University Tips Blog
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A headshot image of the author, Rachel Brookes

by Rachel Brookes

Widening Participation Officer at Harper Adams University

posted on 2 Jan '24

A guide to contextual university admissions

It is important that every young person has a fair chance at securing a place at a university, regardless of their background. Contextualised offers help with this, and here is how.

What is a contextualised offer?

A contextualised offer is an alternative entry offer to what is regularly advertised by the university, which is based on the social background of the applicant. This could lead to a lower grade offer, or other help, such as work experience reductions.

What are contextualised offers based on?

There are various factors considered by universities. One of these is based on home postcode data, looking at how disadvantaged that area is and the higher education participation within that postcode area.

Another factor is around the individual and their circumstances, such as whether they were in receipt of free school meals, are from a low-income household or where parents have not been in higher education. This factor also considers other personal circumstances, including having a disability, being in care, or being a refugee. Universities also look at school level indicators, such as GCSE averages within that area.

Then finally, universities will run contextualised schemes, in which a successful long period of engagement with the university and that young person could make them eligible for a contextualised offer.

How do I know if students will be eligible for a contextualised offer?

Universities will openly advertise their contextualised offer scheme on their webpages. It may be located on different areas on the website, depending on the university, so a general search on their page for ‘contextualised offers’ might work best.

Otherwise, navigate to the admissions pages or the ‘how to apply’ page and look out for the words ‘access’, ‘contextualised admissions’ or ‘offers’. If you can’t see anything that way, then email the universities admissions or widening participation teams and they will be able to help you out.

Universities will usually have an online form for students to fill in with basic details, such as their home and school address. There may also be other tick boxes for extra information collection. Then the access teams in the university will check their details and let them know if they are eligible for a contextualised offer and what that offer might be.

Will people know students have received a different offer?

Only the university will know if the student has a different offer, so it’s entirely up to them if they choose to tell anyone.

If students are concerned about achieving the entry requirements that the university is asking for, it is always worth them exploring eligibility for a contextualised offer. This system is in place to help everyone access university, but if they find that they’re not eligible for a contextualised offer, their eligibility check may lead on to other advice and help that they may not know about, such as alternative courses or work experience sessions!

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