How valuable is a foundation degree? And can I study in the US without a GCSE in maths?

Firm foundations

Q. I've been told that I can take a foundation degree part-time. Is this qualification worth the same as a normal degree?

A. It is broadly equivalent to the first two years of a traditional honours degree. But because foundation degrees are usually taken by people who are already employed (often using part-time or distance learning), they are highly valued - sometimes more than a traditional degree - by employers who need experienced people. The learning is relevant to a vocation and tied in with it. A full-time foundation degree takes two years. Students can then go on to take other qualifications or the final year of an honours degree, so if you choose this path you could end up with the exact equivalent of the honours degree. Many people who have chosen it are using their study to get ahead in the career they've chosen, perhaps working towards a professional qualification. One attractive feature of these degrees for many is that you don't necessarily need academic qualifications to sign up - you will be able to study at a further education or higher education college or university. The best websites for information are those of Foundation Degree Forward ( www.fdf.ac.uk); the University and Colleges Admissions Service ( www.ucas.ac.uk), and colleges and universities.

Formula for success

Q. I am keen to apply to a competitive US university. I dropped maths at GCSE level and I am really concerned that I won't be up to the maths in the American SAT test. I'm aiming to do a television or film course, so will maths still be important? Is it always necessary to take an SAT test?

A. The SAT tests are verbal, maths and writing tests required for entry to most American universities. Not all, though - several hundred don't require them, including some quite famous names. And there are others where the SAT test is optional. Beware, however, because although the literature may say that they are optional, if you are also applying for a scholarship, the funding department may require you to take the exam, even if the college does not. There is never a waiver from the SAT test - you do have to take it. The maths part of it is there because American universities require you, whatever your subject, to keep up a broader range of study than their British counterparts. If you want to study film or television they will be more interested, of course, in your level of talent than your ability to do maths, but you will still need to demonstrate some ability with numbers or allied skills such as logic both to get in and to study while you are there.

But don't be too concerned about this. The level of maths or science will be set at a realistic level for arts students. The new SAT test that came in last year is geared more towards the US 11th grade year - the year before graduation, in which things such as algebra and geometry are required. But those who have a respectable GCSE grade in maths can do quite well even if they haven't done the subject for a while. You can download specimen tests from www.collegeboard.com and there is information about the tests and specialist tutoring at www.fulbright.co.uk/eas. Alternatively, you can e-mail the US Educational Advisory Service on education@fulbright.co.uk.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020 7005 2143; or e-mail to chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk

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