It is commonly said that the Duke of Edinburgh Award can really help your university application. But is this true? Is it actually going to help to get you into some of the best universities in the country?

The stakes are high – because an answer other than ‘of course!’ could shatter some of the most central beliefs held by young people across the UK.

You’ll find out more below. But let’s just say that the Duke of Edinburgh Award – or DofE, as it is known – perhaps doesn’t help in the way that you think it does. Your gold award in DofE isn’t a golden ticket to any higher education institution that you fancy. Rather, as we discussed in our piece on the school clubs that look good to universities, it’s much more about what you do with it.

Let’s take a closer look at how the Duke of Edinburgh Award can help your university admissions. Unfortunately, some illusions may be shattered along the way.

dofe expedition
See some of the country's beauties with the Duke of Edinburgh award

What is the Duke of Edinburgh Award?

Duke of Edinburgh is the initiative that takes place in secondary school across schools in England and the rest of the UK. You’ll probably know it as the extra-curricular activity par excellence, that shows practical skills alongside your academic excellence.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award started in 1956 as a project to attract schoolboys who were not enrolled in Scouts or a similar group, but it was soon extended to young women in the following year. Since then, it has been growing and growing – and, these days, there are over 450,000 participants at any one time in the UK.

The Award is designed to test and improve all sorts of different non-academic skills – and it is intended to get you contributing to your community through voluntary activities. Actually, it aims to get you improving yourself in a whole myriad of ways. Personal development is the name of the game.

The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, presents the award – but that’s about the only role he has in the whole thing.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t answer the question of whether it will get you into university.

What does DofE involve?

But we’ll save that question for a little while later.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award is split into four parts. You have to complete all four parts to finally achieve the award. So, no, you can’t just do the expedition.

The four elements are as follows:

  • Volunteering: this involves some sort of voluntary service in the community. Volunteer with an old people’s home, a local charity, or whatever you fancy.
  • Physical: you’ll need to show improvement in sport, dance, or some other physical fitness activity. Combine your normal physical recreation – football clubs, say, or other extra-curricular activities – with the physical aspect of your DofE and you’re sorted.
  • Skills: this is developing social or practical skills – or doing something of a personal interest. This could be something like learning a musical instrument.
  • Expedition: you’ll need to plan and complete some sort of ‘adventurous journey’. You’ll go to the Brecon Beacons or something similar, but you won’t have little choice with this: all of the people in the award will need to do their expeditions pretty much together.

For people who complete the Gold award (which, by the way, is the only one in which any universities are going to be interested), you will have to do the fifth element. This is known as the Residential element, and it involves you staying and working away for five days.

At the same time, you’ll have to track your progress and check in with DofE leaders, who will be helping you along the way.

Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards

DofE is split into three different levels, which you can take at different ages and which differ in intensity and material required. These are known as bronze, silver, and gold level.

Bronze is open to anyone aged 14 and above. That’s key stage 4. The bronze award should take participants 26 weeks. Silver is for people aged 15 and above and should take 52 weeks. Meanwhile, for Gold, you need to be 16 or above (i.e. in sixth form) and it will take you 78 weeks if you start from scratch. If you have done the Silver award, you can do it in 52 weeks.

The thing about these timings is that if only one of the three sections has to be this long. The other two need only be half that length of time.

Every young person can enter the award program. However, if you are in primary school or just not yet in the right stage of secondary education, you are going to have to wait.

extracurricular activity
You can do your DofE expedition on a horse!

And the Expedition?

The expedition is the most exciting element of the Duke of Edinburgh Award by a country mile. Aiming to ‘encourage a spirit of adventure and discovery’, you have to plan, train for, and complete an ‘adventurous journey’ somewhere in the UK or abroad.

Usually, you get much less freedom to decide where you are going and when than this suggests. In ninety percent of schools, it is not like you are going to be setting off to sub-Saharan Africa or to the Himalayas. Rather, your school will tell you the time and date (usually a bank holiday weekend) and you will plot the route.

For Bronze, the expedition has to be two days and one night, with six hours of activity on each day. For Silver, this extends to three days and two nights, with seven hours on each day. Gold demands four days and three nights, with eight hours.

The reason why it is technically called an ‘adventurous journey’ is because it is not required for you to walk. You can go on horse, on boat, on bike, or anything that isn’t motorised.

Do Universities Care about DofE?

So, do universities care about the Duke of Edinburgh? Would an academic institution care if school pupils had walked across Cornwall for three days? Would they be interested in the fact that you volunteered during senior school?

Of course, they would! However, perhaps not to the degree that you might expect. Remember, they are academic institutions – and their primary function is to educate academically. They’re not employers, Scouts leaders, or your mother – so they might not be hugely impressed by your ability to read a map.

What the DofE does show to universities, however, is that you are committed: committed to learning new skills, committed to developing yourself beyond the classroom. It shows them too that you are an independent person who can look after themselves – and who isn’t just their exam results.

So, yes, universities do like to see a Duke of Edinburgh Award on your UCAS form, but only insofar as it tells them something about you. They don’t care about it per se.

boost your uni application
Explore the world with the Duke of Edinburgh Award

Does Duke of Edinburgh Give You UCAS Points?

For those of you doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award for the purposes of university admissions, you should know that it doesn’t actually give you UCAS points. It does not serve any purpose on your UCAS form beyond the personal statement, where you are entitled to push it hard.

Do you feel like the achievement award taught you how to deal with challenge? Did it teach you a new way of looking at the world? Did your volunteering or skill complement a particular part of your studies? Is there anything that the award shows that you can contribute to university life?

These are the sorts of questions that you are going to have to ask yourself in relation to your DofE. Sure, it matters that you did something outside of the mainstream school system. However, it’s more about what you have learned from it than the fact that you have done it.

Remember, DofE has over 400,000 entrants every year. When it is this popular among young people, you can assume that many of your fellow university applicants are going to have done the award too.

Find out about Young Enterprise!

Academic Commitment is Much More Important

What matters much more to universities is your academic commitment. This doesn’t just mean your test scores or exam results. Rather, it means what else you have done outside of your schooling.

Universities don’t really care whether you went to a grammar school, a standard state school, or any other type of school. They want to see that you are interested in the subject to which you are applying. They want proof of that.

Find out what else looks good on your university application!

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