Some university courses are more competitive than others, but regardless of what you are applying for, you want to ensure you are giving yourself the best chance of securing a place with a stand-out UCAS personal statement.
Over 706,000 people applied for a place at University via UCAS in 2019 and approximately 541,000 secured a place (UCAS end of cycle report, 2019). Not everyone will have secured a place on their preferred course or at their first -choice university. Next year is set to be even more competitive than ever with many students deferring entry because of restrictions in place to contain covid-19.
Subjects and grades are a very important part of the puzzle, but your academic record may not dramatically differentiate you from many others applying for the same course.
So how can you give yourself the very best chance of securing an offer?
I offer a short coaching programme to students to support them through the process of creating their UCAS personal statement. Students with the most impressive statements are the ones who have loads of great evidence to present in the statement to demonstrate why they are ideal for the course. The best advice I can offer you is to think about this well in advance of writing your statement so you can ensure you put in the leg work in the right places and have loads of great stuff to write about.
To give yourself the best chance possible, don’t leave it until the final year of your ‘A’ level studies. If you are reading this now and you are still at least a year or more away from applying for university, keep reading! You have plenty of time to put this advice into action. If you are reading this and are already close to completing your application, also keep reading! When you really think about it, you may have done more than you think you have, and there may still be time to do more.
Here are my 5 tips for a stand-out UCAS personal statement:
1. Be Clear About WHY
Be absolutely clear in your own mind why you want to study the subject area and make sure you can articulate it convincingly. This is sometimes known as an elevator pitch. Imagine you bump into the admissions dean in an elevator and you have the time it takes until you both have to exit the elevator to convince him or her of why they should select you for the course. Try it now. Imagine I just asked you: why do you want to study this course? And start talking.
Are your thoughts organised? Are you clear and concise? Are you able to list 2 or 3 compelling reasons for your decision to pursue this field of study?
If not, here are some things to think about.
What first inspired you to pursue further study in this field? Maybe it was a book, documentary or a newspaper story. Or perhaps it was the achievements of someone you admire? Or was it another personal experience that sparked your interest?
What are your aspirations beyond study? What kind of career do you have in mind? How will your studies help you to achieve your life goals?
2. Gain Experience In Your Desired Field Of Study
Have you got some relevant work experience? If not, what could you do to get some relevant experience? It could be a job, unpaid work experience, volunteering etc. If you are making your application now and don’t think you have had any relevant experience, think broadly. Even if your work experience isn’t directly relevant to your field of study, what other transferable skills have you gained that the university may value? For example, working with others in a project team, presentation skills and exploring new perspectives.
Research what is going on in your desired field of study and book yourself into events, fairs, exhibitions, webinars or go on trips that are relevant to your field of interest. Reflect on these experiences and ask yourself: What did I learn and what did I take away from the experience?
3. Demonstrate an interest in and understanding of your field of study
Take time to find out as much as possible and develop your understanding about your field of study. Think about what reading you can do – relevant newspapers, periodicals, books and blogs. Investigate YouTube for relevant channels and documentaries and seek out relevant podcasts to subscribe to.
What self-driven projects related to your field of study can you challenge yourself with? For example, an aspiring journalist student might write a blog. An aspiring engineering student might try building a remote-control plane.
4. Participate in activities that will give you opportunities to learn, develop and achieve
Universities are looking for other skills and abilities over and above an interest in and aptitude for the field of study. Playing in a band, playing on a sports team, taking part in Duke of Edinburgh for example all give you the opportunity to develop valuable skills such as teamwork, leadership, project management and much more. Extra-curricular activities can also provide you with opportunities to win academic prizes or competitions and hold positions of responsibility.
5. Seek Feedback
This one will see you through to your working life! Always seek feedback from others. Find out how others perceive you and why. What do they see as your strengths? What advice can they give you? Reflect on the feedback and take action accordingly to grow personally and academically. You are always learning!
In particular, ask for feedback on your UCAS personal statement. Ideally, ask whoever will act as your referee to proof-read your statement and give you their feedback. But also seek feedback from other teachers, family, friends or people in positions of authority in your extra-curricular activities. They may be able to help you with their insight into your strengths, skills and achievement. It is always helpful to have a fresh pair of eyes on your work so they can tell you if your statement has achieved the goal of selling you as the best person for the course.
The more you have done, the more you will have to talk about in your UCAS personal statement. Remember that as well as gaining all this fabulous experience, you will need to think through and spell out the ‘so what?’ – why is that important and how does it support your application. And you will need to do all of this in 4,000 characters which is no mean feat!