The extended project qualification (EPQ) allows students to explore a subject in depth and teaches them how to plan, prepare and research, according to one of England’s biggest exam boards and two top universities.
More universities should include the qualification when making offers to would-be students, and more schools and colleges should offer the course to their pupils, it was suggested.
The EPQ is a single piece of work - often a 5,000-word dissertation or something practical such as a performance or science experiment - that students complete over the course of a year, alongside their other studies.
Previous projects have included recreating the Northern Lights in a laboratory, performing a new song for the musical Wicked and discovering what caused London’s Millennium Bridge to wobble.
The course, which is worth half an A-level, was introduced by the last Labour government and has become increasingly popular with teenagers looking for ways to stand out when applying for university places.
Last summer, around 33,245 students took the EPQ, up nine per cent on 2013 and more than double the number that sat it five years ago.
Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board, said: “One of the reasons students enjoy the EPQ so much is that it allows them to explore a topic that they are passionate about in greater depth and detail. At the same time, taking an extended project helps to develop research and independent learning skills which are highly valued by both universities and employers.”
He added: “Experience tells us that students who complete an EPQ find that it helps to prepare them for university. By fully recognising the EPQ in offers, we think that universities can play a key role in encouraging more students to take up this option, and gain vital skills as a result.”
Dr Abigail Harrison Moore, of the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, at Leeds University, said: “The EPQ will enhance a student’s personal statement and interview performance. It develops vital skills needed for undergraduate study, for example research using primary and secondary sources, critical thinking and writing skills, and demonstrates motivation and commitment. It also gives students a taste of what university study is like so they can decide whether it’s right for them. This is why the School of Fine Art now include it in our offers to applicants to the School.”