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Art & Design Foundation Diplomas (Art foundation)

Our guide to an Arts Foundation Diploma, a possible route to an undergraduate Art and Design degree, is it right for you?

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  1. What's an Art Foundation Diploma?

  2. Why take the Art Foundation Diploma course?

  3. Where can you study for an Art Foundation Diploma?

  4. Art Foundation Diploma deadlines and how to apply

  5. What financial support is there?

An Arts Foundation Diploma is a qualification that helps you develop your creative practice and progress to study art and design at degree level. It’s a one-year intensive course that will give you specialist knowledge and skill that’s not taught at secondary level.  

An Art foundation course gives you a chance to explore different specialisms like drawing, painting, fashion, textiles, installation art, printmaking, graphic illustration, 3D design and fine art. You’ll build up a portfolio of work to show at interview and can make an informed decision on what you might study at a degree level. Many universities prefer you to complete an Art Foundation Diploma before applying for a degree.   

Art Foundation Diploma courses are offered at many universities and further education (FE) colleges in the UK. If you study in England or Wales, you can take it as a stand-alone course or as part of an undergraduate art degree. If you study art and design in Scotland, the Arts Foundation Diploma is usually built into a four-year degree.  

FE college or university – which is best for me?   

All Art Foundation Diplomas are considered equal and both routes have their advantages and disadvantages so think about what you’re looking for from the experience and your budget.  

FE college pros  

  • You’re more likely to live near a further education college, meaning you can live at home and save on living costs 

FE college cons 

  • You delay the university experience by one year, potentially missing out on going at the same time as your friends 

  • There isn’t the option to apply for a combined course – if you want to study for a full undergraduate degree afterwards, you must go through the UCAS application process while studying for the diploma 

University pros  

  • You get the university experience of living away from home 

  • You can apply for a course with an integrated foundation year, meaning you only need to go through the UCAS application process once –this almost guarantees progression to a full undergraduate course after successfully completing the foundation year 

  • Most universities offer a fee-waiver for the diploma year if you're under 19 years of age 

University cons 

  • You may have to move away from home, which means increased living costs 

  • If you’re over 19, you’ll probably have to pay the full tuition fee 

  • If you apply for a course with an integrated foundation year, you may find it more difficult to switch degree course if you decide to change your specialism during the foundation year 


Where ever you choose to study, you’ll usually need an A Level or AS in art design or a BTEC National Diploma in fine art, plus a portfolio of your work. 

FE college  

If you want to study at an FE college, the application process is relatively straightforward. You’ll apply directly to the institution and can find out how by checking the college website you’re interested in. The deadline for applications is usually in the autumn.  

University application  

If you’ve opted for the university route, the deadline for application is mid-January. The process of applying differs depending on whether you’re studying in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland.  

If you’re applying for a one-year Art Foundation Diploma course in England, you apply directly to the university. Although this process doesn’t involve the UCAS application service, universities usually want similar things like a personal statement and a supporting reference. More details, including application forms, can be found on the course details pages of individual university websites. 

Northern Ireland 
Ulster University is the only university in Northern Ireland that offers an Art Foundation Diploma. You apply for the course through UCAS. 

Art Foundation Diplomas are uncommon in Scotland, as the first year of a standard four-year degree course serves the same purpose. You’ll need to check the individual course page of the small number of universities that do just offer the diploma for details.  

There's no standard method of applying for an Art foundation course in Wales. Some institutions use UCAS, and others accept direct applications. Check the application section on course details pages on university websites for more information. 

There are several factors that will determine whether you pay for tuition or not like your age and where you want to study.  

Arts Foundation Diploma as a stand-alone course 

If you are under 19 and taking the diploma as a stand-alone course, you’re unlikely to have to pay a tuition fee.  

If you are 19 or over, there will be a fee, but you may be eligible for a grant or loan. In England, you could apply for the Advanced Learner Loan and in Wales it’s called the Welsh Government Learning Grant.

Arts Foundation as part of an undergraduate degree 

Universities offering Art & Design degree courses with a foundation year can price the foundation year part in one of three ways: 

  • Free 

  • Charged, but at a lower cost than the subsequent years of study 

  • Charged at the same cost as the subsequent years of study 

Some universities that charge for the foundation year offer fee-waivers and bursaries for this part of the course so it’s worth checking individual university websites for details. 

In Scotland, where it’s the norm to take a foundation year at the beginning of a degree course, funding is available for foundation courses that prepare you for degree-level study. You’ll be eligible for funding if you meet the following conditions: 

  • You enrol for the whole course and not just the foundation year 

  • Your college or university treats the foundation year as a necessary part of the degree course 

The Scottish Government pays your tuition fees for the foundation year straight to your college or university.  


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