How Informed Choices can help support access to selective universities

Last month, the Russell Group launched a new interactive website to host its Informed Choices guide. The website explains how subject choice at school is important for young people in progressing to university and it is embedded as a key strand in the Advancing Access resources. It provides personalised information for young people enabling them to see which subjects are most useful for the degrees they are interested in and to test various combinations of A-levels, to see which degrees these open up.

Generally speaking, there are no “right” or “wrong” A-level (or equivalent) subjects in terms of progression to university, rather the intention of Informed Choices is to provide information on essential and useful subjects for different degree courses. Which subjects are the right ones to pick will depend on the individual student, and their ambitions and interests. If a young person wants to take Anthropology, Law or Psychology at university for example, subject requirements at school or college tend to be pretty flexible, but in other areas, such as medicine or most science degrees, subject requirements tend to be more specific with universities specifying one, two or even three required subjects for entry.

For many degrees at selective universities, some prior knowledge or specific skills are vital to make sure young people can succeed on campus and after graduation. But the extent to which subject choices made at school or college can impact on university options isn’t always appreciated.

Before launching the Informed Choices website, we tested it with hundreds of year 10 pupils and their teachers in a range of different schools. We asked teachers and young people what they thought about how subject choice at school or college might affect the chances of successfully progressing to university. Our survey found the difference between teachers’ views and those of their students was striking: whilst teachers ranked subject choice as more important than meeting grade offers, writing a strong personal statement, or a good performance in an interview or audition, young people considered it to be less important than these other factors.

After using the website, the overwhelming majority of young people said they found it useful and 93% of teachers said they would recommend it to colleagues or students.

By providing information specific to young peoples’ differing circumstances, we hope the new Informed Choices website will prove to be a useful tool for teachers and advisers to improve understanding amongst their students about why subject choice at school or college matters for their future life chances. In turn, this should help to improve young peoples’ chances of making a successful university application.

The Informed Choices website is currently running in open beta phase and we are seeking feedback from young people, teachers, advisers and other interested parties to enable us to refine and improve our guide over the coming months before the new academic year begins – so please do get in touch with your comments.


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