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5th December 2023

Does the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award actually impact UCAS applications?

Is the beloved Duke of Edinburgh’s award deserving of the hype, or is it about time to accept that it is overrated?
Does the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award actually impact UCAS applications?
Credit: Fas Khan @ Unsplash

If you attended a UK secondary school, chances are you had the Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) award scheme shoved down your throat, especially during the endless assemblies in year nine and ten. For those unfamiliar with the award, it’s like a crash course for young people – throwing them into volunteering, fitness challenges, skill development, and thrilling adventures. It’s so popular (or well-advertised) that more than 323,000 young people have started their DofE award in 2022/23.

It’s the ultimate boot camp for personal growth and leadership, where you camp out in random fields for a few days with your friends – which it isn’t as good as it sounds, trust me.

Back in school, it was like a broken record. Teachers relentlessly praised the scheme, claiming it was the ticket to Russell Group universities, like the University of Manchester. But years later, not once did I bother mentioning my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award in my university applications, and guess what? I still landed offers from Russell Group universities, including the University of Nottingham. Looks like that award wasn’t the golden ticket they claimed it to be.

When I was sending off my applications to universities, I remember teachers explicitly saying how important things like the DofE award and National Citizen Service (NCS) were in applying. They made it sound like it was the deciding factor which could single-handedly tip the scales between two high-achieving candidates with identical grades. Yet, when the time came to write my personal statement, I totally forgot to namedrop that award. Instead, I rolled out this whole spiel about online courses I aced (because, hey, versatility matters), flaunted my part-time job to prove I’m a balanced human, and geeked out about A-level stuff that tied perfectly to the degree I wanted.

Likewise, friends of mine who attend St Andrews didn’t bother mentioning the Duke of Edinburgh award; I mean if St Andrews let that pass, then surely that shows something! Let’s get real here. Sure, the award scheme is a blast for making memories and scoring a few days off school with friends, but when it comes to impressing universities, it’s kind of lacking in the wow factor. This is demonstrated by a spokesperson for the University of Cambridge, who said that although the award does help applicants demonstrate skills such as self-discipline, motivation and time management, “it is more important that people are engaged with their subject.”

And they might be onto something. It feels like teachers are suggesting that students can simply coast through sixth form and college with good grades, but they might be overlooking valuable information. They fail to inform students about additional aspects like volunteering opportunities and online courses that could greatly enhance students’ university applications. But hold on a sec! Suddenly, the Duke of Edinburgh award is like the hero saving the day –  an award students did three years prior, when they were just 13 and 14 years old, could help them secure a coveted spot at a top university. Seriously?

Honestly, if someone had whispered to my 14-year-old self that I’d get into university without ever name-dropping that award, I’d have laughed in their face. We were all guided into thinking that it is the holy grail of high school achievements. And I’ve still not forgotten enduring those camping trips and annoying friends. Yet despite all that, here I am, with a DofE-shaped hole on my CV and still managing to crack into university.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) offers students the opportunity to develop skills like teamwork, resilience, and problem-solving. But seriously, those skills can be gained in far better ways, like diving into work experiences related to desired careers, committing to long-term volunteering, or hustling with a part-time job. Honestly, it makes me think DofE might be a tad overhyped compared to these other experiences that can truly level up students’ skills game.

Sure, I got into all sorts of outdoor activities during DofE and even learned some map-reading skills. But truth be told, it would’ve been a whole lot better if I actually liked all the friends in my group – trust me there’s always one in every group who thinks they know better than most. But let’s face it, I highly doubt any of that would have made a real dent in my application. Everyone and their cat seems to boast about their DofE award on their UCAS applications. So, it would have felt like just another checkbox rather than something that set me apart.

The only time I’ve bothered bringing up the award is in job interviews when I’ve had to talk about teamwork skills. It’s like my ultimate go-to example, and let’s be real, it’s probably going to remain my golden ticket for showcasing teamwork prowess for years to come.

Get this though, there’s apparently Duke of Edinburgh society lurking around here at the University of Manchester. Back in 2020, one of the previous participants claimed they had to haul “16 kg over a mountain” and joked that not many people would sign up for that. And seriously, who in their right mind would?

But let’s give credit where it’s due – the Duke of Edinburgh award does have its perks. It’s a solid way to bond with friends, level up those map-reading skills, have a funny night away from parents, and everything else. But let’s not paint it as the ultimate deal when it comes to university applications.

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