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Applications for the 2023 STEM SMART programme have now closed.
Applications typically open on 1st September each year - please check back here in August 2023 for further information.

STEM SMART (Subject Mastery and Attainment Raising Tuition) is a widening participation initiative from the University of Cambridge in association with Isaac Physics, to provide free, complementary teaching and support to UK (non-fee paying) students who:

  • have either experienced educational disadvantage or belong to a group that is statistically less likely to progress to higher education and
  • are considering applying to Engineering, Physical Sciences (eg physics, chemistry, earth sciences, materials science) or Biological Sciences (eg plant sciences, pharmacology, physiology, evolution and behaviour, biochemistry) courses at university and are studying A Levels (or equivalent) in maths and science.

Read our news story about STEM SMART 2023 and watch a short video.

STEM SMART 2023 programme

STEM SMART is a free, 17-month programme* to support students in raising their attainment at school and develop their confidence to apply to study physical or biological sciences or engineering at top universities.

The programme starts in the January of Year 12 (or equivalent) and features the following three phases:

Phase 1 

9 January – 28 May 2023 (online launch 7 January)

Consolidating Knowledge and Building Problem-Solving Skills

This phase begins with an online launch event welcoming students to the programme. Each week students will be set some work that will complement the work that they are doing as part of their school studies. A large group online tutorial in each subject will be provided in each week to go over the work. Students will also be assigned a Cambridge student as a mentor, whom they will meet online once a fortnight to discuss a number of themes concerning studying at university, for example; university life, choosing courses and applying to university. Two live subject-focussed talks will also be given by researchers from the university about their cutting-edge work.

Progression to Phase 2

In Phase 2, students will be participating in small group tutorials and a 4-day residential in Cambridge. It is vital that students are well prepared for this more intensive part of the programme. We will be offering the opportunity to progress to students who have demonstrated active engagement in Phase 1, measured by how much of the work they have attempted each week across all of their subjects.

Phase 2

5 June – 17 December 2023

Preparing for Application to Competitive Universities

In Phase 2, students will participate in small group tutorials each week for every subject they are engaging with, as well as a 4-day residential programme in Cambridge on 21–24 August 2023. On completing this stage, students will be provided with an award that reflects their commitment to the programme and the additional STEM SMART work that they have been doing. They will also be provided with a statement about the award that they may use in their UCAS personal statement.

Phase 3

8 January – 26 May 2024

Securing Strong Examination Performance and Achievement

The focus in Phase 3 will be on the finish line, working with students to practice and consolidate all of their learning across their science and maths subjects, to help them to secure the best possible grades in their public examinations and meet their university offer, wherever that may be. Weekly work will continue to be set and small group tutorials will continue to be provided in each subject, each week.


* Dates exclude school holidays, except for a 4-day residential from 21-24 August 2023.

Eligibility criteria

The University of Cambridge is committed to widening participation in higher education. As part of this work, we would like to work with and support students who may have experienced either educational disadvantage or belong to a group that is statistically less likely to progress to higher education. We hope to be able to offer all eligible students a place on Phase 1 of the programme and we are anticipating around 1,000 students will start in January, but places offered may need to be prioritised according to our eligibility criteria.

This programme is specifically designed for students who are considering applying to Engineering, Physical Sciences (eg physics, chemistry, earth sciences, materials science) or Biological Sciences (eg plant sciences, pharmacology, physiology, evolution and behaviour, biochemistry) courses at university and are studying A Levels (or equivalent) in maths and sciences.

This programme is not designed to support students who are considering applying to medical courses such as Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Dentistry or Sport Science. Other programmes, such as the Sutton Trust Summer Schools, have specific courses relevant to these subjects. Students interested in medical courses can also consider other initiatives such as Cambridge WAMS and the Widening Participation Medics Network.

Academic criteria

Eligible students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will normally satisfy ALL of the following academic criteria:

  • Have achieved at least a grade 7 (A) in GCSE Maths
  • Have achieved either at least grades 66 (BB) in double Science GCSE or grade 6 (B) in two separate sciences from Physics, Chemistry and Biology.
  • Currently be studying or have studied Maths and at least one further subject from Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Further Maths at A Level or equivalent (eg IB Higher Level).

Eligible students in the Scottish system should have achieved an A grade in National 5 Mathematics, and at least a B grade in two separate sciences from Physics, Chemistry and Biology. They should also be taking Mathematics at Higher, and plan on taking Mathematics at Advanced Higher along with at least one from Chemistry, Physics or Biology.

If you are a mature student (21 or over when starting university) and are unsure about whether you are eligible for the programme, please contact for advice.

Non-academic criteria

Eligible students will attend a non-fee paying (state school) and also satisfy one or more of the following, in addition to the academic criteria above:

  • Are resident in areas with relatively low participation in higher education (POLAR 4 quintiles 1 or 2);
    - You can check your quintile here.
  • Are resident in areas with less advantaged socio-economic characteristics (IMD Q1 or Q2);
    - You can check your IMD index here.
  • Have been eligible for:
    - free school meals in the last six years or
    - are eligible for, or in receipt of, the 16-19 bursary or
    - are pupil premium students;
  • Have been in the care of their local authority for more than three months at any point in their lives;
  • Attend a school/college whose performance places it in the lowest two quintiles for average QCA points per A level student (or equivalent) as identified by the Department for Education or has performed poorly in an inspection in the past four years.
    - Look up school performance details (16-18 examination data). For a school or college to be in the lowest two quintiles in 2019, the Average 16-18 Results would be lower than 30.17 points.
    - Inspection report for schools/colleges in England. To qualify, your school/college would be rated ‘Requires improvement’, ‘Inadequate’ or ‘Special Measures’.
    - Inspection report for schools/colleges in Wales. To qualify, your school/college would be rated ‘Adequate and needs improvement’ or ‘Unsatisfactory and needs urgent improvement’.
    - Inspection report for schools/colleges in Scotland. To qualify, your school/college would be rated ‘Weak’ or ‘Unsatisfactory’.
    - Inspection report for schools/colleges in Northern Ireland. To qualify, your school/college would be rated ‘Inadequate’ or ‘Unsatisfactory’.
  • Are an asylum seeker or have refugee status.
    - The University defines a refugee as someone whose claim for asylum has been recognised and they have been granted official ‘refugee’ status. You will also be eligible under this criterion if you have been granted humanitarian protection which has resulted in permission to stay in the UK for humanitarian reasons. An asylum seeker is defined as someone who is in the process of seeking asylum, or the decision is still pending.

We will also prioritise those students who:

  • Have significant caring responsibilities;
    - regularly provide emotional and/or practical support and assistance for a family member who is disabled, physically or mentally unwell or who misuses substances.
  • Are estranged from close family members (parents/carers);
    - Estrangement means that you were completing all or part of your secondary education without the support of a family network. This is typically understood as having had no contact at all with your parent(s)/carer(s) for at least 12 months and that this is unlikely to change.
    - You would not qualify under this criterion if you live separately from your parents but communicate with them. You also would not qualify if have recently fallen out with them, or your parents do not support your decision to study at university. These are challenging circumstances but are not classed as estrangement.
  • Have had significant disruption to their education (in addition to disruption caused by COVID-19) such as:
    - Medical / health issues (including mental health), particularly those that have resulted in long or extended periods of absence (over eight weeks) from school/college whilst in secondary education;
    - Bereavement of a close family member (e.g. parent/carer) whilst in secondary education;
    - Becoming a parent while in education;
    - Became homeless while in education;
    - Moved schools two or more times whilst in secondary education;
    - You experienced a gap of more than one year (for example leaving school at 16 but returning to complete Level 3 qualifications after several years of work);
    - Late diagnosis of Special Educational Needs (diagnosed with Special Educational Needs in the past two years).
  • Would be in the first generation in their immediate family to go to university (neither parents/carers nor grandparents went to university).

If you are not 100% sure whether you are eligible please apply, we do not want students to miss out on this opportunity and we will confirm whether or not you have been awarded a place.

How do I apply?

The application deadline for the programme is 31 October 2022.

To apply for the programme students should complete the online registration. If you are studying at a school/college/or other educational institution, you will be asked to provide the name of a contact teacher at your school who we may contact to help us provide you with co-ordinated support during the programme or to confirm your examination results to date.

All applicants will be told whether they have been accepted on the programme by 17 November 2022.

All those who have been accepted on to the programme will be asked to complete a survey by the 24 November which will enable us to tailor the subject specific content and workload for the programme, which will begin in January 2023 with an online launch event on Saturday 7 January.


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Isaac Physics
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