UCAS Clearing: What exactly is ‘contextual data’?


When considering UCAS applications, we look for students with the potential to succeed at SOAS and benefit from the opportunities higher education can provide. 

However, we are aware that some applicants may face more significant barriers and challenges to achieve the grades required to get a place at SOAS.

As well as taking into account your qualifications, reference and personal statement, we also consider the context in which your education has taken place, which is assessed through information you provide in your UCAS application

This is contextual data, used to encourage widening participation; done so that we can make a fair decision on whether to accept an applicant with grades slightly below our standard entry requirements, based on a judgement that they have the potential to succeed at degree level study.

Which information do we use?

Examples of contextual data we may take into account include: 

  • the performance of your school at GCSE;
  • the percentage of students eligible for Free School Meals at your school;
  • whether you would be the first in your family to attend university;
  • whether you have been placed in care during your education;
  • POLAR (Participation of Local Areas);
  • IMD (Indices of Multiple Deprivation).

The POLAR score looks at how likely young people are to participate in higher education across the UK and how this varies by area; while the IMD measure relative deprivation across England, considering factors such as income, employment, crime and barriers to housing. 

How does contextual data affect my application?

Each of these criteria has a threshold, which, if passed, allows us to make ‘reduced offers’ to applicants. 

You may have seen entry requirements on the SOAS website give a range of acceptable grades (e.g AAA-AAB for the BSc Economics). Here is where these ranges come into play.

Ordinarily, an offer will be made at the higher end of these ranges; but if an applicant passes the threshold on two of the above stated criteria, SOAS can make an offer with one reduced grade. That AAA typical offer becomes an AAB offer.

Meeting three of these criteria may mean that you are eligible for an offer where the grades have been reduced by two.

Often, when filling out the UCAS application, applicants will not declare whether their parents attended university or not. Well, if your parents haven’t, then disclosing that information may make an offer more achievable for you.

Julien Boast is Widening Participation Manager (Outreach & Progression) at SOAS University of London.

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