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Can you go to uni without A-levels? Exploring alternative pathways

23 Jan, 2024
Can you go to uni without A-levels? Exploring alternative pathways

Table of Contents

Alternative entry requirements for UK universities

Foundation programmes

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

There is a common perception that A-levels are the sole route to UK universities. While they are without question the most widely accepted, they are not the only qualifications that are recognised by universities.

Alternative entry requirements for UK universities

There are now a number of different qualifications that students can take to meet university entry requirements, and the UCAS tariff points system has brought about more flexibility than ever.

In this article we take a more in depth look at some of the equivalent qualifications to A-levels in the UK, and specifically for international students, Foundation programmes such as the Kings Advanced Level Foundation.

Access to Higher Education diploma

The Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma is a qualification which prepares people without traditional qualifications for study at university. Access to Higher Education courses are delivered by colleges in England and Wales, and are available in a range of different subjects, such as nursing, social studies, law, and art and design. There are over 1,200 recognised Access to HE courses, which carry UCAS points just like A-levels.

An HE Diploma is studied over two years. This is the same length as A-Levels and is considered equivalent to them.

Business and Technology Education Council (BTECs) vocational qualifications

A BTEC is a vocational qualification. It generally combines practical learning with theory-based learning, and are great for those who learn best through practical application.


Photo by Valerie V on Unsplash

BTECs are a great option for those who already know what area of work they’d like to explore, and are great for gaining valuable industry experience.

Subjects students can study for a BTEC include applied sciences, art and design, business, childcare, construction, engineering, media, health and social care, hospitality, performing arts and travel and tourism.

Level 3 BTECs qualify for UCAS points towards university applications in the same way that A-levels do.

International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma

The International Baccalaureate® (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) is an assessed programme for students aged 16 to 19. It is recognised in over 140 countries and an accepted pathway into university.

It consists of six academic subject groups and the Diploma Program (DP) Core. The DP Core requires students to reflect on the nature of knowledge in a course called Theory of Knowledge (ToK), participate in an independent research project to produce an Extended Essay (EE), and engage in extracurricular activities related to Creativity, Action and Service (CAS).

T-levels

Introduced in 2020, T-Levels are new two-year qualifications which are taken after GCSEs and are equivalent to three A Levels. UCAS tariff points are allocated to T-levels, just like A-levels.

They are geared more towards education and trade-based subjects, with options such as accountancy, agriculture, land management and production, animal care and management, building services engineering, design, surveying and planning, digital business services, healthcare science, maintenance, installation and repair, management and administration and media, broadcast and production.

Currently, there are 18 different T-levels that cover a wide range of sectors and interests, with even more being made available from September 2024.

Each two-year course has been designed with employers from multiple sectors and combines classroom study with work experience, in the form of a 45-day industry placement.

Foundation Programmes

There are a range of pre-university foundation programmes available in the UK, both for domestic and international students. Here, we explore the concept in more detail.

What is a foundation year?

A foundation year is a programme that students can complete before starting their undergraduate degree, which allows them to gain extra skills and prepare for university courses. In essence, foundation years act as a bridge between high school and undergraduate programmes at university.

In addition to subject-specific learning, foundation years focus on the development of essential skills that are needed at university. These include critical thinking, time management, research and communication.

By doing a foundation year, students can fill any gaps they may have in their academic knowledge, giving them more confidence when they start higher education.

UK students who might consider a foundation year include those who:

  • are mature students and haven’t been in education for a while, and would like a ‘refresher’ before taking on a full university degree.
  • didn’t meet the entry requirements for their degree course initially, but are still committed to pursuing that path.
  • are unsure whether university is for them, so would like a taster of uni life before committing to a full degree.
  • lack the confidence to enrol on a university degree and would like to acquire study skills and some entry-level knowledge on their chosen subject.

Foundation years for international students

Foundation years for international students, such as the Kings Advanced Level Foundation, can play an essential part in helping international students adjust to academic and cultural life in a different country.

In some cases they can also bridge the gap between completion of 11 – 12 years of high school in another country and starting an undergraduate degree in the UK.

Of course, there is the additional benefit of advancing English language abilities prior to embarking on undergraduate level study too.

About the Kings Advanced Level Foundation

The Kings Advanced Level Foundation is specifically designed to help international students achieve outstanding grades, receive offers from the top UK universities, and also to equip students with the skills they need to succeed at undergraduate level.

As the Kings Foundation is not affiliated to any one institution, it offers students the chance to spend a year in the UK with time to research their options, visit potential universities, and explore different places themselves before they make a final decision on the next steps.

Syllabus

The syllabus of the Kings Advanced Level Foundation is designed to be more accessible for international learners as it doesn’t require the cultural expectations that A-levels do.

It is based on A-levels and assured by Pearson — an external awarding body who review the programme annually and assure it as preparation to study at degree level in the UK.

Just like with A-levels, the Advanced Level Foundation course allows students to pick their own subjects and combine them in any way to suit their specific goals and interests.

Students can choose three different subjects from a number of different electives. These elective modules can be combined in any way, just like A-levels. Available elective subjects are Art and Design, Biology, Business Studies, Chemistry, Economics, Geography, Government and Politics, History, Law, Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology.

Alongside these, all students will take two core modulesCommunications and Study Skills (CSS) and Data Handling and Information Technology. These compulsory modules give students the skills they need to successfully acquire subject specific knowledge.

Where is the Advanced Level Foundation course accepted?

The Kings Advanced Level is accepted by a broad range of top UK universities. These universities understand the quality of the foundation courses, and of the students who complete it successfully.

Many other pre-university foundation courses offered in the UK prepare students for one particular university or group of universities. The key advantage of the Kings Advanced Level Foundation is that all doors and possibilities remain open —students can apply for whichever universities they like.

In the past, Kings foundation students have been accepted to institutions such as University of St Andrews, Durham University, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), University of Warwick, and many more. You can view the latest results here.

Expert support and advice when applying to university

All students at Kings are offered individual support and guidance when it comes to deciding on prospective universities, and submitting a UCAS application.

This personal approach ensures each student has expert advice on finding the best university fit, submitting the best possible personal statement and as a result secures a place at their chosen university.

How to apply for a foundation year

There are several different types of institutions that offer foundation years, and the application processes vary. That said, generally a foundation year provider will want to see information about previous schooling, and of course grades achieved.

Applying for a place on the Kings Advanced Level Foundation course, or one of the subject-focused Foundations (Law Foundation, International Business Foundation, Medical Foundation, Science and Engineering Foundation or Art and Design Foundation), is straightforward — students simply complete an application, and submit this to our Admissions team alongside their proof of identification, and details of their education history and grades achieved so far.

International students from most countries will need to obtain a visa to study in the UK, and they may also need to obtain some officially recognised proof of English language level — such as IELTS — before they travel.

Find out more here

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. Can you apply to Russell Group universities without A-levels?

Yes, it is possible to apply to a Russell Group university with an alternative qualification to A-levels. Some of the more competitive and prestigious universities within the group, such as the University of Cambridge or University of Oxford, are likely to stipulate that applicants must have completed A-levels, but other Russell Group universities do accept applicants who have completed other qualifications.

Universities change their entry requirements each year, so it’s important to check any prospective university’s entry requirements before making a UCAS application.

Q2. How many UCAS points can you get without A-levels?

UCAS points (also known as UCAS Tariff points) are a way of measuring the relative value of all post-16 qualifications in the UK. It is not just A-levels which carry UCAS points, but a host of other level 3 qualifications, such as BTECs, T-levels and the International Baccalaureate.

Find out more

Q3. Can you go to university with just GCSEs?

As a general rule, universities will not accept students who have only completed GCSEs. Those students who have no qualifications higher than GCSE/Level 2 will usually need to consider an appropriate Level 3 course (such as A-levels) in order to progress to university.

Q4. Can you go to university with 0 UCAS points?

In some instances it can be possible to apply to university with no UCAS points, but generally most university courses require a minimum amount of UCAS points.

One thing for those who have no UCAS points to consider is an Open University degree. This offers full time or part time study options and students don't need any qualifications to start. There’s always the option of trying to transfer credits from distance learning into a full time institution.

Need Help With Applying to Uni?

In this article, we’ve looked some of the alternative qualifications to A-levels that are available in the UK.

At Kings, we offer both the Advanced Level Foundation and one and two-year A-level courses at our four colleges in the UK — Kings Brighton, Kings Bournemouth, Kings London, and Kings Oxford.

For students who already know the subject area that they’d like to focus on in the future, we also offer a number of specialist foundation courses:

If you would like receive more detailed information about the Kings and our programmes, please get in touch with us at enquiries@kingseducation.com.