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How will contextual admissions policies affect my application?

More universities are revealing whether they have 'contextual' admissions policies and if so, what information they will take into account when they look at your application. Here’s what you need to know.

Contextual information aims to ensure that universities can identify students with the highest potential to succeed, rather than base their decisions exclusively on exam results.

Universities may use some background information to improve their understanding of your abilities and potential. It may decide, for example, that a student who overachieved in a lower performing school may have demonstrated higher potential than a student who underachieved in a higher performing school.

Contextual data may help explain why you achieved the grades you did, and may affect the way a university looks at your application.

What it means: Contextual data can be used in addition to the information provided on your Ucas application to help set it in its educational, social or economic context.

 Here are some things universities might look for when considering your application.

Where you went to school or college

The location of the school you attended and its success rates are all publicly available information. Universities will use this information to understand how many students from your school typically go on into higher education, how your grades match up against your peers, and to identify high achieving students in lower achieving schools.

If you have attended more than one school, most universities will also look at these.

Where you grew up

Where you grew up can also have an impact on how well you did at school. Universities tend to look at where you’re living at the moment (using your postcode), but will also look at how long you have lived in that area and where you lived before that. If you’re in an economically deprived area or an area where only a low proportion of people go to university, this may be taken into consideration in a positive sense.

In care and looked after students

Universities also want to know if you’ve been in care at any time during your childhood. It is usually up to your school to provide school records which should contain information on this, but they can also mention this in the reference they’ll include as part of your Ucas application.

Moves from abroad

If you have moved to Britain from abroad (either from somewhere else in the EU or internationally) make sure your teacher mentions this in your reference. It may have particular relevance if English is not your first language, or if you’ve experienced a disruptive move.

Students who have been on outreach programmes

Lots of universities run outreach programmes (often in conjunction with your school or college) that give you a taster of what particular courses and university life in general is all about from taster days to summer events and activities. If you have taken part in an outreach programme at a university, mention it in your personal statement. Universities like to see that you’ve shown a willingness to explore your course before you start it.

Universities use contextual info differently

An increasing number of universities are using this sort of information during the application process, though not all of them are doing so in the same way (and some aren't using it at all). Generally though, it could be used:

  • to decide whether or not a university makes you an offer, or perhaps even a lower-than-usual offer
  • to decide whether or not to invite you to an interview or admissions test, and to help assess your performance
  • if you’re a borderline student – perhaps you’ve missed your offer conditions by a grade
  • during Clearing.


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