Scrap personal statements, thinktank argues

Move would level playing field for state school applicants

October 10, 2013

Source: Alamy

Follow the formula: not every applicant has help with a personal statement

Personal statements should be banned from university admissions papers because they give an unfair advantage to private school applicants, a thinktank has argued.

Pupils from successful schools, particularly from the independent sector, have better information, advice and guidance when preparing personal statements, strengthening their university applications, according to a study by the Pearson Think Tank, an independent policy unit funded by the FTSE-100-listed education publisher.

With private applicants also able to access more help from their parents, the “unequal levels of information, support and advice available…in the completion of personal statements” are a concern for almost all the admissions officers interviewed for the report.

Some say they ignore the statements or approach them with caution given the input from teachers.

“Reading personal statements from certain schools you can see the same language coming out, the same sort of form, and you can tell it’s been worked over,” says one officer quoted in the report, (Un)informed Choices? University admissions practices and social mobility, published on 30 September.

Another says that headteachers have told him that private schools are heavily involved in writing pupils’ personal statements.

“They said: ‘Well, they’re paying £7,000 a term, of course we give them a lot of help, that’s what they’re paying for,’” the officer says.

Admissions officers are divided on the usefulness of personal statements, the study found. Some say they give an indication of students’ commitment to a subject and their writing skills, while others feel they are “worthless” because they are too formulaic.

The report adds that admissions tutors approach the statements in different ways depending on the university, faculty or department, and recommends their abolition.

It argues that a centralised admissions system should be implemented to increase the transparency of decision-making processes and improve the fairness of selection.

“This would remove differential subjective assessments and value judgments by academic staff across faculties and departments,” it adds.

The Russell Group should develop and encourage its members to adopt standardised criteria to “ensure that potential applicants understand how their application is assessed and on what basis”.

“This would reduce the varying practice in selection processes and so militate against the disparities that currently exist,” the report says.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Reader's comments (1)

how about: 1) i'd like to assume university admissions departments or tutors were able enough to assess whether or not a personal statement is genuine and 2) why dumb further down?! can we afford not to support our state school pupils in learning how to (and the value of doing so) articulate their own interests and skills on a one sided sheet of paper? The personal statement is likely to be the first of many such 'applications' and should be an important part of dedicated and personal careers advice for both the most and least able students.. Why are we consistently failing to provide this?

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Post-doctoral Research Associate in Chemistry

University Of Western Australia

PACE Data Support Officer

Macquarie University - Sydney Australia

Associate Lecturer in Nursing

Central Queensland University
See all jobs

Most Commented

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham