily exclude all graduate-level job vacancies from your search if you are not topping up. Consider employers that ask for a graduate, or a degree subject area, rather than a specific grade. You could also contact employers directly and explain your qualifications to them. Foundation degrees were introduced by the government in 1991, so you might be getting in touch with someone who didn't have that option open to them and isn't as familiar with the benefits of a foundation course. You'll then find out whether it’s worth making an application.

You can also apply for vacancies that don’t specify a degree or particular qualification. It’s common for graduates to find themselves in a job that doesn’t necessarily require a degree to begin with. That might not seem an obvious choice, but it’s a chance to increase your experience in the sector, broaden your network and get your foot in the door.

Search for job vacancies and graduate schemes on targetjobs or register to follow employers and receive vacancy alerts.

How do you convert a foundation degree to a full degree?

Completing a top-up course takes a year full time, or two years part time. If you decide to take that extra step you’ll be rewarded with a number of other options including professional qualifications (such as those for teaching or law), postgraduate courses and graduate schemes. There’s no time limit to do a top-up course so you don’t have to do it immediately after finishing your foundation degree.

If the degree is in the same or a very similar subject to your foundation degree, you should be able to start in the final year. However, if you want to change direction and study something completely different you’ll probably need to start again from the first year of the degree.

If you’d rather not take on the extra expense of another year’s living costs away from home, distance learning can help manage those costs. Several universities offer the option of studying flexibly, which can also be a great way to find a balance that works for you if you’re thinking of combining work and part-time study.

Can you change university after a foundation degree?

In theory, yes. Your foundation degree might only be recognised by the university teaching it but, if you are thinking of moving to a different institution for a top-up course, you can ask them to provide an academic transcript to show to the other university when you apply.

Can you do a masters after a foundation degree?

Universities are often willing to consider vocational experience as well as academic qualifications for postgraduate-level courses. You will have a wider choice with at least a 2.1 honours degree, but whether you choose to top up your foundation degree to an honours degree or not, you could meet the entry requirements for some postgraduate or professional courses. If you have a course in mind, contact the admissions office to find out more about their admissions policies.

If you take a masters degree after topping up your foundation degree course, you will generally choose a similar or related subject to study. Taught masters courses are the most popular, with lectures and seminars looking at the subject in greater depth.

If you'd like to continue research, or take a PhD, a research masters like an MRes, or MPhil could be a better option. You will have more independent study with a research degree, culminating with an extended dissertation.

Can I get student finance after a foundation degree?

If you have already received funding while on your foundation degree, you could also be eligible for funding for your top-up year as you would only be doing three years of study in total (if full time). Contact your national student funding body (eg Student Finance England) or, to find out about eligibility criteria.

If you are changing to a different subject and need to start again in the first year of a degree, it is less likely that the funding you receive will cover you for every year of study.

Postgraduate loans are available for masters courses and PhDs. Teaching bursaries are available in certain subjects, with loans for others.

Other funding sources include:

  • scholarships and bursaries from your university or department
  • Research Council funding
  • commercial loans for students
  • becoming a student ambassador
  • working while you study
  • charity awards and grants.

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This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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