Laurie Martin, Programme and Communications Coordinator at rapidly growing charity The Access Project, gives his Top Tips on increasing access to Russell Group universities.
Grades, grades, grades
When it comes to grades, Russell Group universities are clear: there’s little wriggle room. And though some universities are increasingly making ‘contextual offers’ – taking into account the circumstances of each student and school, it is still vital to have an excellent academic profile.
“Nice of you to tell me this” – you say – “but everyone’s already trying to help our students get the best possible grades”. That’s true, but one action you can take is to make clear to students studying for GCSEs and A-levels that just doing well compared to their peers at school isn’t enough. Students need to know that they should be pushing for A*s rather than settling for As.
Year 12 is too late
Students apply to university at the start of year 13, but their success can be based on decisions made when they are in year 9. Identifying these students as early as possible is crucial - that way, you can make targeted interventions at every stage of the application cycle, which includes making sensible GCSE and A-level subject choices (see below).
Other things you can organise for students lower down the school include trips to universities and visits from university outreach officers (who are generally very keen to come to schools). This allows students to gradually become familiar with the prospect of going to a Russell Group university, and also allows them time to organise work experience and do reading around their chosen subject – both of which are highly useful and in some cases essential for successful access to Russell Group universities.
A few years ago the Russell Group published their preferred list of A-level subjects, which they call “facilitating subjects”, and since last year A-level performance in these subjects has comprised part of the Department for Education’s school league tables. There’s been quite a bit of confusion surrounding the list, but put simply, these A-levels are those ear-marked as giving the broadest preparation for study at a top university. Encourage students to choose at least two of these subjects, and mix them with “softer” but complementary A-level choices.
Top universities also tend to prefer students to take triple award science at GCSE rather than the double award.
There are over 30,000 university courses in the UK, and not all of them have the same competition for places as Law and Medicine. And while “playing the system” should always be done with caution, you can greatly increase your students’ chances by helping them to make strategic university and course choices. Get them to check the applications per place ratios. For instance, Economics at the University of Nottingham has an applicant success rate of 47%, while at the same university the success rate for the joint-honours course Economics and Philosophy is 80%.
Often overlooked in the UCAS process is the Teacher Reference – but this is the same length as the panic-inducing Personal Statement. The Teacher Reference is an invaluable (and in some cases, the only) opportunity to put each student’s achievements into meaningful context. If a student is at the top of their year, for instance, admissions tutors want to know. See the Teacher Reference as adding colour to each student’s academic profile, and allowing admissions tutors to compare students from different circumstances more fairly.
By Laurie Martin, Programme and Communications Coordinator, The Access Project.
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