BBC News: The Sutton Trust and their report on personal statements

You may have caught it on the news at the end of last year, if you didn’t here it is again.

My view, after working with students from a mixed range of backgrounds is that this report makes a lot of sense and it can be found in it’s entirety here.

We’ve been conducting our own research recently and have found there are a number of online services that offer to write the full personal statement for a fee. This has certainly been a driving force for BO_oM Learning and our decision to offer a 1 to 1 and online support service.

We certainly do not write personal statements for students and do not believe this to be good practice. We offer guidance and clear feedback so that students can represent themselves in their best possible light. We’ll be blogging on this in more detail soon and once our website’s live, linking to all of our services.  In the meantime…

*If you need help beyond the support you receive from college, family, friends and the internet, BO_oM Learning can assist you.  Please send an email to enquiries@boomlearning.co.uk  and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours.*

by Caroline Morgan

Personal Statement: 10 Common Q and A’s

1. Q: How long does it need to be?

4000 characters, including lines and spaces, with a maximum of 47 lines.  You should write it in word and then copy and paste it into your UCAS form, previewing it to check the fit.  Make sure you keep your final version to refer to in case of an interview.  Also ensure you save your drafts as you go along.

2. Q: When should I start to write it?

A: How long is a piece of string?  It’s sensible to begin drafting at the end of year 12 before you break up for the summer. This way you can finish your draft ready for when you return to college in September. However, if you start year 12 knowing your career goal there’s nothing stopping you making notes, bullet points or even completing your first draft at any point during the year.

3. Q: Is it really that important?  I’ve heard that a lot of the time they’re not read.

A: Yes, it’s very important.  This is the only place on the form where you can give your own presentation of yourself.  This is where you are able to demonstrate your personality and hilight your achievements.  Admissions Officers do read them and even if some don’t  - do you want to take that risk?  The value that comes from writing a strong statement is worth it and as you’re probably going to need a part-time job while you study, it’s a great basis for a CV.

Here’s an interesting article written by an Admissions Tutor.

4. Q: I don’t know how to start , what can I do?

Writing your personal statement is a process.  If you want it to be great, you need to allow it room to breath and marinate!  It’s a good idea to start by writing some bullet points or notes or a mind map. In other words, you don’t need full sentences and paragraphs, you need ideas.  Those ideas can then be structured into a draft. Break it down and work on a section at a time. It should include:

  • An opening statement on the course you wish to apply for and why.
  • A section on how your current studies have developed you (skills, qualities, knowledge) and ideally, how they link to your course choice.
  • Work experience. Write about voluntary work, work placements, shadowing, both paid and unpaid opportunities. Think about transferable skills such as communication, time management and organisation. Avoid talking about what you did at school unless it’s really relevant.  Admissions Tutors will be looking at your achievements since you’ve left school.
  • Your hobbies and interests.  Universities want to know who you are outside of your studies just as much as your academic achievements.
  • A strong close where you summarise why you’ll be great for the course and how it fits into your life plan or goals.

5. Q: What am I supposed to write about for skills and qualities?

A: Many of you can struggle with this if you’re aged 16-18. It’s absolutely normal as you have less experience of assessing yourself.  I suggest you ask those close to you that you trust to give you some positive feedback.  If you’re in employment or you volunteer, this a great opportunity to initiate a conversation about what you do well. The extra confidence that you get from this can really help to motivate you.

Some examples of skills:

  • designing/making
  • solving problems
  • managing money
  • gathering evidence
  • recalling facts

Some examples of qualities:

  • conscientious
  • trustworthy
  • confident
  • enterprising
  • patient

6. Q: What are transferable skills?  I keep being told to refer to them but I don’t know what it means.

A: A transferable skill is one that you can apply in different places.  So for instance, on your courses you will need to manage your time well. As you do in employment and of course, at university. This is usually referred to as time management. Other examples are:

  • Communication (written and verbal)
  • Organisation
  • IT skills

Be creative with your thinking. Assessing your strengths and weaknesses can help here.  Your strengths are usually the things you find easy. If you’re always on time, at college and socially, then you have good time management.  If your assignments and coursework always meet the deadline, this demonstrates good organisational skills and so on. Be careful not to stretch the truth here, this will only set you up to struggle later on, particularly at interview or on the course.

7. Why should I write about weaknesses? Surely this won’t help me to get a place.

Another way to look at weaknesses is by thinking about ways that you can improve or areas for development.  By understanding that there are places where you can do better, you demonstrate self awareness and the ability to self analyse.  These are essential for higher education and also help you to demonstrate that you are well rounded and realistic about your abilities.  No one is fantastic at everything!

8. I don’t have any work experience and I keep being told I’ve got to have something in my statement. Should I write about what I did at school?

No! Do not write about your school work experience unless it is really relevant to your course and I mean really relevant.  If you are applying for teacher training and worked in a school then this is really relevant. However, it is much more impressive to gain additional work experience while you are at college.

Ongoing development is important and your school work experience is pretty much out of date by the time you go to university.  If you haven’t gained any work experience while at college before you put your application in you could write about experience you intend to gain.  It’s not too late to volunteer or shadow a professional for a day if you really put your mind to it and use the contacts around you. Make sure you’re honest here. You could also write about the challenges you’ve faced and what you’ve learned if you’ve really struggled to find a suitable placement.

Think about other areas where you’ve been able to gain or develop skills. This is where your hobbies and interests can be really useful.  Playing for a 5 a side football team every Saturday for the past 3 years demonstrates commitment.  If you’ve ever helped your Coach at practice or to organise the team, then you can use this as an example to demonstrate work experience.

When I work with students I often find that you have much more going for you than you think and tend to dismiss activities that you do regularly because they are part of your routine. Don’t!  Remember, this is where you present yourself in your best light.  Keep in mind that Admissions have limited personal information about you. Your subject references are about your academic performance, contributions and achievements.  The rest is up to you to add.

9. I’ve been told different things by different people and I’m confused. Who should I listen to?

A personal statement is personal. Ultimately what goes into it is your choice as it must represent you in the way that you want it to. It can get confusing if you’re receiving advice from multiple sources and I suggest you avoid this. 2 people is enough, any more could do you more harm than good.  I usually work with students to get a strong draft while advising they check in with their subject teachers or careers advisor regarding subject specific details that would be positive to include. When students are happy with their final version and I’ve looked over it again, they can return to their teacher or careers advisor to ensure they haven’t missed anything of value.  A final check and amendments in a 1 to 1 with your tutor or academic coach will help to ensure you’re happy with your last draft.

I suggest you also avoid reading lots of different advice on the internet for the same reasons.  Asking questions can be a form of avoidance.  If you haven’t started your draft but have had lots of advice that’s a sign that you need to get your pen out and start writing…

10. I don’t have any hobbies or interests, all my time is spent studying and I don’t want to lie.  What should I say?

If your studies are also your interests that’s a positive thing!  Think about what it is you do that supports your academic work in your own time.  Do you read newspaper articles, books, attend events?  What websites do you visit, or blogs do you read?  Who are the people in your field that you want to learn or have learned more about?

This is another place where you really need to think.  Ask people close to you what your hobbies and interests are, they probably will be able to tell you.  Avoid writing that you love socialising or listening to music. Most people do these things and therefore not much value is added by including them.  If your socialising is around a particular interest, such as sport for instance, then you could add some really interesting insight about yourself if you go into a little more detail.  Be specific, generalisations are just that and are usually quite boring.

by Caroline Morgan

*If you need help beyond the support you receive from college, family, friends and the internet, BO_oM Learning can assist you.  Please send an email to enquiries@boomlearning.co.uk  and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours.*

Have you missed the January UCAS deadline?

It’s horrible to miss a deadline.  We all know how it feels, most of us anyway.  You knew the UCAS application one was coming up, but there were other priorities.  The fact is though, unequivocally, that you missed it. Now what?

Well first, don’t panic.  After that, don’t give up.  You still have time to apply for a place at university for this September 2013.  Visit the UCAS site, you’ll see that as long as your form is in before 30th June your application may still be considered. They say:

‘You can submit a late application up until 30 June but the institutions would be under no obligation to consider you. Therefore, it’s advisable to get in touch with your prospective choices before applying to check what their usual policy would be for late applicants.

Please note, any applications received after this deadline will enter Clearing.’

The amount of work you now need to do completely depends on how much you’ve already done and how strong you want your course choices to be.  Let’s assume you haven’t done a thing (or listened when you were told the things!). You can break your application down into 4 main headings:

  • The UCAS form
  • Your personal statement
  • Considering your finance options
  • Choosing your courses

Arguably, writing your personal statement is the biggest task, however choosing the best courses for you to apply for  (especially if you’ve got no idea what you’d like to study) can be equally demanding.  So let’s deal with these first.

1. CHOOSING YOUR COURSES

There are many ways to skin a cat as they say. Choosing the best course for you can be as complicated or as easy as you make it.  Sometimes, we’ve just got to decide and move on. I know these are big decisions, but my experience of working with students on UCAS applications is that most don’t really change their minds – no matter how long they think about it.  Some do, however these tend to be the students who research and research until they are certain.  They are rarely the students that miss the January deadline. So…. my advice is to take 1 of 2 routes, or if you can – do both!

  1. Apply for courses where you are skilled and talented.  These may not be your favourite, however university is about gaining a strong degree first and foremost and if you can get good grades and stay motivated, this could be your best option if you’re stuck.
  2. Research careers that you think you may be interested in. The National Careers Service  Job Profiles are an excellent resource to help you select courses that can get you into the field you ultimately wish to work in.

If you choose to go down the road of option 2, you may find that your current courses may not suit the degree course requirements.  You will have to decide whether you want to a) choose a different subject or b) gain further qualifications to enable you to get on the course of your choice (this may mean staying in college for another year IF your college will allow you to).  Bear in mind that many careers do not require a specific degree.  Specialist subjects such as Medicine, Pharmacy and Dentistry do, so it’s important you get your research right.  There is a wealth of information on the internet but if I were you, I would visit a professional Careers Advisor so that you are able to access the right information and guidance. You may have someone at your college or sixth form, or if not, Connexions should be able to help.

2. YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT

Again, the web is buzzing with advice on how to write a strong personal statement, one that really represents you. For accurate guidance on the courses you like, visit the university websites as they may have video’s or PDF files that tell you what they specifically expect from you.  Essentially it should consist of:

  • An opening statement on the course you wish to apply for and why.
  • A section on how your current studies have developed you (skills, qualities, knowledge) and ideally, how they link to your course choice.
  • A section on work experience , related and unrelated to your course choice.  You can write about voluntary work, work placements, shadowing, both paid and unpaid opportunities. Think about transferable skills such as communication, time management and organisation. Avoid talking about what you did at school unless it’s really relevant.  Admissions Tutors will be looking at your achievements since you’ve left school.
  • Your hobbies and interests.  Universities want to know who you are outside of your studies just as much as your academic achievements.
  • A strong close where you summarise why you’ll be great for the course and how it fits into your life plan or goals.

Remember, you attach 1 personal statement to your application which goes to all of the courses you apply for.  Some universities will accept a separate statement, but don’t assume they all do – you will need to phone and speak to the Admissions Officer to be sure. You will also of course, have to write another statement.

3. FINANCE

Once you’ve sorted out your course choices and personal statement you need to ensure you apply for the right finance.  There are bursaries (grants) available for some courses at all universities and it’s in your best interest to check what’s available to you.  There’s no point accruing debt if you don’t need to.

Check the university websites or give them a call if you’re unsure. You will also need to register with Student Finance, if you don’t you won’t get the loans needed to pay your course fees and possibly towards your maintenance (living expenses) if you qualify. No fee’s paid, no place on the course.

4. THE UCAS FORM

Essentially, that’s your form complete!  There’s other information that you need to add but it’s pretty basic stuff – address, email address, name etc.

finally…

My final words of wisdom are, make sure you communicate with your college or sixth form, even if you’ve left and taken a year out.  They will need to attach your reference and may also require you to attach your application to them.

Don’t be embarrassed or afraid, it happens every year where students miss the January deadline and their forms go in later for one reason or another.  Teachers and college staff are professional and should give you the support you need to get your form in before 30th June.

Go forth with confidence and all going well, you’ll be at university in the Autumn!

p.s don’t miss this deadline too, now that would be silly.

by Caroline Morgan

*If you need help beyond the support you receive from college, family, friends and the internet, BO_oM Learning can assist you.  Please send an email to enquiries@boomlearning.co.uk  and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours.*