Why gaining experience is important

Universities make a limited number of offers for places on their courses and the competition is often strong. Many courses will have particular entry requirements, usually including specific subjects and minimum grades at post-16. Some courses may have further entry requirements, such as aptitude tests (e.g. BMat, LMat) or work experience in a professional environment (e.g. medicine).

Clearly, it is important to be aware of any entry requirements and ensure that you have these in place before you apply. For each course you are considering, you should look at the relevant university website for details. However, to get you started, the following links provide a general overview.

UCAS  Complete University Guide

When choosing which applicants to make an offer to, universities will of course ensure that minimum requirements are met, but they will look at factors beyond this too. In particular, they will want to see evidence that you are passionate about your subject, that you have read beyond the school curriculum and that you have engaged with the university environment.

You may have already done some of the above, but there are lots of opportunities to gain experience ahead of your application, especially in Year 12 and 13. To help you find out more, we have included details on a range of further engagement opportunities, including university summer schools, volunteering and work experience.


Subject engagement

One of the most important reasons to gain experience is to showing evidence that you are about your subject and that you have read beyond the school curriculum. For example, the University of Oxford Admissions Team give the following guidance:

“We understand that not everyone has the opportunity to do work experience or to go travelling so these activities are not a requirement for any of our courses. Tutors won’t be impressed by your connections, or the stamps in your passport, but they will be impressed by how you’ve engaged with your subject.”

As a starting point to help you engage with your subject, we have further engagement materials for 18 different subject areas. These include videos, readings, podcasts and activities that you can try. You can access these via link below.

Subject experience


Summer schools

A summer school is a course that is run by a university for a week or two during the summer school holidays. These are often residential, with pupils staying in student accommodation on campus. They typically offer intensive tuition in a certain subject, combined with extracurricular activities.

There are many benefits to attending summer schools, including:

  • gaining experience of campus life
  • working out whether the host university might be the right one for you
  • studying a subject beyond the school curriculum
  • meeting new peers and making new friends
  • strengthening your UCAS application.

Another major benefit of summer schools is that they can create a connection between you and the university. For example, you may get to know some of the teaching staff for your course. As well as this, under certain circumstances, universities may give preference to applicants that have attended one of their summer schools.

Summer schools are most commonly targeted at students in Year 12, but there are options for younger students too. Because places are limited, you will usually need to apply in October or November for a programme the following summer, so make sure you are organised in advance.

You can find a wide range of summer school opportunities online and each university will usually run their own schemes. To get you started, though, we have included links for a few of the best-known summer schools below.

Sutton Trust Summer Schools

Realising Opportunities

Nuffield Research Placements


Volunteering and work experience

As noted above, certain courses such as medicine and law may have specific entry requirements such as aptitude tests and work experience. Other vocational courses such as fashion or music are likely to want to see that the subject plays a role in your life outside school.

However, even for courses where you may not need to show extra-curricular engagement, university admissions teams will scan UCAS applications for extracurricular activities – including volunteering and work experience and volunteering – to help distinguish between pupils with the same grades.

There are many benefits to undertaking extra-curricular activities, including:

  • engaging with your subject outside school
  • showing your motivation and resilience
  • demonstrating transferable skills, e.g. leadership and communication
  • showing that you have made an informed choice

While these benefits will help your UCAS application, we should warn you that their impact is sometimes overstated. It is very rare for UK universities to place more weight on an applicant’s extra-curricular activities than their academic track record. And some of the most selective universities explicitly say that they pay little attention to extra-curricular activities.

Volunteering and work experience programmes are most commonly targeted at students in Year 10 to Year 13, but there are options for younger students too. Because places are limited, you will usually need to make a competitive application, including a CV or personal statement.

You can find a wide range of volunteering and work experience opportunities online and each university often work with partners to deliver targeted schemes. To get you started, though, we have included links for a few different programmes:


Student Ladder

Do It