Universities already post course details and basic entry requirements on the Internet. Cambridge, for example, publishes a detailed breakdown of what students can expect at college interviews. But many academics also take into account students' outside interests, work and travel experience and applicants' other qualifications, such as their GCSE grades, when deciding whether to offer places.
Under the project, being pioneered by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), academics will also tell sixth formers whether experience of work, voluntary activities or extra studies would increase their chances.
A dozen universities will be the first to start posting the information - in effect a profile of the ideal candidate - on the Internet from November. But admissions officials hope all courses will eventually be covered by the profiles, to help to produce a better match between students and places.
The information will be particularly useful to students hoping for an edge when they apply for popular courses such as law, medicine or English. But it would also help to provide a quick reference guide for the thousands who have to make swift decisions during the annual clearing process, which matches students to unfilled university and college places.
A Ucas spokesman said: "The idea is for departments to talk about the sort of qualities they look for in applicants; whether it is work experience, other useful experience or study in a particular part of the subject. There would also be more detail about the courses themselves, because a history course at one university can be quite different from a history course elsewhere."
A spokesman for the National Union of Students welcomed the initiative. He said: "Students find it very difficult to know what is expected of them when all they are given is what A-level results are required. A broader picture of a rounded person, with the personal qualities and academic skills required, would be extremely useful. "The primary reason for drop- outs is financial hardship, but there is always a percentage who find they have chosen the wrong course."
n Official Ucas higher education course vacancy lists will appear exclusively in The Independent from tomorrow until mid-September.
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