Contextual Offers For Medical School (What You Need To Know)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Contextual offers can present a life-changing opportunity to attend medical school to students who may not have otherwise been admitted.

They aim to contextualise a student as whole: where they come from, what their home circumstances were like and what educational opportunities they might have had while at school.

In this article, I’m going to first cover what a contextual offer actually is, who’s eligible for one and which medical schools offer them- as well as a couple of other key factors for your UCAS application.

What Is A Contextual Offer For Medical School?

If you’ve not come across the term before, you may have no idea what a contextual offer actually is.

A contextual offer for medical school is an offer that calls for a slightly lower standard of academic achievement in order to reflect the challenges in education a student may have had to face. For medicine, this might mean a university asks for AAB rather than the standard AAA offer.

Contextual information about a candidate is used by universities to inform a more holistic judgement of their application.

A contextual information form for medical school

It’s essentially judging that an applicant could have reached the required academic threshold, such as achieving three As at A-level, had they been in the same privileged circumstances as some of the other candidates.

Who Is Eligible For A Contextual Offer?

In order to be eligible for a contextual offer, you generally have to meet a certain set of criteria set out by the university.

The exact eligibility criteria for a contextual offer varies from university to university. Common themes between medical schools include being a care leaver, living in a deprived area, holding refugee status, being a carer yourself or being the first in your family to progress to higher education.

For example, the contextual offer policy for the University of Manchester is as follows:

  • You live in an area of disadvantage or with low progression into higher education (UK students under the age of 21)
  • The school or college where you took/are taking your GCSEs/A-level equivalent has performed below the national average over multiple years (UK students under the age of 21)
  • You have been looked after in care for more than three months
  • You have refugee status

If you meet any of the above, you could be eligible for a contextual admission at Manchester Medical School.

Because each university has its own specific policy, I’d always recommend getting in touch if you think you might be eligible.

This lets you hash out the details with one of their admissions team members so that you don’t get any nasty surprises further down the line.

Do All Universities Have Contextual Offers?

Considering their importance in evening out the playing field when it comes to medical admissions, are contextual offers universally available from medical schools across the UK?

Not all universities give out contextual offers. The vast majority, however, do have some sort of widening participation program. Whether that be contextual offers for disadvantaged students or running medicine courses with a foundation year for those that don’t have the required science grades.

If you think you could be eligible for a contextual offer, to give yourself the best chance of securing a spot on course I’d recommend applying somewhere that would recognise your application’s circumstances.

A medical school’s website is normally a good bet to find their admissions policies or you can always Google ‘name of university + contextual offer.’

As a backup, you’re never going to go wrong by ringing them up to check exactly what they offer and whether you’d be entitled.

If you’re a mature student, another option you might have is to apply with an access to medicine course.

Which Medical Schools Have Contextual offers?

Nearly every medical school has at least some statement on widening participation to medicine. However, not every medical school gives out contextual offers.

The medical schools that have contextual offers are as follows:

Medical SchoolScope Of A Contextualised Offer
AberdeenLower grade requirement of AAB +/- guaranteed interview +/- 10% uplift to UCAT scores
Anglia RuskinLower grade requirement of ABB
AstonLower grade requirement of AAB
BartsPotential lower grade requirement of AAB. They also take contextual information into account to possibly confirm a student’s place if their results have fallen marginally short of their offer
BirminghamLower grade requirement of AAB
Brighton And SussexLower grade requirement of AAB, only two 5s (English & maths) at GCSE required, 30% of interviews are reserved for applicants with contextual data
BristolLower grade requirement of AAB
CardiffThe applicant will be given additional points in the scoring and selection process which is used for determining those to be invited to interview
DundeeLower contextual offer (unspecified)
Edinburgh10% uplift in UCAT and guaranteed invitation to an assessment day
ExeterLower grade requirement of AAC
Hull YorkLower grade requirement of AAB (or ABB If you complete one of their recognised widening participation programmes and make Hull York your firm choice)
Imperial College LondonLower grade requirement of AAA
KeeleLower grade requirement of AAB (or ABB if EPQ grade A or A*)
Kent And MedwayPredicted grades are contextualised against a student’s school average and used for interview selection. KMMS only considers reduced offers of ABB or BBB to applicants from partner schools. However, their standard offer is AAB
LancasterLower grade requirement of ABB
LeedsLower grade requirement of ABB
LeicesterIn borderline cases, contextual markers are reviewed at both the pre- and post-interview stages. Leicester may also give reduced offers to those who have completed one of their progression programmes
LiverpoolEach application is reviewed to determine if it is appropriate to accept reduced GCSE, UCAT or interview performance
LincolnLower grade requirement of AAB
ManchesterLower grade requirement of AAB / ABB. Contextual assessments are also taken into account when considering applicants’ personal statements and interview performances
NewcastleLower grade requirement of ABB (or BBB if the student is a member of Newcastle’s pathways to medicine program)
NottinghamLower grade requirement of AAB
OxfordApplicants from the most disadvantaged backgrounds will be strongly recommended to be shortlisted for interview
PlymouthLower grade requirement of AAB. ABB is accepted for applicants who are part of the UKWPMED scheme
SheffieldLower grade requirement of AAB
SouthamptonLower grade requirement of AAB
St AndrewsLower grade requirement of AAB
St George’sLower grade requirement of ABB
Central LancashireA reduced entry tariff for eligible students (unspecified)
University College LondonLower grade requirement of AAB

I didn’t include a couple of medical schools on this list because despite giving out ‘contextual offers’ there wasn’t any difference in the academic requirements or interview performance required from an applicant!

Both Newcastle and Kent And Medway stand out as the only medical schools that have the potential to accept a candidate with BBB at A-level.

Aberdeen is the only medical school I found in my research that actually gives your UCAT score a boost. So if you’re struggling to find where to apply with a low UCAT score they’d definitely be worth a look.

Exeter also gets an honourable mention by being the only medical school that accepts a C at A-level.

Why Do Contextual Offers Exist?

There is an incredibly important reason that contextual offers actually exist:

Contextual offers exist in order to try and provide equal opportunities to students who traditionally would not have been able to study medicine. They reflect the fact that each candidate is applying from a unique set of circumstances which are not always conducive to scholastic achievement.

The medical profession has traditionally been filled by the upper and middle classes.

A doctor examining a patient’s eyes

This is almost a natural result of the stringent academic demands for admission, which favours private school students or those who can afford personal tutors, the requirement for work experience (which is far easier to acquire when you have doctors in the family) and generally the long and expensive training pathways demanded by medicine.

However, as has now been recognised, having a one-dimensional medical cadre is a real weakness for the profession.

Doctors should reflect the extreme diversity of their patient base- not just as a point of pride but because it objectively translates to superior patient care.

Are Contextual Offers Automatic?

If you think that you might be eligible for a contextual offer from a medical school, is there anything specific that you have to do? Or will you get one automatically?

Most medical schools are able to automatically allocate contextual offers from the information they receive on a student’s UCAS form. A small number may need you to fill out some additional paperwork or they may contact you to clarify your personal circumstances.

If there is the option to fill out an additional form to highlight your circumstances to a university then I would.

Although they should be able to get all the information they need from your UCAS form, it would be a massive shame to miss out on a lower offer because they missed a key aspect of your application.

Whether or not a medical school wants you to do any additional paperwork should all be detailed on a university’s website- so I’d always do a quick search before submitting your UCAS application.

Final Thoughts

In my humble opinion, medicine is a profession that needs to do more to open its doors to less advantaged applicants.

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of great work already ongoing.

In my humble opinion, every university with a widening participation program is doing exactly the right thing.

However, I do think that despite the progress made so far, there’s still more that needs to be done. Which I why I think contextual offers are another step in the right direction.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.