Should you do an Art Foundation Year?

Art Foundation VS Going Straight to University

This article was kindly written by my hugely talented friend, Alice Hackney, who will be studying Fine Art at the University of Oxford as of this October. Alice studied GCSE and A Level Art before going on to compete an Art Foundation year at MMU, a common stepping stone between Art at school and at university.

Should I do an Art Foundation year? Or should I just jump straight into a BA Arts course? In my last year of school, I debated the same thing. Spoiler alert – I decided to do a foundation and I am now a huge advocate for them. In this article I’ll share my experiences of doing a foundation year and compare it to what my friends have told me about going directly on to a degree course.

First off, I should say that my experiences of a foundation may be completely different to yours! I did mine at Manchester School of Art (which is a part of Manchester Metropolitan University), and whilst I can whole heartedly recommend that course, I know that foundations can vary hugely in quality at different institutions.

So lets start off with what I think the main perks are of doing a foundation year:

Lots of time to explore new things– I spent a lot of my year doing bookbinding and woodblock printing – two methods I had never tried before! Whilst you will probably explore new techniques on a degree course too, trying things out on foundation first may influence your choice of course. Say you really love illustration, but are torn by your love of Fine Art, foundation gives you that bit of extra time to try out both and make your decision before you commit to a three year degree course. Or if you begin the year set on advancing to a Fine Art course, but then find the main aspect of Fine Art you love is printmaking, you can do a degree specifically in that! On my course, we chose which ‘pathway’ we wanted to follow – fine art, 3D, illustration/graphics and fashion/textiles – but we had over a term to try bits in each area and move around the disciplines. Maybe a foundation could be for you if you find you like a bit of everything, or there are multiple creative areas you are considering perusing.

Lots of support– I have heard from friends that went straight into an arts degree that they found it to be a bit of a jump in the deep end. From the constant support and guidance a lot of students receive at college, to studying and developing projects very independently. I feel like a foundation can ease this scary step! On my course, we were gradually allowed more creative freedom over the year, beginning with working to briefs set by tutors and ending with fully developing our own final project. Whilst I did find this a little frustrating at the start of the year as I was already quite an independent and self-motivated worker, this could be a very useful transitional year for those of you who weren’t allowed much freedom to develop your own creative practice at A Level.

Time to develop your portfolio– This was one of the benefits that I really underestimated the value of when choosing to do a foundation year. I can’t imagine trying to produce good quality portfolios for university applications whilst doing my A Levels, especially as every course asks for something slightly different! I did have to put together a portfolio for my foundation interview, but it was nothing in comparison to the effort of making all the different digital and physical portfolios to meet the requirements of the five university courses I applied to. As well as not having to stress about doing all that whilst working through A Levels, another great benefit of doing a foundation is that I had another years’ work to add in – including my A Level final pieces and some early foundation work. I really don’t think I would have got into some of my choices without these pieces!

I found those were the three major pros of doing an art foundation versus going straight to uni. The three things I have touched on all revolve around your arty life, but don’t forget to factor in the value of having that extra year to develop too! I lived at home this year, as is quite common for art foundation students, but I still felt I became a lot more independent, and I feel so much more ready to move out than I did this time last year! Also don’t forget that art foundations are often free courses. Who doesn’t want a year of fun before that crippling student debt sets in?!

I know I didn’t really mention any downsides to doing a foundation, and maybe this is because I’m biased but honestly, I don’t think there are any. The only concern I had before going in was that I’d be a year older than everyone else when I did go off to uni. However, I have found that it is very common for art students to be a mix of ages. With roughly 50% of art students doing a foundation, you won’t be the only ‘older’ one on your course.

I hope this article has been useful for anyone deciding whether an art foundation year is the right fit. Whatever you choose, I hope you have an amazing time on your course!

About the Author

Hello I’m Alice! I’m a 19 year old art student from Manchester. I’ve just finished my Art Foundation year and now I’m heading off to study Fine Art at Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. My artwork explores vulnerability through many media, with my currently favourites being sculpture and printmaking! You can find me on Instagram @alice_hackney_art.