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Last Updated: Friday, 19 September, 2003, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
Would-be students told to get personal
Lucy Tobin, 17, has spent months discovering the best way to go about completing the UK university application form. Here she shares the tips she has accumulated from experts such as careers advisers, admissions tutors and undergraduates.

Lucy Tobin
Think about beginning with a quote or controversial statement
Lucy Tobin
For students all over the country who have received their exam results and decided to continue into higher education, this is the year that a four-letter word your parents won't mind discussing over dinner will crop up time and time again: Ucas.

Ucas is the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service - the UK's higher education applications processor.

Even though it's easier to fill in a Ucas form than run a marathon, the process still brings plenty to worry about.

Parts of it are quite complicated, and although there are many sources of advice available to help choose courses and institutions - such as attending higher education fairs or reading prospectuses - finding out how to apply can be more difficult.

At least the US system gives applicants more freedom to personalise each course application: applying to English universities means sending the same information to each institution. For me, this meant I've explained why I love sociology to institutions that I'm applying to for politics, and vice versa.

It is said that on average admissions tutors spend five minutes reading each application, so it is important to make the most of the opportunity given by the personal statement.

No need to spend hours deciding on the best font, but as the maximum space is 47 lines, keep your language clear and concise.

One admissions tutor advised me at a recent open day that one of the best personal statement formulas is:

  • an opening paragraph explaining why you want to study the course of your choice
  • two to three paragraphs detailing how you've developed your knowledge - perhaps by reading books, magazines or attending seminars
  • a closing couple of paragraphs about your extra-curricular interests and career aspirations.
Many people find the first sentence of the personal statement the hardest to devise.

Think about beginning with a quote or controversial statement: anything to grab a reader's attention and give admissions tutors a reason to choose you over all other applicants.

application form dropdown screen grab
Click in haste, repent at leisure
Perhaps not, however, the time to announce your love of skinny-dipping.

Do remember to be specific throughout: don't just write that you've done work experience, include details about what the experience taught you.

What sparked your initial interest? How are the subjects you are currently learning relevant to the course?

For the last few paragraphs, focus on the things you do outside school or college.

For instance, if you regularly play sport or music - give details. Less conventional interests, such as sailing or bassoon-playing, might stand out more than something many people do, such as playing football or the piano. But remember not to "stretch the truth" because universities have many ways of checking data validity.

Once your personal statement is out of the way, the rest of the Ucas form is relatively simple.

A friend applying for biology explained throughout why he was a naturist ...
The booklet, Ucas: how to apply 2004, will explain the less clear-cut aspects such as fee codes and residential categories.

But just because you do not need to use as much creativity as in the rest of the Ucas form, don't forget to take care: I selected my marital status as "Mrs Lucy Tobin" - a mistake, I hasten to add - and now face the problem of how to alter details on a submitted form: and the smirk on people's faces when they see it.

Applying electronically (with Ucas software or online) avoids the need for perfect handwriting, so ask your school or college if this option is available.

Remember to check, check and check again: mistakes and typos make you seem incompetent, and can be embarrassing: a friend applying for biology explained throughout why he was a naturist ... and only found out after an interview that what he really meant was naturalist.

All through the Ucas form, the emphasis is on personal. The application should show your motivation, skills and educational background, so seek advice from teachers, relatives and friends - but remember that ultimately your application has to reflect yourself.

I'll end with the words on the electronic Ucas form: goodbye and good luck!

Students told to cast net wider
17 Sep 03  |  Education
Universities accept more students
27 Aug 03  |  Education

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