Q. My school is keen for my daughter to complete the Extended Project Qualification but I’m unsure whether this is the best use of her time. I have heard it will help in her university applications, can you explain how? Julie, Oxfordshire.
For those who are unaware of just what an EPQ is, it can be thought of like a mini thesis. It presents pupils, usually in Year 12, with a chance to pursue a topic of study, which is totally of their own choosing and unconstrained by an exam syllabus. There are a number of factors that have led to its popularity in recent years.
In the first instance, there can be little doubt that the desire to secure places at a leading Russell Group university is the key factor that motivates pupils to pursue it as a course of study. A research report from the 1994 group of universities indicated that, ‘A large majority of departmental admissions tutors expect to recognise it as a positive attribute when selecting among applicants with similar levels of achievement (both high fliers and those at the borderline).’ With fierce competition amongst schools for places at the best universities, the EPQ is becoming one way in which pupils can stand out from the crowd.
The EPQ also allows pupils to do something totally different and outside of the mainstream of their in-class subject choices. It gives pupils an opportunity to explore fields of study not open to them in the usual A-level subject choices. For pupils wishing to pursue degree courses in fields such as medicine, engineering and architecture, an EPQ gives them the chance to prove their enthusiasm and interest in these subjects. Even EPQs connected to a mainstream subject open up a wealth of choice to a pupil, who is able to explore the subject beyond the confines of a fixed exam syllabus. Some pupils choose not to write an EPQ report but instead, make something, compose or perform a piece of music or produce a piece of art.
With exam reform at both GCSE and A-level now in motion and schools under continued pressure, not only to maintain and improve exam results, but also to equip their pupils with that little extra something when it comes to university applications, we should not expect to see interest in the EPQ wane anytime soon. On the contrary, it may come to be a key part of the sixth-form pupil’s academic and personal profile.