In this blog post, he shares his story from the Manchester Access Programme, what you need to know before applying, and how to check if you are eligible for a contextual offer.
To set the scene, most, if not
all, universities will commit to Widening Participation and Equality standards.
They will want to recruit students from all backgrounds, regardless of
education or social background, as it evens the playing field and gives
students who might not otherwise have had the chance to consider university as
an option. University access schemes have therefore been invented to target and
support students from underrepresented backgrounds in higher education.
I personally graduated from the
University of Manchester’s ‘Manchester Access Programme,’ but there are similar
schemes offered by other universities within the UK, such as Newcastle, UCL,
LSE, Sussex, Bristol, and others. They all have different names and support
offerings, so it is best to not make any sweeping generalisations and research
further if they interest you.
I found out and applied for the
'Manchester Access Programme' (also known as MAP) in 2016 and started it in
2017 alongside completing my AS and A-Levels. It's a scheme designed to help
local Year 12 students gain a place at a research-intensive university in the
UK, and helps to prepare you for life as a university student and support your
UCAS applications – but more on this later.
To be eligible, I had to meet all
the essential criteria, and at least one priority criteria (these will vary
depending on the programme or scheme you’re looking at):
The priority criteria included:
They also took the following
extenuating circumstances into account:
I applied to MAP in December 2016
and found out I'd been selected in February 2017. In March, there was the
Launch event - where all the applicants gathered in a massive lecture hall on
campus to find out about the programme, university courses, admissions, and
This was the first time I'd ever stepped foot inside a
university, so I was excited but also nervous. Due to my background and
upbringing, I maintained the mindset that I had to grab and fully embrace every
opportunity available to me, and that’s exactly what I did.
From April to May, there were
different 'research and referencing skills workshops' we could attend to build
up credits to graduate from the programme. You needed over 100 credits in
total, with each event or task given between 5-20. Without realising at the
time, these introductory sessions were useful touchpoints to remember when
later starting university and completing assignments.
I then met with my designated
Academic Tutor, a Professor from the Drama department as I'd applied for the
'General Strand' and was interested in studying Drama, to speak about my
academic assignment. This was one I had to ideate myself and was the toughest
part of the programme – it was 1,500 words and needed to be Harvard Referenced and
use multiple ‘peer-reviewed’ sources.
It was my first taste of
university-level writing and referencing. I submitted it 8 minutes before
midnight on the final day. Thankfully, my personal circumstances and timekeeping
skills have come a long way since then. I worked on this assignment over the
summer before submitting it in August after my AS Level exams.
As it turns out, this comparative
essay on the devising theatre practices of theatre practitioners Frantic
Assembly and Punchdrunk, achieved a ‘Distinction’ grade. I, and the people
around me, never really viewed myself as an ‘academic’ type. I always believed
my grades to be rather average and much preferred hands-on and practical
This result came as quite a surprise and helped to boost
my confidence in my own abilities, which possibly helped steer me to achieve a
first-class university degree some years later.
In July, the University Life
module was held where all the applicants got to meet up and attend workshops
and teambuilding exercises together, with the options of attending a
'University Ball' and staying in the student dorms overnight.
It was fun and one of the more
memorable highlights of the programme. I still follow some of the people I met
there on Instagram to this day. It’s always nice to see, like myself, how far
they have come and what they are getting up to now. It’s good to keep in touch
with people like this too, as you never know when your paths may cross again.
After all the modules and
submitting your academic assignment, building up enough credits, everyone who
successfully completed MAP could submit a Decision Manchester application form
to the University of Manchester.
This meant that we could find out which course we'd
receive an interview or offer for at Manchester, before then submitting our
official UCAS application. It is also here where I was offered a contextual
offer 2 grades lower than what typical applicants would've received.
The Student Ambassadors assisting
with running the programme also gave useful tips on how to improve your
application, should you decide to go somewhere else, or study something else
entirely, instead. Speaking of which, by this point, I'd realised that while I
loved Drama, I wasn't convinced I wanted it to be my entire career.
So, after receiving my Decision
Manchester offer, I made applications for Media and Communications courses
elsewhere, ultimately settling on the University of Sussex.
While Manchester was a prestigious
Russell Group university, I also found it important to factor in the university
culture, location, student societies, alumni, and teaching styles. Manchester
didn’t offer any media-related courses, and Sussex felt like a much better fit
for my personality.
This decision turned out to be a
fantastic one. But everyone is different, as is everyone’s reasons for wanting
to attend university in the first place – so it’s important to keep these
things in mind.
So, did I go to the University of
Manchester for my undergraduate student? No. Did I go to university elsewhere?
Yes. But do I regret spending all that time on the Manchester Access Programme?
Actually, no. And here’s why.
I gained a lot of insight into
university life, the standard of education, and the dedication required, and
got to meet and speak to so many people I otherwise would never have met. It
was a real eye-opening experience, and if it weren't for it, I might've decided
to study Drama at Manchester or elsewhere anyway and might've really loved it,
or hated it – I guess we’ll never know.
It changed the trajectory of my life massively. Most
importantly, this experience gave me the extra insight to help me make the
all-important decision for myself. I'm really grateful for that.
Despite being a First-Generation
Scholar, the first in my family to attend and graduate from university, I also believe
the experience gave me an extra step up on students starting their first year
at the same time as me. I already knew what Harvard referencing was, could
navigate my way around a library and academic journals to find readings, and
had already begun to develop my academic writing and tone of voice.
I would recommend looking into
programmes like this from universities in your area, regardless of if you are
interested in applying for university or not, as it gives you an important
taster of the options that truly are available to you, regardless of your
Who knows, you might walk away
from it never wanting to step foot inside a university again, and take up an
apprenticeship instead? I believe there are no ‘wrong’ career decisions or
routes, just experiences that serve as redirections to where we truly belong
and can make our strongest impact.
To find out more about the different types of careers and career routes available to you, as well as their entry requirements, search the GetMyFirstJob website by Industry Sectors, Job Categories, Employers, and more.
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