Poor advice from teachers on how to write a personal statement is harming disadvantaged students’ hopes of winning a place at a highly selective university, a study suggests.
Research conducted for the Sutton Trust found that teachers’ perception of what made a good personal statement for a Ucas application was often very different to what admissions tutors at Russell Group institutions were looking for.
The study, conducted by Steven Jones, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester, examined the personal statements of 44 school pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Twenty-seven received support encouraging them to engage in wider reading beyond their A-level syllabus, and advising them on how to write their statement.
All of these students received offers from a Russell Group university, and 60 per cent went on to enrol at an institution in the mission group, whereas the results were 73 per cent and 40 per cent respectively for the 17 students who did not receive additional support.
Read more: How not to write a personal statement
For the study, each personal statement was read by a teacher and by a Russell Group admissions tutor, and both were asked to say whether they thought the statement would increase or decrease the applicant’s chance of winning a place.
The admissions tutors felt that 70 per cent of statements written by students who had received additional support would help the students’ chances, compared to 24 per cent of statements from the control group.
However, teachers gave the same grade as the admissions tutor in only 10 out of 44 cases, and on average they rated statements written by the control group more highly than those written by the “academic apprentices”.
Dr Jones says that the study demonstrates how sections of detailed analysis and reflection in personal statements are highly valued by academics.
He recommends that universities should be more transparent about what they expect from personal statements, and schools and colleges should improve staff training.
“The advice and guidance that some young people receive at school when composing their personal statement may not reflect the content and style expected by admissions tutors at the UK’s most selective universities,” Dr Jones said. “Interventions such as the Academic Apprenticeship suggest that it is possible to level the playing field for personal statements but that applicants need to be given a structured programme of advice that emphasises academic suitability.”
Not so Grate
"Having been head of my form and captain of the debating club, I have grate communication skills."
"What is physics? I don’t know; that’s why I want to take it at university."
Eighty Per Cent
"'Eighty per cent of success is showing up.' I feel this attitude correctly demonstrates my passion for Literature where, indeed, you only have to 'turn up' and read the books and to fully understand the topic. I was form captain in Year 7, indicating my sense of responsibility. I enjoyed the challenge of my duties, which included fetching the register and making people sign up for sports days. Also, this year I was voted head girl because I made the most hilarious speech ever. This demonstrates my skill at creative and persuasive writing."
Shaun the Sheep
"Ever since I watched 'Shaun the Sheep' on CBBC, i have been passionate about becoming a farmer. For me, nothing in life would be as good as a farmer's life."
"I want to be a doctor because I am interested in science and I enjoy helping people. I know this because I am always trying to look for ways to help others, whether it is in the supermarket or the airport. I think medicine is a very challenging career, but the hard work pays off, literally!"
"I am well-respected by my classmates. At school, I hold the position of head bog and it is a post I am performing well."
Here or Hear?
"Thanks for considering my application and I hope I will here from you soon."
[Insert Name Here]
"I am hoping to pass my driving test so I can drive to -insert uni name here- everyday!"
Repeat Repeat Repeat
"Economics is a diverse subject, as economics can be related to anything, especially during economic crisis, which forces to think economically, whereas maths has been long one of my favourite subjects, as mathematics can be applied everywhere, moreover, mathematics is useful in everyday life."
A Great Man
"I believe I will be a great man in future. Why? I enjoy reading. I’ve read nearly 50 percent of books in the library. I like writing too. There are more than 15 pieces of writings from me in newspapers. I have found that it’s a good way to earn some extra pocket money.... I don’t think that one can be a genius without any efforts so I am always making efforts to improve myself. Because of this, I think I will be a great man in future."
"I have a black belt in karate and enjoy marital arts."
(Sources: thestudentroom.co.uk; ucasonline.blogspot.co.uk; studential.com; '40 Successful Personal Statements: For UCAS Application' by Guy Nobes)
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For more information and to submit your personal statement (error-free), visit ucas.com