Realising Opportunities (RO) provides support during post-16 studies to develop the skills to be successful at university.

RO students benefit from increased information, advice and access to some of the country’s leading research intensive universities. Students accepted on to RO follow a programme which ensures they are better equipped for university life and what research intensive universities can offer.

You can watch a 2 minute video which explains more about the Realising Opportunities programme, or you can scroll down to read more below.

  • RO has enabled me to study my dream course at a Russell Group University

    Joe, Former RO student

  • My Realising Opportunities highlight was going to different events … and having the opportunity to try new things, and gain the experience of what student life is like

    Rushaa, Former RO student

  • I had no idea what a research intensive university was before taking part in RO

    Raelle, Former RO student

  • RO really taught me new skills that I can take to university and everywhere in life

    Nawaal, Former RO student

  • My UCAS application was much stronger, but more importantly I feel I gained valuable skills that could be transferred to university

    Robert, Former RO student



Applications will open in January 2021


Realising Opportunities (RO) supports very able students from backgrounds which are underrepresented in higher education (HE). We use the eligibility criteria listed below to ensure that the programme works with these students.

To be eligible to apply for a place on the Realising Opportunities programme you must be a year 12 student attending a school/college which is participating in RO. If you are unsure whether your school is participating, please ask your tutor or head of sixth form/college.

Please note: Schools participating in RO will be provided with a Student Application Key which allows students to access the online application system.

In order to be eligible to apply for the Realising Opportunities programme students must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Attend a state-funded school/college which is currently working with an RO university to deliver the RO Programme
  • Have achieved at least five grade A*–B (9–6) at GCSE (or equivalent, eg GNVQ, BTEC certificate); if this does not include English Language and Mathematics you must have achieved at least a grade C (4) in these subjects†
  • Be a Home registered student or expect to be by the time you apply for higher education. If you are not a Home registered student, but are classed as an asylum seeker, please see below for further informationⱽ

Students must also meet at least two of the following criteria†:

  • Live in a neighbourhood which has a low progression rate to higher education or an area which has a high level of financial, social or economic deprivation. This is defined by home postcode‡
  • Come from a home where neither parent attended university in the UK or abroad. (If one or more parent is currently studying their first degree, or graduated from their first degree within the last five years, an application will still be considered)
  • Be in receipt of or entitled to discretionary payments/16-19 bursary/Pupil Premium at school/college
  • Be in receipt of or entitled to free school meals, or have been entitled to them at a point in the last six years
  • Be attending or have attended a school/college§:
    • that is performing below the national average for 5+ A*-C/9-4 or equivalents including 9-4 in both English and Mathematics or below the national average Attainment 8 score per school or
    • which is performing below the national average at key stage 5, or
    • where there is higher than the national average number of students eligible for free school meals

At the point in time the student applies to the RO Programme.

Or alternatively meet the following:

  • Be living in, or have lived in, local authority care or be a young carer¥

† If students do not meet the prior attainment outlined in step 1 or at least two of the criteria outlined in step 2, but have experienced a period of disrupted education, their application may still be considered on an individual basis (except in extreme circumstances, disruption caused by the Coronavirus pandemic will not be considered). Disruptions considered include, but are not limited to, students who:

- are estranged/living independently from their families.
- are experiencing/have experienced significant family issues
- have a disability
- have a health condition
- are from Gypsy, Roma or Traveller communities
- are Refugees
- are the children of military families


Extreme circumstances linked to Coronavirus which would be considered are:

- The student has experienced serious illness and spent a prolonged period in hospital as a result of Coronavirus
- The student has had significant caring responsibilities as a result of Coronavirus (e.g. caring for someone extremely clinically vulnerable/shielding)
- The student has suffered a close family bereavement due to Coronavirus
- Coronavirus has created or exacerbated a very difficult or dangerous living situation


‡ A neighbourhood with low progression rates to higher education is defined by home postcodes which are in POLAR4 quintile 1 and 2. More information on the POLAR classification can be found at An area which has a high level of financial, social or economic deprivation is defined by home postcodes which are in the 30% most deprived wards within the Index of Mass Deprivation (IMD). For more information on IMD please see

§ National averages used are based on all schools in England:

Key Stage 4:

- 5+ 9-4/A*-C or equivalents including 9-4 in both English and Mathematics – 64.6%
- Attainment 8 score per school – 46.7%

Key Stage 5:

- Average point score per A level entry – 33.09%
- Average point score per academic entry – 33.25%
- Average point score per applied general entry – 29.70%
- Average point score per tech level entry – 32.32%
- Free school meals: 15.9%


¥ Those defined as living in, or who have lived in, local authority care are those who are being looked after by their local authority, either living with foster parents/other family members such as grandparents, at home with their parents under the supervision of social services, in a residential children’s home or in another residential setting such as school or secure unit, or someone who has experienced a period of three months in the care of the local authority within the last ten years.

Those defined as young carers are those who under the age of 18 who help look after someone in their family, or a friend. There is no time limit on the amount of care they provide for their dependents, this is just above and beyond what is normally expected.

ⱽ Those defined as asylum seekers are classed as international students and are therefore required to pay international fees for undergraduate/postgraduate courses at UK higher education providers. Asylum seekers are also not eligible for Student Finance. However, asylum seekers are able to apply for a Sanctuary Scholarship which, if eligible, may offer support towards the costs of higher education. Realising Opportunities would therefore welcome application enquiries from students who are eligible to apply for Sanctuary Scholarships. To make an enquiry about applying to Realising Opportunities, asylum seekers are required to have a discussion with the RO Central Team before submitting a Realising Opportunities application 


Taking part in RO will give you access to:

A local launch virtual event with your host university to celebrate your place on the RO programme, get you started, and meet university representatives and other students taking part in the RO programme.

Experiences and support to help you make an informed choice about higher education and research intensive universities.

A chance to develop your skills in analysis, critical thinking, evaluation and research through taking the RO Academic Skills Module.

Online support through which you can get answers to your questions from both current university students who have been in your shoes and staff from our RO universities.

A Virtual Student Conference where you have the chance to meet others from across the country taking part in RO and representatives from all of the RO universities.

A wide range of online events and activities at the RO Partner universities.

Alternative offers from the Partner RO universities which can be up to two grades lower than the typical offer.^

skills4uni An online study skills challenge and multiple choice quiz which will help you develop your planning and independent research skills, as well as providing an insight into studying at university.

^please see the Recognition Guides on the RO student resources page for examples of course exemptions.

The Benefits

By taking part in the RO Programme you will benefit from the following:

Additional Consideration

All RO universities will give additional consideration to your UCAS application

Alternative offer

The majority of RO universities will give you an alternative offer worth up to two A level grades lower
Please refer to the Recognition Guide on the Resources page for more information about this.

Access to careers information

You will have access to professionals who will offer you career advice and information


You can find some examples of previous RO events below to help you understand the kinds of events available to RO students:

    BA Design Degree Show Tour

    BA Design Degree Show Tour

    Location: Goldsmiths, University of London

    Information: RO students discovered what creative final year undergraduate Design students have researched, developed and designed in their final year of study at Goldsmiths, University of London. Guided tours were available throughout the day.
    An excerpt from the exhibition blurb: It is a space of connection and synthesis, one in which opposites work through that tension to discover, create and question design. This involves our students in a dynamic process, which is arrested and captured in our annual degree show. And we invite you to share this space; reflect, initiate, mediate, prompt, recast, converge, interrupt your own ways of thinking about our world, and taking action to make it better.
    Who attended the event: this event was open to RO students and current undergraduate students at Goldsmiths, University of London.

    Post 16 Summer School

    Post 16 Summer School

    Location: University of Sussex

    Information: For the Summer School, students chose 1 subject to study from the choice of Chemistry, Physics, Maths, History, English, Media Practice, Law or Psychology. This is event was a great opportunity for students to gain degree level insight into their chosen academic subject by attending key note lectures as well as workshops on revision techniques and HE finance. Attendees stayed in the halls of residence to get a real feel for student life. Alongside this, students also experienced the social side of university with a taster Student Union societies night, cooking on a student budget session, and a chill out and pizza night at the Student Union.
    Who attended the event: Year 12 and Year 13 students from across the UK.

    The Science Behind CSI workshop

    The Science Behind CSI workshop

    Location: University of Sheffield

    Information: TThe Science Behind CSI workshop gave year 12 students a hands-on laboratory experience using cutting edge equipment and the latest molecular biology techniques.
    This workshop also gave insight into the science behind forensic investigation- by setting up a fake crime scene, students had the opportunity to spend a day investigating! Using molecular DNA techniques, such as PCR amplification of DNA found at the scene, students identified the criminal from a number of suspects. This was coupled with chemical analysis of soil samples found in a footprint at the ‘scene’, comparing it to soil found in the suspects’ gardens.
    Who attended the event: This event was run via the Excellence Hub – a partnership between the universities of Leeds York and Sheffield, and was open to all RO students.

    Year 12 Conference – A Taste of Social Science

    Year 12 Conference – A Taste of Social Science

    Location: University of Leeds campus

    Information: This conference showcased the social sciences, illustrating the breadth of choice available in higher education, and gave students a taste of what it’s like to study at university. The programme included a careers talk, interactive seminars and group-work, and an informal Q&A session with current undergraduate students to give attendees a flavor of what it’s like to studying Social Science at university.

    Workshops included: ‘Why do people hate politicians?’, ‘White but living Blackness; the new Mixed Race experience’, ‘Is upgrading your smartphone downgrading planet Earth?’, and ‘What does it mean to be entrepreneurial?’. 

    Who attended the event: As the event showcased different disciplines it was of interest to students from a wide variety of subjects, including Business, Geography, Law, Politics, Sociology, History, and Philosophy.



You can call the National Careers Service helpline for information and advice about jobs, careers and training if you’re 13 or older in England. See the Careers helpline webpage for more information.

All About Careers is an information website for young people aged 16-24 with detailed information across 24 industry sectors.

The Bright Knowledge Bank has lots of useful articles about Career Pathways, as well as practical advice and information about work experience