Applying to university through UCAS can be really complicated and stressful. You will get bombarded with advice from all directions so if you want to simplify it a bit, check out our A to Z of helpful hints and tips:
A is for Advice
Seek advice for your personal statement from anyone you can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from higher education advisors, your tutor, other teachers or your parents. The more often you ask, the more help you will get. It might annoy you when they give you conflicting instructions but if you listen to them all then find a happy medium you will come out with the best possible result.
B is for Back-up
Back up your work. Seriously. You will be so annoyed if you come back and find that the personal statement you have been working on for weeks has been deleted. Programs like Dropbox or online systems like Google Docs allow you to save online back-ups really easily and they are free.
C is for Course Choices
Think carefully before you choose your course. Research them and find out which modules you can choose from and what individual universities focus on. Most importantly, put the right course code into UCAS, you would be amazed at the number of people that get this wrong!
D is for Drafts
This will depress you, but I wrote over 15 drafts for my personal statement and this is about what you should be aiming for. You will end up with so many because you hand it out to lots of different people and they will all come back with different corrections. Therefore, make sure you save them all separately so that you can go back to an earlier version if you need to.
E is for Evidence
Don’t just write things like, “I am interested in the French Revolution”. Back claims up with evidence like the books you read on the topic and most importantly what you enjoyed, or didn’t enjoy about those books. This is how admissions teams will work out whether you are lying or telling the truth about your interests and achievements. After all, anyone can reel off a list of book titles.
F is for First out of the Blocks
Get started early. Don’t leave it to the last minute. Many universities hand out a host of acceptances even before the application deadline. This means you have a better chance of acceptance if you hand in early and your personal statement will be far better if you don’t have to rush it.
G is for Grades
Check the grades you need for the courses you are applying to. This is not just the A-Level grades but also GCSEs. Many universities ask for a minimum Maths and English GCSE or a certain number of As and you don’t want to waste one of your choices on a uni that will refuse you out of hand.
H is for Honesty is the Best Policy
This maxim is entirely true for your personal statement. Be honest about the books you have read and the topics you are interested in and, for the most part, the reason that you chose the course. It will be so obvious if you have lied, especially if you get asked in for an interview. Also, your statement will come across as far more heartfelt if based on the true motives behind your choices and not some over-the-top invented tale of a doctor saving your life when you were three.
I is for Interest
Show interest in your course. Be positive and enthusiastic about it. Talk about why you are excited about going to university to study that particular thing. Put across your passion for the subject in the most detail possible this will help you stand out from the crowd because universities only really want students that are genuinely intellectually curious.
J is for Jokes
Jokes are a no-no in your personal statement. Don’t waste time trying to be clever or funny just get on with it.
K is for Keep it Snappy
The limit for a personal statement is 4,000 that is actually not very space in which to make your plea so don’t faff around writing your personal history. Get to the point. Equally don’t write overlong sentences with complicated grammar, keep sentences and points short and snappy.
L is for Lists
Your personal statement should be written as full text, not bullet points. Also, don’t let it become a list of everything you’re interested in or have ever done. Just writing ‘then I did this, then I studied this, then I read this book’ will not make it a very interesting or illuminating read.
M is for Mindset
Before starting to write your personal statement, get yourself in the right mindset. You can’t be humble and British and embarrassed when writing it, you have to learn how to boast about yourself and be proud of your achievements. You can’t write "I won this but the other person was sick and it wasn’t a big deal anyway". If you have achieved something good, shout about it, and even if it wasn’t that impressive, big it up anyway. Anything at all could help you stand out from the crowd.
N is for No Cheating
Don’t steal another person’s personal statement or sections of a personal statement or even the outline of one. If you steal chunks from other people’s statements you will get caught by UCAS’ plagiarism detector and even if you just steal an outline, it will be obvious that your statement is heartfelt or true to you.
O is for Obsequiousness
Don’t flatter them, it will get you nowhere. Writing “I would be honoured to study at your university” is just a waste of space especially since the university knows you are applying for five universities. Mentioning the name of the university you particularly want to get into is an even bigger no-no because, in all likelihood, you will be immediately rejected from the others.
P is for Proofreading
Proofread everything 20 times, this includes all the forms that you have to fill, keep double-checking it just to make sure it is correct. Get your parents, friends and teachers to check it over too. Reading it out loud can be really useful, it will draw your attention to mistakes you have previously skimmed over and it will highlight any incorrect grammar.
Q is for Quotes
To quote or not to quote, that is the question. UCAS says don’t do it, so I would advise you to avoid it. Quotes just fill up space with ideas that aren’t your own. Most importantly don’t use a quote for the sake of it. Make sure that if you do use one, it genuinely relates to a point that you want to make and that you refer to and build on the quote with your own ideas.
R is for Reference
Get a good person to write your reference. Make sure it is someone that likes you and has your back and make sure they are going to present you favourably. This is important because your reference is almost as important as your statement, it can uphold or completely undo any of the claims you have made.
S is for Subject
Choose to study a subject you like for god’s sake. Choose something you are passionate about and interested in. Don’t do something just because you are good at it or you think you should or your parents want you to. Universities offer so many courses these days you are sure to find something that you actually want to study. Quite apart from you not being able to write a very good personal statement about a subject you don’t enjoy, you will not have a very good time a university.
T is for Typos
Check, check and double-check for typos, spelling mistakes, and grammar errors. Your UCAS application is normally the only chance you have to make an impression on your universities of choice and having one that is riddled with errors even if they were clearly accidental, will not make a very good impression on admissions departments.
U is for Universities
Chose the right universities. Do your research, make sure they are in areas you want to live, make you like the teaching style, the architecture, and the courses on offer, and finally don’t get drawn in by the name. Having a degree from a good university is all well and good but it will be harder for you to get a good degree if you are doing it somewhere you don’t like.
V is for Verbose
Don’t be verbose. Don’t be pretentious. Don’t waffle and use long sentences. Don’t overuse the thesaurus. Trying to sound too clever will just make you sound full of yourself and annoying. Just be yourself and write the way you normally would. The universities want to hear from the real you, not the you that has eaten and digested a thesaurus.
W is for Waffle
Avoid waffle, you only have a few words to get your point across don’t waste any of them on rhetorical questions, cliches or extraneous information such as the name of your teddy bear or your favourite flavour of jam.
X is for eXtra-Curricular Activities
Don’t waste a huge amount of space on extra-curricular activities. Universities may want to know that you are a well-rounded person but most of all, they are interested in your academic achievements and interests. Where you do talk about outside interests, try if possible, and relate them to your course. Only do this if they do link though. Trying to link your interest in hockey to molecular biology will probably just look stupid.
Y is for Yes You’re In
Once you have applied, your job is not over. Keep your eyes peeled for offers and make sure you accept them within the time limit. Do a bit more research at this stage, to see which universities out of your five you most want to go to and which you are most likely to get the grades for.
Z is for Zzzzzzs
Now calm down. Chill out, relax, have a nap. All this applying to uni stuff is very stressful.
Written by Tilly Embling for ELUCEO