A Levels vs Foundation: Which is better for international students?

foundation course
Choosing the right pre-university course can set you up to succeed in a rigorous academic environment and beyond. Source: Justin Tallis/AFP

Choosing between A Levels and a foundation course would be your first significant decision after your secondary education.

Glance through the option available in the market, and you’ll find the A Levels programme as one of the most versatile and popular options. According to Cambridge, the A Levels course is being taught in over 130 countries. More than 220,000 students around the globe took the Cambridge International AS and A Level exams in June 2022. 

However, they are often compared with foundation courses. The question: Which is the better option? Here’s a useful guide to getting you started: 

foundation course

To choose the right pre-university course, start by determining what you want to achieve. Source: Brandon Bell/AFP

A Levels vs Foundation: Which pre-university course is better?

Always remember that it is up to you to decide which pre-university course is the better option. That being said, there are several key factors you can consider to help you make your decision:

1. Duration of Study

Generally, A Levels take about 15 to 24 months to complete, while some universities do offer a 12-month express route. On the other hand, you can complete a foundation course within 12 months.

If you plan to take a 12-month express route for A Levels, expect to have more hectic class schedules and shorter semester breaks — which means you must juggle frantically between lectures, assignments and perpetual class tests. The same can be said for the foundation courses.

2. Syllabus

The best part about the A Levels programme is the wide range of modules you can choose from. Picture studying Law with Economics or Business. Pair that with the volume of knowledge and learning material that you will need to comprehend, master and apply, and the learning process is substantial.

A foundation course prepares you with the basics of your chosen field of study. You will get a head start in learning the materials in that specific field, but you might have limited flexibility since the programme only focuses on one field. However, this will favour those who know exactly what they want to do as they can dive head-first into a specific field of study.

3. Cost

We recommend you take your pre-university qualification in your home country instead of studying abroad to save on costs. With that said, you can expect to pay more for A Levels than a foundation course. 

Take Malaysia, for example. It can cost as low as 16,000 Malaysian ringgit (at the time of writing, RM1 is valued at 0.19 pounds) to RM120,000 to study A Levels locally. A foundation course will cost approximately RM9,000 to RM27,000

Do note that some foundation courses can be more expensive than A Level programmes at specific institutions, so be sure to check which institution you wish to enrol in carefully.

foundation course

As economic stability continues to plague countries like the UK and Malaysia, consider the cost when deciding between A Levels and a foundation course. Source: Frederic J. Brown/AFP

4. Method of Assessment

The A Level programme uses a 100% exam-based format split into two parts — AS Level and A2 Level. Your final grade is based on the results you attained from these two levels.

The same does not apply to a foundation course since the assessment criteria vary across institutions. However, you can expect to be evaluated based on both exams and coursework.

Pick the style that suits you the most. Do you thrive with one final exam at the end of each part (AS and A2)? Or do you prefer to work consistently and be assessed continuously throughout your studies?

5. Level of Recognition

As one of the well-acknowledged qualifications globally, it’s little wonder why the A Levels are highly sought after by my young learners who aspire to study abroad.

A foundation course, however, is generally limited to specific degree programmes in the provider university. Switching from one university to another would be difficult, especially for science-related degrees.