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Mum's Guide To Harpenden Blog

Welcome to our blog where we share local stories and guest advertorials from individuals, organisations and businesses.  If you would be interested in writing a guest advertorial please contact us.

ADVERTORIAL: Are you UCAS ready?


Kate Kettle is Founder & Director of Varsity Scholars, and supports schools, parents and applicants with the UCAS process. She grew up and went to school in Harpenden before reading History at University of Oxford. She has recently launched an online masterclass to guide students through writing their UCAS personal statement and here she answers some of the most frequently asked questions from parents and students.

What is the most important aspect of a university application? 
The most important aspect of any UCAS university application is always academic grades achieved and predicted. For UK applicants this is usually GCSE results (sat in Year 11) and predicted A-Level or IB results (awarded in Year 13). Of course, different universities and degree courses will have different entry requirements, and applicants must make sure they are aware of these before submitting their UCAS form.

Some of the most competitive universities (like Oxford and Cambridge) and degree courses (like Medicine) will ask applicants to provide extra information, or perhaps attend an interview, but this is always secondary to academic performance. In other words, if you do not meet the minimum entry requirements, your application is unlikely to progress.    

I have heard that these days the personal statement is much more about demonstrating your interest in the subject you want to study rather than extra-curricular activities.  Is this true and what sort of things are they looking for?
That is absolutely correct. The UCAS personal statement is the applicants’ chance to show why they are a good fit for the particular course they are applying for. Academics and admissions tutors will be looking for applicants who can evidence interest and aptitude for their particular subject/s of choice e.g. Law or Maths. When I work with applicants, I advise around 2/3 of their personal statement is academic in focus. There is usually only room for around 100 words of extra-curricular content. Applicants should focus on ‘super’ or ‘core’ curricular activities such as taster days they have been on, summer schools, relevant work experience, books they have read, lectures viewed on YouTube, Ted talks and classwork that inspired them. 

It’s important to stress that applicants do not need to spend money to have an excellent range of ‘super-curricular’ activities to put on their personal statement. There is lots of content available for free online, and teachers can often recommend wider reading found in the school or community library. Quality reflection on those activities is more impressive than a long list of expensive paid-for activities.

When you are choosing your courses, how open can you leave your options?  Should you be picking quite similar courses across the board?  Would it be unwise to spread your choices across two quite different subjects e.g say some geography courses and some computing science?
I would not recommend spreading your application across two or more wildly different subjects. It is much better to focus on one degree course. 

The reason for this, is that although applicants can apply to up to 5 different choices on UCAS, they only write 1 personal statement. That 1 personal statement is then sent to all 5 of their UCAS choices. If you have applied to a wide range of different courses, your personal statement is going to be very difficult to write, and is unlikely to be received well by admissions tutors. You may appear undecisive, or like you are not fully committed to your course of study.

Of course, there are some circumstances where you are forced to apply to two different courses, or courses with different titles . For example, Natural Sciences as a degree is not offered everywhere, so you might apply for Natural Sciences at some universities and Biology at others. This is perfectly understandable, and universities are used to this. The key is that you apply to related courses, not completely different subjects like Computer Science and Geography.   

How do universities view gap years?
Generally, universities welcome gap years and understand the value they offer to some applicants. If an applicant wants to take a gap year, they can do so while on their year out, apply when in Year 13, for ‘deferred entry’, or both. Irrespective of which path an applicant chooses, it is important to share in your application, why you decided to take a gap year and what you’ve done/ or are planning to do over that 12 months. There are many valid reasons for taking a year out, including travel, for ill health, to work a job and save money, to have a break from studying etc. Be honest. Tutors are not looking to be impressed by your year out, only to understand your motivations and decisions. 

For some highly competitive courses and institutions, they may be anxious about you taking a year out and forgetting all of the work you’ve done in school. They might be less likely to accept an applicant on deferred entry, or will want to see what steps you are taking to keep up with your academic work. I would recommend speaking to university admissions tutor’s and getting their advice. You might apply in Year 13 for ‘deferred entry’, not receive the UCAS offer/s you were hoping for, so decide to re-apply the next year while on your gap year – effectively giving yourself two attempts to secure the place you want.  

For students who are still a couple of years away from the UCAS process, what sort of things should they be doing/getting involved in now to make them stand out in their application? 
The most important and useful thing a younger student can do, is to work really hard for their GCSEs and get the very best grades they can. A strong school academic performance is the most important factor in succeeding in the UCAS process. I would also recommend a young person familiarise themselves with different types of degrees and undergraduate courses and begin to think about what they might like to do later. This is important for two main reasons. First, because the choice of A-Level or IB courses can severely restrict your options later when you come to apply to university. If you want to study Medicine, for example, you must take Chemistry, and it is important to know these facts early on. Second, you can begin to build your ‘super-curricular’ profile by reading a little around the subject or watching a documentary online. Be wary of taking on lots of extra-curricular activities simply because you think they will look good on a university application. When it comes to it, you’ll probably have lots of examples to include and very little space. Better to focus on a few keys things which you really enjoy. 


For more information about the UCAS process or to ask Kate more questions head to www.varsityscholars.co.uk  

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