Robin Barrs, Head of Access in the Access & Widening Participation Office at University College London, has advice for advisers supporting students through the admissions process.
Posted Thu 24 May 2018 - 14:18

Studying at a university can give your pupils a great education and experience, as well as a real boost to their career. They will be studying on a diverse campus; universities work hard to create the ideal learning environment for students to flourish. Students studying in the UK have access to world-class facilities, and staff to support them in their studies.

The university admissions process can seem a bit overwhelming, and teachers and advisers play a critical role in supporting their students through the process of applying to university. With this in mind, the Russell Group's 24 members created Advancing Access, which provides regular teacher conferences, both online, and in community settings. Its website also includes a large suite of free CPD resources which can be used by teachers and advisers to help them support students’ progression to leading universities. The resources – which include factsheets, webinars, and guidebooks – were designed with the support of teachers to help advise students in making their key stage 4, key stage 5, and university choices. These will be particularly useful for students applying to those more selective universities, where entry requirements are typically higher. 

Here are a few top tips to get you started:

  1. Highly selective courses receive many more applications than they have places available. Universities are therefore more likely to request specific grades and subjects studied at key stage 5 for entry to competitive courses. This helps them to choose students with the required foundation of knowledge and the most talent, potential, and ability to succeed. Our Informed Choices guide provides more information about choosing A level (or equivalent) subjects.
  2. Choosing the right degree subject can be challenging, as there are many subjects available which may not be familiar to your students. Even where students have studied the same subject before, the content of the course at degree level will be different. When choosing a degree subject, encourage your students to consider subjects they have enjoyed and have been good at in the past. They should also consider subjects they will need to enter a particular career or course after university, and subjects they have not studied before, but have looked into and think will suit their strengths.
  3. Admissions staff at universities have an in-depth knowledge of what will make a student successful in a programme of study. They consider whether the student has, or will, achieve the necessary grades for the course, but they will also look for students who are passionate about the subject they want to study. Make sure your student can demonstrate knowledge and interest in the subject through their personal statement.
  4. Many universities consider contextual information and data to identify candidates with the most talent, ability, and potential to excel on their courses, whatever their social or educational background. Although qualifications and predicted grades are a key source of information about academic ability, universities take a range of other factors into account to understand the applicant's achievements in context. This might include things like school or college attended, where a student grew up, whether they are a care leaver, or whether they are the first in their family to enter higher education.
  5. Once offers have been received, students have decisions to make about identifying a firm choice and an insurance choice. Encourage them to take their time and review the reasons why they applied to those universities. Get the student to think about whether the offer is achievable – they need to be realistic, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t aim high. It’s also a good time to make sure they have visited universities to judge whether they want to live and study there. Their insurance choice should always be lower or more flexible than the firm choice.
  6. If they haven’t received any offers, it can be disappointing, but all is not lost. Through UCAS Extra, students who haven’t got offers can apply for other courses until the end of June, and students who already have their results can use Clearing from July.
  7. Make sure there is space set aside at school/college for students on results day, with resources such as computers and phones (or somewhere to charge their mobile), to give them the opportunity to spend time calling universities. They may find that admissions phone lines are busy, so they may have to be patient.

For more information about Advancing Access, visit

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