NCUK International Foundation Year or A-level?

Author: NCUK Student Services

What is the difference between A-level and NCUK International Foundation Year qualifications?

There are many university pathway qualifications available out there, but how do you know which one is the best for you? At NCUK, we have put together a detailed comparison between two of the most popular pathway qualifications for international students: A-levels and NCUK International Foundation Year.

Who’s it for?

Whilst A-level qualification has been designed with UK students in mind, NCUK International Foundation Year is designed exclusively for international students who wish to progress to world-leading universities in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the USA or Canada. This qualification is ideal for high school students who have completed their local qualifications such as IGCSE, WASSC in Nigeria or Gao Kao in China.

What will you study and how will you be assessed?  

A-level students are able to pick three to four modules and choose from a wide range of specific subjects. In NCUK International Foundation Year, students choose three subject modules from the options listed below:

  • Art & Design
  • Biology
  • Business Studies
  • Chemistry
  • Economics
  • Further Mathematics
  • Global Studies
  • Mathematics (Business)
  • Mathematics (Engineering)
  • Mathematics (Science)
  • Physics
  • Sociology

Additionally, students benefit from NCUK’s English for Academic Purposes (EAP) module which is equivalent to IELTS and in most cases, students do not need to provide further proof of English proficiency to meet the university’s entry requirements or to apply for a visa.

IFY comparison

Students are assessed differently depending on what qualification or programme they study. Most A-level subjects are assessed by exams that tend to be spread across multiple days, adding up to 5-6 hours per subject. The advantage of NCUK International Foundation Year is that it offers a more balanced approach to assessment.  International Foundation Year exams take less than three hours each. Typically, NCUK International Foundation Year subject modules are assessed by a mixture of coursework and exam, both contributing to the final grade. This allows students to be equipped with all the skills required to adapt to the similar assessment model that they will find at university.

How long does it take?

Whilst A levels take 2 academic years, NCUK International Foundation Year is completed in just 9 months. This allows students to progress to university faster without compromising the quality of their education. In some cases, students can also complete NCUK International Foundation Year in 6 months, depending on Study Centre availability!

ncuk universities

University progression

A-level is a widely recognised qualification, which means that students have a great number of universities to choose from. With NCUK, students can progress to over 45 universities across the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA; including many UK Russell Group Universities and some members of the prestigious Australian Group of 8.

One of the main benefits of studying the International Foundation Year offers students guaranteed entry* to an NCUK University Partner.

On the other hand, A-level students rely completely on their ability to meet universities’ entry requirements, whereas NCUK guarantees university progression to any student who successfully completes the International Foundation Year. 90% of NCUK students progress to their first choice university and 80% graduate with a first or second-class degree; this is all possible thanks to NCUK’s close links with its University Partners.

*Visit NCUK’s Guarantee Terms and Conditions for full details:

University Application Support Services

As well as being academically prepared for university, it’s essential that students are able to submit excellent university applications. Both NCUK Study Centres and A-level delivery centres support their students whilst they make their university applications, however, there are some differences between these providers.

NCUK provides students with a dedicated Student Support team and a Student Counsellor. These experts support the students with important processes such as applying to university, writing personal statements, providing guidance and counselling about courses and university progression options, helping students choose the right university accommodation and much more.

To obtain the same or similar degree of support whilst studying A-level, the student will have to research the specific institution they are planning to study at, as many of these services vary depending on whether these are sixth-form centre, distance learning providers, or further education colleges.

There are more than 100 NCUK Study Centres operating across over 30 countries worldwide. The level and the quality of support a student receives studying the International Foundation.

If you are interested in studying NCUK International Foundation Year, click here to find out all about this qualification.