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UCAS to Scrap Personal Statements

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has announced plans to remove a central part of the application process – the personal statement – and replace it with a series of questions for prospective students. According to UCAS, this change is the start of a broader series of reforms.

The Future of Undergraduate Admissions report, released by UCAS on Thursday 12 January, has revealed changes to the application process after 83% of applicants surveyed reported that the process of writing their personal statement – a free text opportunity for students to demonstrate their skill and passion for the courses they are applying to – was stress inducing.

Furthermore, 79% of those surveyed agreed that the statement was difficult to complete without support, leading some commentators to view the process as a “mechanism to widen the gap”.

As a replacement for the personal statement, UCAS have identified six key areas that admissions departments are interested in: motivation for course, preparedness for course, preparation through other experiences, extenuating circumstances, preparedness for study, and preferred learning styles. These areas will be formulated into targeted questions for students to answer, rather than the current, more generalised approach.

UCAS have confirmed that these areas will continue to be refined with the help of both applicants and education providers.

According to UCAS, both students and providers (both universities and colleges across the UK), have “identified a preference for structured questions that bring focus and clarity for students, reducing the need for support. This approach also supports comparability for providers.

Students who have completed the UCAS process in the past have reflected on how these changes would have been beneficial to their own university application experience.

“The personal statement was definitely the most troubling part of the UCAS process,” Luke, a second-year student, told The Saint.

“If [UCAS] had made it more structured, I would have had a lot less stress during the end of schooling”.

International students here at the University of St Andrews are also welcoming the change. “I found the personal statement difficult because it was nothing like what I had to do for applications in my own country,” Emily, a first-year international student, said.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of tutors I found who had done UCAS before. We had regular meetings just to make sure my statement would be competitive. It added a lot of stress”.

The personal statement section is only the start for changes in the UCAS process; references and grade reporting are also being altered based on feedback provided by those involved.

UCAS have announced changes to the academic referee portion of the application, similar to changes being made within the personal statement section. Instead of a free text approach where referees are given the opportunity to promote their students’ prospects, referees are given “three structured questions” to answer, so that providers are more able to find information required for selections.

The three questions relate to the school or college of the applicant, extenuating circumstances that may affect the applicant’s performance, and a final section to provide any information that the referee “thinks that universities/colleges should be made aware of”.

‘Entry Grade Reports’ are also being built into the UCAS online platform. The feature will make it easier for students to locate courses where entry would be achievable based on their secondary school grades. According to the Future of Undergraduate Admissions Report, “these reports will give visibility of the range of grade profiles that have been accepted for entry to courses over a five-year period”.

UCAS are welcoming ongoing input from both students and providers on the proposed changes. Surveys and opportunities for input are available on the UCAS website.

The University of St Andrews declined to comment on the changes to the application process.

Image: Unsplash

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