Use of contextual data


Data and information is made available for Admissions officers to allow them to put the achievements of each individual applicant into context when selecting the most appropriate candidate for a place at the University of St Andrews.

General information

Due to the availability and comparability of data, the use of contextual information will apply to UK applicants only. Contextual information will be collated centrally for all applicants permanently domiciled or seeking asylum in the UK at the point of application, and who have been educated in the UK secondary system, using publicly available information.


  • Evidence-based and relevant to the admissions decision-making process.
  • Individually applied, with each applicant being considered on their own merit.
  • Used only to complement and enhance existing selection mechanisms.
  • Used to provide fairness and equality of opportunity to all applicants.
  • Transparent to applicants and their advisors.
  • Rigorously monitored and subject to audit.

The process will be based on individual applicant details in relation to various national averages. As a result there is no set proportion of applicants who will be flagged. The proportion of applicants who are flagged will vary between academic Schools and from year to year. There is no quota of the number of students who are to be flagged.

Contextual data to be considered

  1. Prior education and potential

    To ensure entrants with the greatest potential are selected for the most appropriate course at the University of St Andrews, we will:

    • consider the performance of the applicant shown through their academic achievements and the educational environment in which this education took place.

  2. Diversity

    The University wishes to ensure that those admitted on the basis of their potential to do well at St Andrews should come from the widest possible cross section of society. To ensure we achieve this we will build diversity factors into our admissions process in the following way:

    • Specific geo-demographic profiles will be looked at using the applicant’s postcode. The University will use the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) for Scottish domiciled applicants and ACORN information for the rest of the UK. SIMD is a governmental postcode look-up tool which identifies areas of disadvantage. If applicants are living in the lowest 40% of the SIMD scale they will have their application flagged. For the rest of the UK we will use ACORN which is also a system that uses individual UK postcodes. ACORN is widely recognised and used by both the public and private sectors. Where a candidate’s postcode falls into ACORN groups four or five (Moderate Means and Hard Pressed) the application will be flagged.
    • We will use the postcode from the applicant’s home address in order to match it against the POLAR3 data set. POLAR3 is a classification of regions into quintiles based on the rate of participation in higher education. Applicants from the lowest two quintiles will be flagged.
    • Due to the difference in data on POLAR3 in Scotland, we will look at the progression to higher education on a school level. Where the proportion of pupils attending higher education from any secondary school is below the national average, applicants from that school will be flagged. 
    • Where a candidate has been looked after or in care for more than three months, their application will be flagged (determined from the UCAS application and subject to later verification checks).
    • Where a candidate has indicated they are a young carer, their application will be flagged (determined from the UCAS application and subject to later verification checks).
    • Where a candidate has indicated they have official refugee status, their application will be flagged (determined from the UCAS application and subject to later verification checks).

  3. Engagement with Higher Education Access programmes prior to application

    In order to ensure the best possible start for undergraduate students who have come from less traditional backgrounds, we will flag up those applicants who have engaged with Higher Education Access programmes before applying to university. We have found that students who take part in such programmes are much more inclined to do well in their university studies and have an increased possibility of graduating with a positive outcome.

    Where a candidate has indicated they have been involved in activities that have been organised to raise aspiration to attend higher education (e.g. Sutton Trust Summer Schools, University of St Andrews Outreach programmes, or government-supported initiatives), the applicant will be flagged (determined from the UCAS application and subject to later verification checks).

Action taken by Admissions

The use of contextual information does not result in either an automatic offer of a place or a lower offer being made to a candidate. All applicants will be required to meet the minimum entrance requirements as set by the academic Schools with the contextual data being used in combination with the principles and selection criteria contained in the admissions policy. Flags will be placed against those applicants who have high potential, show diversity factors or have attended designated access pre-HE programmes. This flagging system will allow those with the greatest potential to be highlighted along with tackling the issue of diversity and inclusivity.

All applications that meet the minimum entrance requirements and contain all the required information will be assessed by an Admissions officer using academic indicators, personal statements and references.

The University is committed to constantly monitoring, updating and improving data sources and decision rules in relation to the use of contextual admissions. Please also refer to our undergraduate admissions policy for further guidance.