The dreaded part of any university application for many students has been the personal statement. Social mobility experts have said that personal statements were “barometers of middle-class privilege”. This 4000 character essay which gives students a chance to advocate for themselves and demonstrate their achievements is going to be removed and replaced. Some speculation is that this may be replaced with a video message from the students although this has yet to be confirmed by UCAS. There are some other interesting changes ahead as well.
The proposed change will affect those applying in 2024 for start in 2025 and is a significant breakthrough in equalizing applications and making them a fairer process for all, the personal statement have been seen by many as the barometers of middle class privilege disadvantaging applicants from poorer homes who are not able to employ consultants to fill in the application form on their behalf. With top private schools employing dedicated professionals to support students through the entire application process including editing and constructing the personal statement. It is little wonder that students with less access to these are finding the system more challenging. The personal statement is considered important to give students a voice on why they really want to study the course so instead of being open essay style, there will be 6 key areas to complete: Motivation to study the course; Preparedness for the course; Preparation through other experiences; Extenuating circumstances; Preparedness for study; Preferred learning style.
In terms of reform for UCAS and UK university applications these steps are seen as a way of leveling the playing field for all students. Under the research project “reimagining UK admissions” UCAS interviewed over 1000 students and noted that the biggest pain factor for all applicants was the personal statement, there was also a request to have greater transparency on entry conditions and how offers were made. While universities were finding comparing different references becoming increasing difficult as they were so different in approach.
The space for references will be changed in an effort to redress the imbalance by replacing the free text for references with three structured questions for all undergraduate applications which will include, a general statement about the school or college, any extenuating circumstances which may affect the students performance in exams, and a outline of any circumstances specific to the applicant that a university should be made aware of.
There will also be an “entry grade” report which will give a profile of grades which have been accepted onto entry of a course over a five year period. This will help students understand if their GCSE grades are enough and their A level grades are relevant for their future aspirations. UCAS is undertaking some incredible projects to help students understand the significance of their post 16 choices. Their post 16 career quiz has helped many students understand the relationship between careers and higher education courses.
UCAS is moving with the times and has committed to making ongoing changes not a one-off reform. they recognize that as digital capabilities evolve so these must be incorporated in their application processes. We can look forward to some interesting changes ahead, made through consultation with the stakeholders of which students are recognized as key. One thing is for sure the dreaded personal statement will become more user engaged and less dreaded over the next few years which has to be good news for students of the future.