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by Rob Thatcher

Widening Participation & Outreach Manager at the University of Surrey

posted on 5 Jan '23

A guide to contextual university admissions

When looking at study options in higher education, you will be aware that entry requirements will vary between providers. However, most courses will require GCSE plus A Level or equivalent qualifications (for example, BTECs, Access to HE etc.) in addition to evidence of relevant skills, ability, and experience.

It is acknowledged amongst university and course providers that the experience of applicants in achieving these qualifications and skills will vary, particularly where individuals have shared mitigating and/or personal circumstances that have disrupted their education. In such situations, the course provider may recognise the received or predicted grades against the context in which they were achieved before recommending the applicant as eligible to be considered for contextualised admissions.

What are contextualised university admissions?

Contextualised admissions recognise an individual’s circumstances when considering their application for study in higher education. This may enable the applicant to automatically receive entry requirements that are lower than those advertised or better reflect the circumstances in which their grades were achieved. Course providers will set out the terms of their contextualised admissions policy on their website in addition to course literature, and it is always recommended for students to enquire with admissions advisors and/or tutors with regards to eligibility before applications are submitted.

Contextualised offer schemes

Where reduced entry requirements are not automatically applied, applicants may be able to participate on a contextualised offer scheme. The key difference is that the scheme will include conditions, in addition to eligibility criteria, which applicants must meet to qualify for a contextual offer. For example, these schemes may require the completion of an assignment, portfolio or to simply commit to the respective course provider as the applicant’s firm choice.

Contextualised offer schemes are often coordinated internally by the course provider and may be separate to the course application process. Therefore, it is recommended for students to enquire with an admissions advisor or course representative regarding the options available.

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Additional benefits for contextualised admissions and contextualised offer schemes

Contextualised admissions and offer schemes may also carry additional benefits, whether that be academic or financial support. When enquiring about entry requirements, students should always ask whether bursaries or scholarships are also included along with any transitional support during the first year of study.

Transitional support may include academic workshops, peer support or mentoring, in addition to signposting to appropriate services alongside the course.

So, when you are supporting students whilst identifying their choices and options, keep contextualised admissions within your thinking. They are a reduced entry requirement, but their benefits can extend beyond admission onto a course.

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