In a world of endless opportunity, many of us struggle to decide which career will be the one to suit us. It can be a daunting prospect for all, and even if you have an idea of what you want to do, choosing the right course to land that dream job provides a headache of its own.

When you are studying for your A Levels, the thought of getting a UCAS application submitted for the January deadline comes into focus about an hour after you’ve finished your Christmas dinner. It’s not easy to map out your entire future at 17 or 18 years old, and it is becoming more and more common for people to reach a stage later in their life when they decide the job they thought they wanted to do is no longer for them.

Switching careers has become much easier with the rise of online education and distance learning. But choosing a course that fits your interests can be just the ticket. So, should you be sticking with the traditional bachelor’s degree, or could a foundation degree open the same doors?

Here, we’ll take a look at why foundation degrees are a viable option, whether you are a first-time degree applicant, or changing career for the second, third, or even fourth time.


What is a foundation degree?

A foundation degree is a two-year course which combines academic and vocational elements which are equivalent to two thirds of an honours bachelor’s degree. They are often delivered by universities and colleges in partnership with employers, offering students an alternative career path.

The rise of apprenticeships through foundation degrees has resulted in students working on live projects in real working environments to gain relevant experience in their industry. And many educational institutions will actually offer a top-up course which allows students to complete an additional year of study to develop their foundation degree into a full honours degree.

Holly Old opted for a foundation degree, studying Musical Theatre at Newcastle College, and said that having local access to the course made her decision much easier.

She added: “The facilities at the College were second-to-none. I visited a lot of Universities and nobody compared in terms of it being a true-to-life environment.

“Newcastle College is the best training you can possibly get outside of London. I chose to do the Musical Theatre Foundation Degree because I wasn’t ready to move away. I decided to stay at Newcastle College for two years and then study my top-up at the London School of Musical Theatre.”


What are the benefits of a foundation degree?

With the majority of foundation degree courses geared towards industry-specific work, a student can get a proper insight into the career they have aspired to work in since childhood. At Newcastle College, 45 foundation degrees are offered, from business management through to rail engineering.

Most foundation degrees offer flexible study, with courses allowing learners to either opt for full- or part-time study, which means those with work or family commitments are still able to complete the course.

The opportunity to put learning into practice while continuing with your studies is a big plus for many who choose a foundation degree. Gaining transferable skills that employers seek will inevitably lead to better career prospects further down the line. Often graduates miss out on jobs because of a lack of work experience, but that can be avoided with the foundation degree.


The costs

The thought of going to university can be unnerving for prospective students, whether they are targeting a first degree, or jumping back into academic life to pursue a change in career. One of the main concerns is about the financial implications and what costs will be associated with a degree.

If you are taking on a degree alongside your work, you might even be able to get financial support from your employer, who will probably see it as an investment in both yours, and the company’s future.

Studying a foundation degree still comes with the same financial support options that other higher education students have access to, with student loans, maintenance grants and bursaries all worth checking out. Be aware though that all of these will depend on your individual, or family, circumstances, so entitlements will vary between students.


Getting the best of both worlds

A fear of the unknown, combined with financial concerns, can be off-putting when considering a switch in careers. But the foundation degree route offers the best of both worlds — you are investing in new skills and discovering at an early stage if it is the right career path for you.

A recent report by PensionBee found that just 16% of UK workers felt they were doing something they saw as their calling, with a further 34% claiming they “fell into” their current roles. A foundation degree allows you to pick a sector you have a passion for and gain worthwhile experience alongside your learning, which makes that drastic career switch a bit less stressful.

You’ll even gain a real insight into whether that is the path for you, rather than getting to the end of a bachelor’s degree to find you don’t like the sector you’ve been studying. Courses range across all industries, from nursing, to law and accountancy, to engineering and culinary arts, meaning that there is something for everyone.