Ucas to replace personal statement with series of questions

Admissions service also making changes to teacher references, and plans to release details of grade profiles that were accepted onto courses

January 12, 2023
Source: iStock

The Ucas personal statement is to be replaced by a series of questions following concerns that it was too stressful for UK students.

The admissions service said it believes the change to the 4,000 character essay – which had previously been criticised for contributing to inequalities in higher education access – will create “a more supportive framework”.

Advocates of reform said the change will help “level the playing field” in university admissions.

The Future of Undergraduate Admissions report by Ucas also announced that academic references would become structured questions, and that students will be able to see a range of accepted entry grades for different courses to improve transparency.

A recent Ucas survey found that 83 per cent of students reported the process of writing a personal statement stressful, with 79 per cent saying it is difficult to complete without support.

Based on this feedback, Kim Eccleston, head of strategy and reform at Ucas, says the current format will be reframed into a series of questions focusing on six key areas: motivation for the course, preparedness for the course, preparation through other experiences, extenuating circumstances, preparedness for study, and preferred learning style.

“We believe this will create a more supportive framework which in turn will help guide students through their responses by removing the guesswork, as well as capturing the information universities and colleges have told us they really need to know from applicants when it comes to offer-making”, she writes in a blog published by the Higher Education Policy Institute.

The questions are set to be introduced in 2024, for students entering higher education in 2025, while Ucas said it paved the way for further enhancements, such as moving to multimedia submissions.

Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said the move to structured questions was “hugely positive”.

“No one should underestimate how important this reform will be in helping to level the playing field in university admissions,” he added.

“I’ve been calling for reform as statements currently add further advantage for middle class applicants who are often given help in filling in their submissions.”

Providers had told Ucas that the subjective nature of the academic reference section – typically filled out by an applicant’s form tutor or careers adviser – made it challenging to be used to compare applicants against each other.

As a result, it will be replaced with three structured questions – a mandatory general statement about the referee’s school, plus optional information sections on extenuating circumstances affecting the applicant’s performance.

Beginning with the 2024 entry cycle, Professor Elliot Major said it will enable more “objective and useful comments from teachers”.

“As we enter an era of increasing competition for the most selective university degree courses, we need more structured and transparent university admissions that are fair and fit for purpose for all,” he added.

In addition, entry grade reports will be available through the Ucas website, which will give a range of grade profiles that have been accepted onto courses over a five-year period.

It said that this personalised tool, which will launch this year, will prompt applicants to dig deeper into entry requirements and re-evaluate options that may have been considered out of reach.

patrick.jack@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

Nothing about "A recent Ucas survey found that 83 per cent of students reported the process of writing a personal statement stressful, with 79 per cent saying it is difficult to complete without support." suggests that the statement should be replaced. Life is stressful and once again insulating young people from that reality will do them no favours when they get a job after their studies. Moreover, many tasks require taking advice and getting help from others and this is usually quoted as a life skill!
PS are not fundamentally wrong. Its the snobbery around education and the expectation that one glove fits all. Higher education establishments need to wise up on how they view (harshly put, judge) potential students. Young people today are creating and will lead the next big economic revolution, listening to them won't be enough. Supporting them might keep you in the game.

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