Making undergraduate admissions more equitable

We're improving the support young people receive when putting together their university application.

State school applicants with identical grades to their privately-educated peers are less likely to receive an offer from a leading university.

One of the barriers facing students from less privileged backgrounds is the application process - the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) personal statement in particular.

What did we research?

Research by Prof Steve Jones also revealed that applicants from selective and private schools:

  • were able to draw upon more relevant extra-curricular activity;
  • gave more examples of meaningful work experience;
  • made many fewer spelling and grammar errors because they received additional help.

This advantaged those already benefiting the most from educational privilege. Such students edged themselves further ahead of those who benefited the least.

Prof Jones also found that state schools often give counter-productive advice to students writing their personal statement because they do not know what university admissions teams are looking for.

What impact have we had?

Prof Jones's research inspired Dr Michael Englard and Dr Sam Holmes, creators of Causeway Education, to develop the Academic Apprenticeship. This programme - originally designed to support Sutton Trust Summer School students - involves a set of structured activities that enable applicants to:

  • identify and showcase their academic ability;
  • more clearly articulate what they have learned;
  • avoid focusing too much on work-related and extra-curricular activity.

Evaluation of all interventions shows that programme participants become more likely to receive offers from selective universities.

Prof Jones's research is now influencing state school teachers and careers advisers nationwide. Interventions based on his research have benefited thousands of non-traditional university applicants.

Causeway Education's Online System for Completing Applications and References (OSCAR) helps state school students to develop more appropriate personal statements. It also strengthens teachers’ and advisors’ support for personal statement writing.

More than 14,000 students in around 300 schools have now benefited from OSCAR's support.

Prof Jones’s research is also being drawn on as part of ongoing reviews into admissions processes at UK universities.

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