Course Guidance: A foundation course puts the degree within reach

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Candidate: Mark Schlanker, 25, from Dudley, West Midlands.

Qualifications: Three CSEs Grade 1. Engineering apprenticeship. Various jobs.

Now: Mature student on Newcastle Polytechnic B Eng Mechanical Engineering

'I left school at 16 and took up an engineering apprenticeship with a firm making hydraulic platforms. I went on day-release to college for an HNC at the same time, but I was made redundant when the apprenticeship ended. That was after four years and the HNC took five, so I didn't finish it.

'I did various jobs in sales and service engineering until I realised I was in a rut. My brother was at university, so I took advice from him and my parents and collected lots of prospectuses.

'I applied through PCAS and UCCA for engineering degrees, but I wasn't offered anything. I wasn't really surprised: I had this stereotype of the typical student and I thought I wouldn't fit in anyway.

'I was offered HND courses but I didn't want to do that because I thought it wouldn't help my career as much as a degree would. Then Newcastle Poly offered a place on the foundation year of their extended degree course.

'I didn't know anything about foundation courses. I thought it might be like the HNC I started, but it's more like A-level maths and physics. About 100 of us on it were mature students, out of 120. Lots of the rest had failed their A-levels the year before.

'It gives you more time to get your act together. You have to pass the foundation year exams to get on to the B Eng, but if you pass you are guaranteed a place on the degree.

'I found it quite difficult. I don't think I would have got through this year on the degree course without last year. I hadn't done any college work for five years so I needed a bit of extra time to get into student mode.

'But it was definitely the right decision. I ought to be in a good position for a career now, specially with the working background I have as well. I'm only sorry I left it so long. I did think about college when I was made redundant, but I thought degree people were two levels above me. Now I realise anybody can do it.'

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