Unlevel playing field – UCAS Personal Statements

Y U No Write Yourself?

Y U No Write Yourself?

The UCAS personal Statement, here is a chance to sell yourselves, talk about how you are different from the rest of your peers. It’s the only free response section on a University application that puts heavy emphasis on academic achievement and could potentially change your life forever if you get the interview. 

To be successful you will need to talk about your passion for the course you are choosing, what makes you tick, your previous success stories and achievements both relating to your academic and social life using concrete examples of why this means you are the best candidate for the university.

By the way, you are limited to around 47 lines to summarise all the above while trying to put to the back of your mind the thought that these statements are about as useful for discerning anything good about you as a candidate, as a chocolate tea pot is at holding boiling water!

First of all the playing field is skewed based on the level of support you have available to create a statement worthy of submitting. What if you are a “First Generation Student” (A first-generation student is among the first in his or her family to attend college or university.) who has studied on a distance course and achieved excellent grades and are now doing your personal statement for the first time on your own, where do you start? Who can offer help and guidance? These students will be up against others from colleges and sixth-forms that invest hours of staff time into teaching their students how to create the perfect statement, providing professional guidance from people who do them year in and year out.

Then there is financial support, there are people who charge between £150-£200 to create an individual personal statement on your behalf. The whole process is biased against poorer students, or those from disadvantaged backgrounds. I read an article by Dr Steven Jones, a Senior Lecturer in the Manchester Institute of Education at the University of Manchester while I was searching the subject of UCAS Applications. He cited research from Durham University that showed “state school applicants are only 60% as likely to be made an offer by a Russell Group University as opposed to independent school applicants with the same grades”

Dr Steven Jones’s article also lead me to read a report published by “The Pearson Think Tank” called “(Un)informed choices?” that was surprisingly frank in its recommendations. It suggested the use of contextual data as an alternative and that “the use of personal statements should be ended“. The report was also keen to point out that there was growing evidence to prove that students from disadvantaged and poorer backgrounds can outperform their peers at graduation, despite having lower qualifications before entering into higher education. “Thus, the process by which people are admitted to HE should be made as fair as possible, reflecting future potential, rather than socio-economic background.

Finally, I feel the biggest contribution to this unlevel playing field is the sector its self. There is a clear lack of transparency and clarification across institutions on how the statements are handled and used to make decisions. Some institutions place huge emphasis on the statements and will make a decision based solely on it, others wont. They will use it as a starting point for an interview for example. The article linked and quoted below even goes as far as saying they are ignored all together.

Oxford tutors admit they ignore personal statements. Several Oxford academics have voiced agreement with the Cambridge Head of Admissions in stating that personal statements are an irrelevant part of the application process.” (Has anyone thought to tell the half a million people sweating and stressing over them each year this information?!)

The fact there is no set use for the personal statement has direct implications on widening participation and social mobility as this is a huge contributor to the unlevel ground applicants have to work with. If we want to create a fair education system with equal access and opportunities, we need to be looking to our institutions and asking them to make clear to potential applicants what they use personal statements for and how so they can tailor them to suit. We should also be pushing UCAS to provide national guidelines on how personal statements should be used to try and provide some standards and clarity; while also looking to change the format to provide less opportunities for those who “can afford to” to cash in on their good fortune.

That said, if you want to pay me to write yours for you, let me know!

Jack

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