Studying in a new country can be an exciting, inspirational, and mind-opening experience (trust me, I’ve been there). But, let’s not kid ourselves, it can also be challenging at times (trust me, I’ve been there). Getting used to a new lifestyle, culture, and food — “you mean, you guys really eat that?” — as well as taking time out to explore everything an adopted country has to offer are just some of the distractions students might encounter. Perhaps the greatest challenge, though, is understanding the norms and expectations of a different education system.
This is where pathways courses come in. Many universities across the UK offer such courses to foreign students before they start their degree program. Operating like a bridge program, a pathways course will develop a student’s study skills and subject knowledge while getting them used to the UK university environment. These valuable educational offerings allow students to hit the ground running when it really counts, giving them their best chance for success in their subsequent degree program.
Pathways courses include international foundation courses, for students wishing to pursue a bachelor’s degree, and pre-master’s courses, for students who are interested in a master’s degree. Many universities, such as Oxford Brookes University, offer guaranteed progression to a degree program once students enroll in a pathways course.
Rebecca Peterson from St. Louis took a foundation course at Oxford Brookes University before beginning her engineering degree and found a real benefit in how it helped with her writing skills. “Having a foundation program that really focuses on writing papers has probably been a great step in preparing for a degree program over here,” she said. “I think I would have been a little bit unsettled jumping straight into a degree as I would not have expected to have so many written assignments.”
Amanda Fava-Verde is programme director for the International Foundation Programme at the University of Reading in the UK. Students in that program benefit both socially and academically from pathways courses, she said.
Two key advantages? The opportunity to meet lifelong friends from a variety of nationalities and cultures, “and to be able to go on to study any of the exciting degrees offered by the university, from archaeology to zoology,” Fava-Verde said.
Why else might a student want to take a pathways course in the UK? For those who have been away from education for a little while and are worried about throwing themselves in at the deep end in another country, taking a foundation or pre-master’s course could give them the confidence they need.
As well as giving students the chance to reach the academic requirements for a degree course, a pathways course also gives them room to make mistakes which they will inevitably learn from, and hopefully avoid during their bachelor’s or master’s.
Michael Kunkel from Chicago finished his bachelor’s degree a number of years before deciding he wanted to pursue a master’s in the UK. He had been employed in the meantime and decided that taking a pre-master’s at Oxford Brookes would provide a valuable stepping stone. “I had been working for two years and I definitely needed to get back to speed when it comes to being prepared to handle a master’s course,” Kunkel said. “Having the opportunity to take a pre-master’s gave me those academic skills that I needed.”
So if you are counseling a student who is super-enthusiastic about studying in the UK, but feels they need a course to better prepare them academically, consider referring them to an international foundation or pre-master’s course. It could be their pathway to achieving entry to, and success within, a UK degree program.
NACAC member Matthew Leake is a pathways marketing officer with Oxford Brookes University in the UK.