Contextual offers: getting the bigger picture
If you’re eligible, a UK university might lower its entry requirements for you
Contextual offers are those made when universities take into account your personal circumstances when considering your application. For example, if you’ve attended a school with low progression rates to higher education, access schemes and alternative offers may be available to help you get into university. Over the last few years contextual offers have become more common in UK universities. You can check out our guide below to find out more information.
How do contextual offers work?
Contextual offers are intended to make Higher Education more accessible to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. When deciding what kind of contextual offer to make, a university will look at the wider circumstances surrounding your achievements so far. They’ll consider things such as where you grew up, whether you have a disability, or whether you’re entitled to free school meals.
If you meet their criteria, there are two possible outcomes. You may be accepted onto the course with lower entry requirements than those usually needed, or sometimes the academic entry requirements will remain the same, but your application will be given special consideration. For example, at the University of Oxford, the admissions tutors may be more likely to recommend students who have high contextual grades for the interview stage.
Each application will be considered by the university on a case-by-case basis. By looking at your personal situation, admissions tutors will assess your potential to succeed on an undergraduate course.
Typical criteria for contextual offers
Not all UK universities make contextual offers. For those that do, each one sets its own criteria, but they usually include a few of the following:
- You have a disability
- If you have a physical or non-physical disability, you may be eligible for a contextual offer.
- You’re a young carer
- A young carer is anyone who - unpaid for - cares for a friend or family member who cannot cope without support due to illness, disability, a mental health problem, or an addiction.
- Your school’s overall academic performance
- If, for example, the performance of your school, college or sixth form is lower than the national average, your academic performance so far might be given special consideration.
- You’ve been in care
- This means you’ve spent time in local authority care. Very often, you’ll need to declare that you’re a care leaver on the UCAS form and have it confirmed by your referee.
- You’re a first generation Higher Education attendee
- This means that you’re the first in your immediate family to attend university. Your parents therefore, did not attend university.
- You have a lower family income, or live in an area with a lower socioeconomic status
- You might be entitled to discretionary payments or free school meals at school/college. Schools also assess whether you live in an area with a lower socioeconomic status using the POLAR or ACORN postcode search. POLAR and ACORN are both classification tools which provide data on young people participating in higher education.
How to find and apply for contextual offers.
There are plenty of contextual offers out there. You can always check out universities you are interested in applying to by looking at their websites, or getting in contact with them directly. You can also check out the Special Opportunities tool on the Unifrog platform to find out more about contextual offers.
For many contextual offers, your UCAS application will be assessed by the admissions tutors when you apply to the university and there is no need to do anything more. For others, you will need to complete a separate application form and submit this to the university before, or at the same time as, applying through UCAS.
The details of how to apply for a contextual offer will be listed on your shortlist, however you should contact the university in question to get more information, particularly if a separate application is required.
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