Stretch and Challenge

Varndean College provides an extensive range of support and opportunities for students who join the college with high GCSE grades or specific talents. At their interview, students will have the opportunity to discuss the additional programmes and activities available to them.

Aspire Programme

Varndean is an excellent choice if you aspire to study at Oxford or Cambridge. We have close links with both universities, and our specialist Oxbridge team gives students bespoke one-to-one and group support, from the beginning of your Varndean journey through to your first day at university.

These are some of the things we offer to ensure that you are in the very best position as an Oxbridge candidate:

  • Early identification during enrolment and Year One.
  • Specialist Oxbridge tutor group with like-minded students who are also preparing for the Oxbridge application process.
  • Information talks by visiting admissions staff from both Oxford and Cambridge.
  • Supporting your super-curricular learning: encouraging you to take your subject knowledge above and beyond the exam syllabus by applying for summer schools, tasters and masterclasses.
  • Individual support throughout the application process including writing your personal statement, preparing for pre-admissions assessments and getting ready for interview.
  • One-to-one meetings with our Oxbridge team throughout your whole Varndean journey, from advising on subject and college choice, to your next steps once offers have been made.

Find out more in our Aspire Programme leaflet.

Applying for Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary Science

The College runs a programme of activities and support for students interested in progressing in the highly competitive fields of medicine, dentistry and veterinary science.

  • We have established links with the Brighton and Sussex Medical School and students receive practice interviews from admissions tutors and ex-Varndean medical undergraduates.
  • We keep students closely informed of any local and national events such as conferences and meetings organised for those preparing to apply for medical courses.
  • We can advise on and help arrange work experience and volunteering in chosen career areas to add weight to any application and provide evidence of a genuine commitment.
  • We will show students how to keep up to date with current medical ethics issues.
  • We will explain the personal qualities and experience which admissions tutors are looking for and guide you in how to construct your personal statement.
  • We will recommend extension activities to support your application and help prepare you for your interview, such as the EPQ and various competitions such as the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge and the Olympiads in Biology and Chemistry.
  • Speakers are invited into the College to talk on current medical and veterinary issues.
  • We arrange for ex-Varndean medical students to come in and talk about their experience of the application process and life as an undergraduate.

Subject-Specific Activities and Achievements

Additional activities are provided both within the normal curriculum and beyond.

  • A strong team take part in the RSC’s annual Chemistry Olympiad and finish with an impressive list of awards each year. In 2018 they won 13 Bronze and 3 Silver medals; in 2019 2 Bronze, 5 Silver and 2 Gold, and in 2020 10 Bronze and 15 Silver.
  • We take part in the RSC’s Annual Analytical Competition having reached the National Final in 2 out of the last 5 years.
  • Year One Chemistry students undertake the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge every June and always achieve Gold medals and Year Two Biology students have been entered into the Gold Crest Awards.
  • Students have competed and reached the finals in the University of Reading’s ‘Heroines in Science’ competition, as well as the University of Oxford’s Practical Ethics and Responsibility competition.
  • All Chemistry students attend the annual Varndean College Chemistry Conference at the University of Brighton. We have presentations ranging from talks on drugs to medical advances to energetics and the enigmatic 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.
  • Maths students take part in the “UK Senior Maths Challenge” each year and in 2018 achieved 5 gold, 15 silver and 8 bronze awards, in 2019 4 gold, 10 silver and 11 bronze and in 2020 4 gold, 7 silver and 8 bronze. One student achieved a Merit in the Senior Kangaroo Competition and one qualified for the British Maths Olympiad.
  • Visual Arts students benefit from a programme of talks from artists and designers, for example Illustrator Chris Riddell OBE and Magnum Photographer Mark Power. You can also join our Visual Arts trips abroad; we have been to Berlin, Paris, Madrid, New York and Venice. Last year, one of our A Level Textiles students also won the UK’s Knitting and Stitching Show Dressmaking Competition.
  • Dance and Creative Media students form their own companies; with Dance students devising their own production ‘Breaking Boundaries’ each year at Brighton’s Sallis Benney Theatre.
  • The English Literature Extension class challenges students to read ambitiously beyond the exam syllabus. Many students have either won or been shortlisted for external essay awards, such as Cambridge’s Woolf Essay Prize and NCH Essay Competitions and Oxford’s Christopher Tower Poetry Competition.