Investigate to stand out from the crowd

SPONSORED: Cambridge Assessment International Education examines the best ways students can make themselves stand out to universities

Competition is tough for today’s students, as globalisation means they are fighting for university places with learners from all over the world. The number of students studying abroad almost quadrupled between 1990 and 2014, and the OECD predicts that it will almost double again by 2025 (Reimagine Education: Student Mobility & Demographic Changes, QS).

This means that aspiring undergraduates need to find new ways to make themselves stand out from the crowd and improve their potential to shine in their chosen degree. Evidence suggests that some options at sixth form allow students additional scope to prove they can excel in higher education.

Cambridge Assessment researcher, Tim Gill, sought to discover if any particular qualification better prepares students for university study by analysing the degree outcomes of students and the type of qualification they undertook before entering university.

Gill says his results “suggest that the skills learnt in undertaking a significant project over a long period of time (e.g. planning, research, analysis) may prepare students better for university than subject-based courses only”. In addition to developing skills that support undergraduate study, an academic project can enhance a personal statement on university applications and be discussed at university interviews.

Cambridge International offers a variety of opportunities for the type of project-based qualifications that can provide students with this type of advantage.

The Cambridge International Project Qualification (IPQ) launched in September 2018 was designed for students aged 16 to 19. It is part of the Cambridge Advanced programme of study, and uses skills-based learning to develop cross-curricular abilities that are well regarded by university admissions departments. Students undertake independent research on a topic of their choice. This encourages their intellectual curiosity and develops practical and analytical investigation techniques.

They analyse, evaluate and synthesise their findings into a 5,000-word report – reflecting on their results and conclusions before communicating them. The IPQ is a standalone qualification that can be part of any post-16 curriculum.

Schools can also find project-based assessment within Cambridge Pre-U, as most courses include an extended essay – the Personal Investigation – that gives students another way to prove their ability. Students can choose their essay title, meaning they can follow their own interests and discover more about a subject they might want to study at a higher level.

Cambridge Global Perspectives and Research also includes a one-year Research Report. This is based around the skills they develop on the Global Perspectives course – and is available as a subject in Cambridge Pre-U and Cambridge International AS & A Level.

Both Cambridge Pre-U Personal Investigations and the Cambridge IPQ are marked by Cambridge International. Students often tell us that their Personal Investigation was the most enjoyable aspect of the Cambridge Pre-U course. It is also often a big influencer on their degree choice.

Ashir Mir studied Cambridge Pre-U Business and Management at Lancaster Royal Grammar School. For his Personal Investigation he analysed whether a local hair salon should invest in new equipment to develop its business.

He said: “I developed three main skills: the ability to be concise, to do research, to analyse and evaluate. It allowed me to dive headfirst into a business problem and independently undertake a thorough investigation, using a wide range of skills from presentation to evaluation. Without a doubt, the PI was the most enjoyable aspect of the Cambridge Pre-U Business and Management course.”

Ashir went on to study International Management at the University of Warwick and this year completed an MSc at University of Oxford.

Independent research projects show universities and employers that a student is self-motivated and able to work on their own. They also show where a student’s interests really lie, and reveal far more about an applicant than a list of qualifications.

Students tell us that their project ended up shaping their choice of degree and career, igniting a passion for a subject that they didn’t know they had. And that’s what sets them apart from the competition.

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