How your EPQ can make your uni application stand out

student working on laptop

Taking the EPQ alongside your A-levels has many benefits, as these university experts explain

Doing an EPQ is a stepping stone into university study. By taking on this project alongside your A-levels, you’ll develop your research, critical thinking and time management skills.

You’ll also become a more independent learner - which is a core skill required for any university degree.

It’s something that Dr Emma Thompson, who helps students at the University of Southampton in making the transition from school or college, has seen plenty of times.

“Students with an EPQ tend to transition much better to uni-level learning and settle in better academically,” she says.

What is the EPQ?
The Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) is a standalone qualification for students aged 16 to 19. It involves creating either a 5,000-word research piece or a practical project, known as an artefact, with a 1,500-word write up.

Gaining an EPQ can also give your application a boost. “We look on the EPQ favourably,” says Fred Binley, who works at the University of Southampton as a schools and colleges liaison officer. 

“We were actually the first university to formally recognise the EPQ in our admissions offers. We give EPQ students an alternative offer so that, if they miss an A-level grade, we can admit them on the basis of their EPQ grade”. 

Plenty of perks, then, but how to make the most of them? Read on for Fred and Emma’s insights into getting the best from the EPQ opportunity.

How can your EPQ support your university application?

There’s more to doing an EPQ than simply gaining another qualification, says Emma. The experience of working in the required way can also help you get a headstart on your university education.

“Our data, collected across five faculties, shows that there are higher proportions of EPQ students progressing onto the second year of uni and finishing with a better grade," she says. 

“The qualification helps them develop the independent research and project management skills that they’ll need including time management, perseverance, decision-making and proactiveness.”

Completing the qualification can also demonstrate the attributes that universities are looking for in a student.

“An EPQ is a great way of showing why you want to study a course and how you’re a good fit for it,” says Fred. 

“It also gives the student something extra to bring up at interview that demonstrates a passion for the subject and the qualities that we look for.”

student working on laptop

Does an EPQ guarantee that you’ll get in?

No it doesn’t, and universities aren’t allowed to pick one student over another based on it.

“The EPQ doesn’t give students a direct edge, but we do accept it as a qualification, which is why we make alternative offers – and it might be that additional ingredient that gets a student called to interview,” says Fred. 

“We value it highly because it helps students develop the skills and competences needed for a degree.”

Emma’s tips for doing well in your EPQ

Part of Emma’s job is to support students who are working on their EPQ. Here’s her summary of the University of Southampton’s top 10 tips for EPQ success. 

  1. Select a topic you’re excited and curious about 
  2. Aim to explore a narrower topic in-depth 
  3. Choose an appropriate methodology 
  4. Be critical and seek reliable sources of information 
  5. Keep track of your time with mini-deadlines 
  6. Stay grounded when hitting obstacles
  7. Write first and edit later
  8. Keep a note of references to cite as you go
  9. Use the evidence to come to your own bold conclusions 
  10. Make a note of your decisions so you’re ready to review them later

How should you present your EPQ in your Ucas application?

So, an EPQ can give some added weight to your university application and there are several ways in which you can highlight it.

“Students can use their EPQ as a hook to discuss their interest in the course, use it to demonstrate their skills, competencies and wider reading, and of course discuss it at interview,” says Fred. 

Effectively, it’s a powerful element to add to your personal statement, as well as a useful addition to your qualifications list.

The subject you choose can also provide an elegant way to demonstrate a wide range of interests.

“I once supported a dance student who wanted to produce choreography, but she was also interested in biology and medicine,” says Emma.

“We found that she could combine these disciplines by studying how biological processes can be addressed through dance.”

Should you be doing an EPQ if you haven’t started one already?

If you haven’t heard of the EPQ, or you haven’t decided to do one, then don’t panic. As Emma points out, “it’s not for everyone” and not every school or college offers it. 

It’s perfectly possible to have a high-quality university application without an EPQ, and there are many other ways to demonstrate the skills and qualities that will make you an attractive candidate.

But if you are taking the EPQ, these tips from Emma and Fred should help you complete a successful project and take full advantage of your qualification when applying for uni. 

To find out more, The Student Room has a dedicated forum where you can view frequently asked questions and learn from students who have taken the qualification themselves.

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