A parent’s guide to: Navigating University Admissions

The School Report Blog

A parent’s guide to: Navigating University Admissions


For parents who haven’t experienced university firsthand, understanding the admissions process can feel like venturing into uncharted territory. With terms like UCAS, contextual admissions, and mitigating circumstances thrown into the mix, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. But fear not, this blog will hopefully start to demystify the process and equip you with the knowledge you need to support your child on their journey to university.


The UCAS Application Process

In the UK, most university applications are submitted through UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). This centralised system streamlines the application process, allowing students to apply to multiple universities simultaneously. UCAS guides students through each step of the application, from selecting courses to submitting personal statements and academic references. So, let’s break it down.

Firstly, your child will need to create an online UCAS account. This account serves as the gateway to their university aspirations, where they’ll input personal details and educational background information. As a parent, you might be involved in helping them gather the necessary documents and ensuring accuracy in filling out this information.

Next comes the exciting part – selecting up to five universities or courses. Encourage your child to choose wisely, considering factors like location, course content, and university reputation. This decision can significantly impact their future, so it’s essential to have open conversations about their goals and aspirations.

Now, onto the personal statement – arguably the most crucial part of the application. Here, your child has the opportunity to shine, showcasing their motivations, interests, and relevant experiences. As a parent, you can offer support by providing feedback on drafts and helping them highlight their strengths and motivations and experiences.

Of course, no application is complete without predicted grades and a reference. Your child will need to obtain predicted grades from their current educational institution and secure a reference from a teacher. As a parent, you can assist by ensuring your child stays focused on their studies and communicates effectively with their teachers.

Once everything is in place, it’s time to hit submit! From there, UCAS forwards the application to the chosen universities. As a parent, you can support your child by offering encouragement and helping them stay organized as they await responses.

If your child is applying to Oxbridge (a shortened name for the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge) then there is a useful blog on this site about the specifics of their particular approach which can vary slightly from other universities.


Understanding the Admissions Criteria

Universities consider a range of factors when making admissions decisions. In addition to academic achievement, they also take into account personal statements, predicted grades, and contextual information about the applicant’s background. This holistic approach allows universities to assess applicants based on their full potential, rather than solely focusing on grades. As a university we are looking for a student that will be successful, we don’t want to set anyone up to fail. At Bath we use all the elements of the student’s application including the personal statement. There’s lots of support and guidance online including on Bath’s website on how to make the most of a personal statement.


Contextual Admissions: Levelling the Playing Field

Contextual admissions aim to address disparities in educational opportunities by taking into account the individual circumstances of applicants. This could include factors such as where the student lives, their school performance, income of parents or personal challenges faced by the applicant. By considering these contextual factors, universities can identify students who may have achieved lower grades due to external circumstances. Contextual admissions help ensure that university admissions are fair and inclusive, providing opportunities for students from all backgrounds to access higher education. Many universities offer contextual offers, these are usually a reduction in the expected entry grades, for example at Bath we have a one grade drop in the offer for student meeting our contextual criteria – this could mean a student on a course with a standard offer of AAA only needing to get AAB in their A Levels.


Mitigating Circumstances and Disabilities

In addition to contextual factors, universities also take into account mitigating circumstances and disabilities when assessing applications. If your child has experienced significant disruptions to their education due to illness, family bereavement, or other extenuating circumstances, they can provide this information to universities through the UCAS application. Similarly, students with disabilities or long-term health conditions can disclose their needs and request support during the admissions process. Universities have dedicated support services to accommodate these needs and ensure that all students have equal access to education.


Teacher References

Teacher references play a crucial role in your child’s UCAS application journey. These references provide universities with valuable insights into your child’s academic abilities, personal qualities, and suitability for their chosen course. As a parent, you can support your child by encouraging them to foster positive relationships with their teachers and actively engage in their studies. It’s essential for your child to choose teachers who know them well and can provide a detailed and insightful reference. Teachers can highlight your child’s strengths, achievements, and contributions both inside and outside the classroom, painting a comprehensive picture of who they are as a student and individual. While your child may feel nervous about asking for a reference, reassure them that teachers are there to support and advocate for their academic endeavours. Encourage open communication between your child and their teachers throughout the process to ensure that the reference accurately reflects their aspirations and accomplishments. Ultimately, teacher references serve as a powerful endorsement of your child’s potential and readiness for university.


Supporting Your Child Through the Process

As a parent, your role is crucial in supporting your child through the university admissions process. Start by familiarizing yourself with UCAS and the admissions criteria of different universities. Encourage your child to research courses and institutions that align with their interests and career aspirations. Offer guidance and feedback as they draft their personal statement, highlighting their strengths and unique qualities. Remind them to disclose any mitigating circumstances or disabilities that may affect their application, ensuring that they receive the support they need.

If you or your child have any questions or concerns about the admissions process, there is usually support through your child’s school or college. These professionals can offer valuable guidance and assistance throughout the application journey. In addition there are many resources online through UCAS and individual universities for example at Bath we have a section of our website dedicated to supporting parents during the application process.


Dr Andrew Ross

Andrew was the first in his family to go to university, he got a degree and then a PhD in Chemistry. He is now the Head of Access and Participation at the University of Bath where he leads teams of people who support children to develop the skills and knowledge to make the best choices for them.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/drandrewross/    /    @drandrewross