What is contextual admissions?

Wednesday 8 January 2020, UCAS advice

by Binda Patel - Head of Innovation at the Sutton Trust

What is contextual admissions?

Binda Patel - Head of Innovation at the Sutton Trust

A university community should be diverse and represent the full makeup of our society. Universities recognise the value in diversity, so are working hard to ensure they have students from all walks of life on campus. 

Unis know that grades can be influenced by a range of factors, so to make the processes fairer, some unis offer something called contextual admissions. This is where the university considers any barriers you may face, and will either reduce their grade requirements or give extra consideration when deciding whether to give you an offer. 

These considerations may include: 

  • the school you attend
  • where you live
  • if money is tight at home
  • if your parents went to university themselves
  • if you have been in care
  • if you have cared for a family member 

This is not a full list, and the criteria will differ between universities, so it’s important to check. Below are our top tips on how to find out more about contextual offers: 

  • Not all unis make contextual offers, and some only offer them on specific courses – a minefield, we know! University websites are a great place to start your research. They usually have a dedicated page where they explain how they make contextual offers, and what factors they look at when making their decisions. It’s always best to email or call the university if you’re unsure about how they make contextual offers, or have any specific questions.
  • Unis might also list their contextual offers on their UCAS pages, so they’re another great place to do some research.
  • Most unis automatically receive the information they need to decide who is awarded a contextual offer directly from UCAS. Some might need to contact you so you can explain your circumstances on your UCAS form. Always check the application process with your chosen unis to make sure you’ve provided exactly what they need.
  • Your teacher or adviser can highlight your specific circumstances on your reference form, so make sure you let your teacher or other referee know.
  • Sometimes unis will take into account whether you have done an access programme, such as a Sutton Trust Summer School, when making a contextual offer. Make sure you enter this information into your UCAS form, and if you aren’t sure how to do this, contact the university or organisation who ran the programme. 
  • It can feel a bit odd disclosing sensitive information about your personal circumstances, but we want to reassure you that this information is kept confidential, and won’t negatively impact your application.

Finally, if you receive a contextual offer, don’t forget that working hard on your exams is still really important – getting the best grades you possibly can will stand you in good stead for university and beyond!