Contextual offers – what are they, and can they help me?

Let’s set the scene: you’re in Year 11, and your teachers keep on talking to you about your options after school. You’re already heading to college to study some A-levels and BTECs and think you might want to go to university after this, but aren’t totally sure yet. You have a look online to see what courses are available, and the university you’re interested in offers the subject you want to study – great! You take a look at the grades you need for the course but see that there are two types of offers, a standard offer and a contextual offer. You wonder “what is a contextual offer, and am I eligible?

This blog post unpicks what contextual offers and contextual admissions are (don’t worry – we will explain these shortly!) and how they could help you earn an offer to study at The University of Manchester.

To begin, it’s helpful to explain what contextual admissions are. Contextual admissions are used by the University to ensure everyone has a fair shot at getting onto their desired course. They do this by looking at the context in which you’re studying and how, in turn, this can have an impact on your grades and your opportunity to take up extracurricular activities or work experience.

All of the programmes and schemes here at Access Manchester, as well as contextual offers, fall under the wider heading of contextual admissions – you must meet certain background (contextual) criteria in order to be eligible. At Manchester, you could be eligible for contextual admissions if you’re a UK student under 21 and:

  • You live in an area or postcode where very few people tend to go to university compared to other areas. You will often hear these areas described as having ‘low progression to higher education’
  • The school or sixth form/college where you took/are taking your GCSEs/A-level equivalent has produced results that fall below the national average over multiple years
  • You have been looked after in care for more than three months

The difference between Access Manchester and contextual offers is that you don’t have to apply for contextual consideration and offers. As long as you fill in the information asked of you on your UCAS form, we’ll do the rest.

If you live in an area with low progression into higher education, our university admissions teams might take a more detailed look at the context of your application and consider the following:

  • When reading your personal statement, they’ll take into account that you may not have had the same access to extracurricular activities or work experience as other students
  • If you’re invited to an interview, they’ll take into account that you may have had fewer opportunities to prepare for questions and practice the different styles of interviews that universities use
  • If your predicted grades (e.g. ABB) are one grade below our standard offer (e.g. AAB) then they might make you an offer that is slightly higher than your predicted grades because these are often not a true reflection of your potential (this is called an aspirational offer)

If you live in an area of low progression into higher education and your school/sixth form has performed below the national average over multiple years, or you’re care-experienced, then you may also be eligible for a contextual offer. A contextual offer is usually 1-grade lower than the standard entry requirements for any given course. Contextual offers are displayed on our website when you search for a course you’re interested in, so you can easily see what you would be offered if you were identified as eligible. There are a few other things you need to bear in mind when it comes to contextual offers:

  • The qualifications and subjects that you’re applying with meet our published entry requirements (e.g. if a course requires Chemistry and Maths you must be taking both of these subjects at A-level)
  • Your predicted grades are within two grades of our minimum entry requirements (e.g. you’re predicted BBB; the standard entry requirements for the course you want to do are AAB)
  • You successfully complete any additional selection requirements for your course, like an interview or an aptitude test (like the UKCAT for Medicine)

Another thing to bear in mind is that the Academic School (the ‘owner’ of your degree programme at the University of Manchester) that you apply to will decide how the offer is lowered, for example you may still be required to attain a specific grade (e.g. an A) in a specific subject (e.g. History) to be accepted onto the course.

One final thing to mention is that the contextual offer scheme only applies to courses with a minimum entry requirement of ABB equivalent. So this would exclude all Nursing courses and all Foundation Year courses, for example.

So, that’s contextual admissions and contextual offers explained. Hopefully this post has made understanding these terms a bit easier, but if you have any more questions our inbox is always open – just email access@manchester.ac.uk. You can find more information and advice, as well as a Frequently Asked Questions section about contextual data, over on this page.