What is a pathway programme and is it right for me? 

A bridge connecting two mountains via a long pathway

This article was published by the Great British Mag content team on 16 February 2021.

A pathway programme could be the stepping stone you need to get into a UK university if you don’t currently meet the entry requirements or your English language skills aren’t quite up to scratch. 

But what do they involve and how do you apply? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about pathway programmes for international students. 

UK Survival Service for international students

What is a pathway programme?

A pathway programme is a course that is designed to help students gain access to university and prepare them for their undergraduate or postgraduate degree. 

There are a variety of pathway programmes available to international students looking to study in the UK, and how you choose depends on the credits you need or what knowledge gaps you’re looking to fill.

Some pathway programmes are focused on developing English language skills. These not only help you pass the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam to the standard your prospective university requires, but also ensure that you have a thorough knowledge of the language you’ll be taught in so you can reach your full potential in your studies. 

Other pathway programmes, sometimes known as foundation years, are to bolster your knowledge of the subject you wish to study at university and give you an extra qualification to help meet the degree entry requirements. There are courses in all kinds of fields, so you’ll definitely be able to find something relevant for you.  

Do I need to take a pathway programme to get into a UK university?

That depends. If you’re not eligible to get into any UK universities due to your current qualifications or IELTS score, taking a preparatory course could change that and give you the credits you need to meet those requirements. 

If you do meet the entry requirements for some UK universities but not the ones you had your heart set on, a pathway programme could boost your eligibility and give you access to a higher calibre of uni. 

They can also be a good option if you’re looking to change your field of study or if you’ve been out of education and need to develop your study skills and brush up on the basics.

Where can I study a pathway programme?

These preparatory courses are offered by lots of universities, often in partnership with private companies. In most cases you will be on the university campus but in some cases you can elect to study remotely, meaning you can crack on with the course before you come to the UK.

Some schools and colleges also provide pathway programmes, so do your research by visiting the website of the university you are interested in attending, speak to an agent or counsellor in your country or checkout pathway programmes via the UCAS website.

What are the pros and cons of pathway programmes? 

Of course, the biggest sell is that one of these pre-degree courses can help you meet the entry requirements of UK universities, meaning you can continue your studies and work towards a bachelors or masters qualification. 

Also, many universities guarantee to accept you onto the relevant degree course if you pass the pathway programme – so it could mean a university place in the bag. 

These courses don’t come for free, though. Your preparatory studies will add to the already significant cost of studying in the UK and can cost somewhere in the region of £15,000 or more (unless you’re taking pre-sessional English which is often cheaper). Also, while you can transfer from some foundation courses straight into the second year of university, a lot of pathway programmes only lead into the first year, meaning you’re adding extra time onto your studies. 

How much does a pathway programme cost?

Fees vary hugely depending on the course you choose. If it’s a one-semester course, you might be looking at around £10,000, but if it stretches over three semesters it’ll be more like £20,000.

However, when it comes to pre-sessional English courses specifically, these tend to be a bit cheaper and can start at around the £2,000 mark. But it really depends on the level of English you already have and how much development you need. 

Of course, as with other university courses, each institution sets its own fees so some detailed research is needed to work out what you’ll be spending. 

Remember too, that if you study your preparatory course in the UK, you’ll need to cover living costs on top of tuition. Some cities in the UK are more expensive to live in than others, so be sure to take that into account when choosing where to study your pathway programme. 

How long does a pathway programme last?

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to the length of a pathway programme. For language-focused courses, you can often choose the length based on what level of English you currently have. 

For the subject-based courses, these mostly last for two or three semesters, with each semester being 15 weeks long. But it all depends on the subject and where you’re choosing to study.

How do I apply?

You can apply for pathway programmes through the usual channels, such as UCAS or an agent.  Otherwise, it’s a case of researching pathway programme providers and applying directly to them individually. 

You may also want to read

How should I choose which UK university to study at?

Pros and cons of using an agent to apply to a UK university

Pros and cons of applying to a UK university through UCAS