The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) announced on 13th January that the personal statement, a key element of UK university applications, will be dropped and students will instead be asked to answer a series of pre-set questions.
The first cohort of students to put this into practice are those submitting their applications between September 2024 – January 2025 and aiming to start their university degrees in autumn 2025 (or autumn 2026 for deferred entry). Educators and students are invited by UCAS to comment on and contribute to final wording of the questions.
The rationale behind this change is to create a level playing field, closing the divide between students who have more support with their UCAS applications and those who do not.
The 4000-character personal statement has long been seen to be part of a system that benefits the most advantaged students, and educators across the UK are supportive of the change. Steven Jones, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Manchester claims that a move away from the essay-based personal statement means “baseline competencies would be assessed transparently.” (Higher Education Policy Institute, November 2022). Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders comments “breaking down the personal statement into specific questions feels to be a step towards a simplified, fairer application process.” (TES, January 2023).
At Ivy Education, our view is that all students from all walks of life should be encouraged to excel and to put together competitive UCAS applications, so any changes supporting those who might have found the previous system challenging has to be welcomed. However, it is more than likely that students will need some level of expert assistance, making sure that they know how to provide succinct and well-structured answers for each question. Students will be expected to express their interest in a particular degree along with any accompanying information that suggests they possess the relevant skills and motivation.
Fine-tuning all aspects of a UCAS application remains essential, covering not only the best way to answer these newly proposed questions, but also the careful selection of degrees relevant to the student’s interest. Final university choices will still have to be balanced against predicted grades and academic ability.
So far there are six proposed areas for the new questions:
- Motivation for Course – Why do you want to study these courses?
- Preparedness for Course – How has your learning so far helped you to be ready to succeed on these courses?
- Preparation through other experiences – What else have you done to help you prepare, and why are these experiences useful?
- Extenuating circumstances – Is there anything that the universities and colleges need to know about to help them put your achievements and experiences so far into context?
- Preparedness for study – What have you done to prepare yourself for student life?
- Preferred Learning Styles – Which learning and assessment styles best suit you – how do your courses choices match that?”
(UCAS January 2023).
These questions are well-formed and open. They encourage students to really think about the degrees and universities they are applying to, and to consider which aspects of their pre-university experiences are key to persuading admissions tutors that they are suited to the course.
An unknown aspect is whether the space provided for answering these questions will have a limited character allowance, as with the current personal statement. If UCAS does continue with this restriction, then students must grasp how to prioritise key information.
If you are interested in speaking with one of our University Specialists about your UCAS application, or wish to learn more about our other educational services, please do get in touch with us at email@example.com.