Image to illustrate the university application process

 by Paul Martin
, posted On 17 Oct '19
 Advancing Access Project Manager at Advancing Access

Understanding contextual admissions policies

It can seem like barely a week goes by without a story in the news which refers to a new “contextual admissions” policy which is being introduced at a well-known university. But what exactly are contextual admissions policies, and what do you and your students need to know about them?

What are contextual admissions policies?

Perhaps the best way to understand contextual admissions policies is to contrast them against a more traditional admissions process. In the past, there were only a small number of factors which universities would typically consider when making a judgement about an applicant. Obviously school attainment was a key factor, but universities would also consider the quality of the personal statement, UCAS reference and in some cases performance in an interview too. However as time goes by universities increasingly acknowledge that they need to understand more about the context in which an applicant’s achievements take place. This means that a wider range of different factors are now often being taken in to consideration in the admissions process.

When it comes to the pieces of contextual information that universities are most interested in, we can divide these in to two broad categories: individual level factors and school level factors.

Individual applicant level factors

At the individual applicant level, universities might consider the neighbourhood in which the applicant resides. They might be interested in average levels of university participation among young people in that area and also the average socioeconomic character of the area. Universities could also be interested in the level of education of an applicant’s parents and whether the applicant has been in the care system at any point during their childhood. They will also be interested to hear whether a student has taken part in one or more university outreach programmes, such as summer schools or mentoring programmes.

School level factors

At the school level, universities could show an interest in the average level of attainment at the school or perhaps the socioeconomic character of the community which the school serves.

If an applicant is flagged by a university as part of their contextual admissions policy, how they are treated will vary from institution to institution, but in some cases they made be made an A level grade offer which is lower than that which would usually be made.

You can make sure that you support your students appropriately by making sure that all relevant contextual information is communicated to universities. Anything which can’t be included in the UCAS application itself can be raised in both the personal statement and reference. For an overview of the contextual admissions process at some of the UK’s leading universities, check out our contextual admissions guide on the Advancing Access website.

Author profile

Paul is the Project Manager of Advancing Access, a teacher CPD initiative supported by the 24 Russell Group universities. He is also a postgraduate doctoral student at the University of Warwick where his research is focusing on Widening Participation in Higher Education.

Teachers, careers colleagues and support staff: request your FREE UniTasterDays Teachers' Guide to University

This Teachers’ Guide has been produced by in collaboration with HELOA. It has been developed based on the higher education system in England.

Editorial has been provided by colleagues at universities throughout the UK, as well as experts outside of higher education. This includes MoneySavingExpert Martin Lewis’s exclusive content on university fees and finance and content from The Student Room about what students studying at university wish they were told about university whilst they were at school!

What else can you expect in the Teachers’ Guide?

This 44 page guide includes advice for teachers on UCAS applications, what universities look for in applications, the different types of events schools can book for their students, university fees and finance, university offers, the Gatsby benchmarks, university support for parents and much, much, more!

New to UniTasterDays? Register Now for our newsletter which includes access to this FREE guide.

Already registered? Login to your control panel with your email address to download now!

Career Development Institute
Careers England
The Education Resources Awards
Shell LiveWIRE Winner
Cookie Policy    X