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What is contextual admissions?

We aim to widen participation and fair access and welcome applications from students of all backgrounds.

Contextual admissions is a university admissions process that takes into consideration an applicant’s individual circumstances and background when reviewing their application, rather than solely focusing on their academic achievements. This means that universities can consider factors such as an applicant’s socioeconomic status, family background, and the quality of the schools they attended when making admissions decisions. The goal of contextual admissions is to create a more diverse student body and provide opportunities for students who may have faced additional challenges in their academic journey.

At Cardiff, our contextual admissions policy aims to widen participation and improve access to Higher Education (HE), and we welcome applications from people of all backgrounds. We use additional information as part of the undergraduate admissions process, taking into account the context in which an applicant has achieved – or will achieve – their qualifications, to provide greater understanding of their potential to study an undergraduate degree programme with us.

What information do we use to help us assess if you should be classed as contextual?

Each university will have its own contextual admissions policy and will use different sets of data to make decisions. We currently use the following indicators when assessing your eligibility:

  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) average household gross annual earnings, based on the home postcode listed on your UCAS application – the lower the average earnings in the area where you live, the more points you will get towards your contextual score
  • POLAR4 (Participation of Local Areas) measures how likely young people are to participate in Higher Education across the UK and shows how this varies by area, so if you live in an area where not many people go to university, you will get points towards your contextual score
  • Welsh, English, Scottish, and Northern Irish indexes of multiple deprivation, based on the home postcode listed on your UCAS application, so those living in the most deprived areas receive more points towards the contextual score
  • Welsh and English high school sixth form performance data, based on the postcode of the school listed on your UCAS applications
  • Welsh and English free school meal rates, based on the postcode of the school listed on your UCAS applications
  • whether or not you have been in care at any point during your life, for example, having lived in a foster home or residential care, also referred to as being a “care leaver” if you are no longer in care – both care leavers and those in care receive contextual points
  • whether or not your parents or guardians have a Higher Education (HE) qualification, like a degree – if they don't have a HE qualification then you receive contextual points.

The “in care” and “parents in HE” data is collected on your application form so you should make sure you include this information on your application. The other indicators are external data sets which are linked to information from your application form, based on your home postcode and school location.

We acknowledge that there are challenges in using some of these datasets so the policy undergoes regular review, to ensure we can update and improve data sources where possible.

How do we use the data collected on your application form to decide if you are contextual?

We use a weighted score for each of the above indicators to create an overall contextual score for our undergraduate applicants. This score is based on a scale of 0-330 with 0-99 being non-contextual (applicant not disadvantaged) and a score of 100 or above signifying indicators of deprivation that demonstrate disadvantage to attainment and access. For example, if you have been in care, you would receive 110 points and automatically be classed as contextual regardless of your score on any of the other indicators.

We use a weighted scale as opposed to yes/no metrics as it provides a more holistic approach to contextual admissions. Using a weighted scale allows us to take account of positive factors alongside disadvantage to create a rounded score. For example, an applicant may be disadvantaged against a single metric but advantaged in multiple others, which would offset the single disadvantaged metric.

Only information received in the original UCAS application can be used to create a contextual score. Information updated or provided after submission cannot be taken into account as a contextual score will already have been applied. Please make sure you thoroughly check your application before submitting and answer every question truthfully. It might feel uncomfortable to disclose certain information, but we can reassure you that this information is kept confidential and won’t negatively impact your application.

Is there anyone else who is classed as contextual?

If you complete any of the following widening participation activities at Cardiff University, you will receive the same consideration as a contextual applicant during the application process, whether you apply in the same year or the subsequent year after your participation in the activity:

  • Confident Futures
  • Discovery Project
  • Pathways to Engineering
  • Pathways to Law
  • Step Up (note that Step Up applicants to BDS Dentistry and MBBCh Medicine are guaranteed interview if the minimum entry requirements are met)
  • Sutton Trust Medicine and Dentistry Summer Schools (note that Sutton Trust applicants to BDS Dentistry and MBBCh Medicine are guaranteed interview if the minimum entry requirements are met).

How do we use the contextual score in decision making?

Where a grade range is advertised for the qualification you are taking, for example, ABB-BBB, the contextual offer is at the lower end of the range and is usually one grade lower than the standard offer. For some qualifications, like BTECs and T Levels, it’s not always possible to reduce the offer by one grade, therefore if no grade range is advertised this means there is no contextual offer for that qualification and everyone who qualifies for an offer will receive the same offer.

For programmes that do not require an interview, audition, or portfolio review:

Score

Action

0-99

No action – standard consideration

100+

Where an applicant is taking or has achieved appropriate qualifications for the course for which they have applied, an offer will be made at one grade lower than the standard offer (typically the lower end of the grade range advertised).

For programmes that require an interview, audition, or portfolio review, excluding Dentistry and Healthcare Sciences programmes, and Medicine (MBBCh):

Score

Action

0-99

No action – standard consideration

100+

Where an applicant is taking and/or has achieved appropriate qualifications for the course for which they have applied the applicant will be guaranteed an interview, audition, or portfolio review.

If following the selection process an offer is to be made, this will be at one grade lower than the standard offer (typically the lower end of the grade range advertised).

For Healthcare Sciences programmes, BSc Dental Therapy and Hygiene, and DipHE Dental Hygiene only:

Score

Action

0-99

No action – standard consideration

100+

Where an applicant is taking and/or has achieved appropriate qualifications for the course for which they have applied the applicant will be given additional consideration in the scoring and selection process which is used for determining those to be invited to interview.

If following the selection process an offer is to be made, this will be at one grade lower than the standard offer (typically the lower end of the grade range advertised).

Please see Dentistry and Healthcare Sciences School policies for more information about contextualisation.

For Medicine (MBBCh) and Dentistry (BDS) programmes only:

Score

Action

0-99

No action – standard consideration

100+

Where an applicant is taking and/or has achieved appropriate qualifications for the course for which they have applied the applicant will be given additional consideration in the scoring and selection process which is used for determining those to be invited to interview.

Please see Dentistry and Medicine School policies for more information about contextualisation.

Frequently asked questions

What do I do if I think I should have been classed as contextual but received the higher advertised offer?

As we use a range of indicators and a weighted score, the majority of applicants to our programmes are not classed as contextual. If you don’t receive a contextual offer it’s likely that either you scored less than 100 in your contextual score or that you are taking a qualification (like a BTEC or a T Level) which does not always allow for a contextual offer.

Do you use the ‘more about you’ questions on the UCAS application form or protected characteristics, in your contextual policy?

At the moment we don’t use the ‘more about you’ questions or protected characteristics (as defined in the Equality Act, such as disability) in our contextual calculations. We’re currently reviewing the policy and the data we use and intend to make some updates in time for 2025 entry. However, it’s still really important that you fill this information in honestly as we may use it to contact you about additional help and support that may be available to you as a student when you join the university, for example, what support is available for disabled students.

Admissions team