THERE IS NOTHING quite like that feeling of anxiety and dread that goes with preparing a UCAS application. If you have applied to any university or college in the UK, you may already be familiar with this process. But it need not be as much of a challenge as you might imagine. With a bit of guidance and common sense, you can create a stimulating and effective application that will easily meet expectations.
First of all, what is UCAS? It stands for Universities and Colleges Admissions Service and is a UK-based organisation which operates the application process for British universities. It is a little known fact that UCAS is actually an independent charity, funded by fees charged to applicants and to universities. It was formed in 1992 through the merger of the former university admissions system UCCA and the former polytechnics admissions system PCAS.
The vast majority of UK universities and higher education colleges use the UCAS service, so all students applying for an undergraduate degree in the UK must do so through UCAS. The process involves first registering with the service, and then completing some standard personal details. You will then have to write a personal statement and choose up to five courses to apply to. The application is then forwarded to the relevant university or college, who will then decide whether to offer a place.
Writing your personal statement
By far the most challenging and daunting part of the application process is preparing the personal statement. There are a few useful tips to bear in mind before you actually start writing. First do your research! This should include taking the time to check the individual university and college websites to see what skills and qualities they are seeking. It is worthwhile making a list of the things you want to mention here. Most of all, leave yourself plenty of time. Start a rough draft, no matter how rudimentary, as early as you can. Rushed applications are one of the biggest causes of failure. Beware also that there is a limit of up to 4,000 characters or 47 lines of text (including spaces and blank lines) for the online application, so don’t plan on writing an autobiography!
What to include
Things you should mention in your statement should include the following:
- Why you’re interested in the subject you wish to study: How did it begin, what first stimulated your interest?
- Your enthusiasm for the subject: what do you enjoy or find interesting about it?
- How your previous studies relate to the course: what have you studied or learned so far that could be a good precursor?
- Relevant jobs, placements or work experience: Mention any work you have done in this field that may give you relevant experience or insight – don’t forget to include voluntary work too!
- Any hobbies, interests or leisure activities that show your interest in the subject: These can be relevant, but even if they’re not, universities like students to get involved in the extracurricular activities of university life
- Any training or achievements that showcase your skills: Don’t forget to include any courses or training that could be relevant or that provide you with the necessary skills
When writing your statement, use the following structure:
- Introduction: start with an opening sentence that encourages the reader to continue – try to start with a catchy or intriguing opening sentence
- Priority order: Put the content in the order that is most relevant to what the university is looking for, starting with what you would consider to be the most important
- Conclusion: reinforce your commitment to the subject, your enthusiasm and skills suited to university life, and perhaps also mention your long term aspirations in terms of how this will help you to achieve your career goals
- Finally: Don’t forget to check your grammar, spelling and punctuation – this is another major reason for application failure, so check it again and get someone else to proofread it too!
One last word of warning: Be original and use your own words. Universities employ recognition software that will detect any similarities in the applications they receive. So don’t be tempted to copy or plagiarise – this could jeopardise your application!
I hope this will go some way to easing the task of preparing your UCAS application and help you to arrive at a stimulating and effective application that will hopefully get you that all important offer. Good luck!
Peter Panayotou is the Founder and Senior Consultant at leading CV Consultancy The Write Stuff
For further help and advice: Web: www.thewritestuff.co.uk