THE BLOG
11/03/2015 07:01 GMT | Updated 10/05/2015 06:59 BST

How Having a Ball Could Help Get You Into Uni

Traditionally, preparing students for university meant kitting them out with the right books, a basic selection of home wares and enough recipes to make sure they don't live on beans on toast for the first term.

But once they're packed up and ready to go, many students still face a giant leap between the work they were doing at A-level and the work expected of them at university. No matter how hard they've worked to get their best grades at A-level, they may find themselves ill prepared for higher education, which involves a lot less hand holding and a lot more flying solo.

This is where exam boards can do more to prepare young people for university than simply ensuring that they get the A-level grades they deserve. The Extended Project Qualification (EPQ for short), which is offered by a number of exam boards including AQA, is best thought of as a practice run for A-level students facing the harsh reality of a degree.

And, trust me, they're a lot more exciting than they might sound...

Students have the freedom to work on a project about any topic they like. It's about being self-motivated, creative and curious. Once they have chosen their final idea, they plan, research and develop it to their heart's content.

The end result can be something practical, such as an event, performance or product, or a written report. In the past, students have recreated the Northern Lights in a lab. One student even created and performed a song for 'Wicked' after the student felt the award-winning musical had something missing. Some students have thrown charity balls and fashion shows.

In doing this, students get to practice the research and independent learning which will be expected of them by their lecturers.

We know that one of the reasons students enjoy the EPQ so much is that it allows them to explore a topic that they are passionate about in greater depth and detail. After all, that's what a degree is about; taking a topic that you're passionate about, or interested in pursuing as a career, to the next level.

Over 300,000 students a year are choosing to do an EPQ - and there is strong evidence to show that those students settle better into undergraduate study.

Not only does the EPQ help students get ready for university, it can also help them get into university. Let's do the maths: an EPQ currently gives up to 70 UCAS points which is equivalent to a whole AS-level plus 10 points. In 2016, an EPQ is going to be worth even more when compared to an AS-level.

Top universities such as Southampton and Leeds are giving EPQs the recognition they deserve. The University of Southampton rewards students taking the EPQ by making an alternative offer alongside the traditional offer for some subjects.

The University of Leeds "welcomes the ability to work and think independently and the tenacity that students with the EPQ bring to the institution." In fact, their School of Fine Art now includes EPQs in their offers to applicants.

The case for the EPQ being more widely recognised is strong: universities like them and schools that offer them can be safe in the knowledge that they've done everything to prepare their students for university life. Most importantly, students enjoy them.

Not only do they count towards the points needed to get into universities, but they also prepare students for their degrees. It's a studious way to kill two birds with one stone - and one that I hope more and more schools will embrace, and universities will reward.