Ucas statements a 'disadvantage' for state applicants

Prospective students from independent schools are much more likely to submit good personal statements to back up their applications to university, a study has found.

December 7, 2012

The report, commissioned by fair access charity the Sutton Trust, calls into question the fairness of the personal statements - a key part of Universities and Colleges Admissions Service’s process for applying to higher education institutions.

According to a release accompanying the study, independent school applicants are “more likely to submit carefully crafted statements, written in an academically appropriate way, and filled with high status, relevant activities.

“State school applicants, by contrast, appear to receive less help composing their statement, and often struggle to draw on suitable work and life experience.”

Steven Jones, a senior lecturer in education at the University of Manchester, analysed 309 personal statements, all of which were submitted to the same department of the same research-intensive university by students with the same A-level results.

He found clear writing errors were three times more common in the personal statements of applicants from state schools and sixth-form colleges as those from independent schools.

Independent school applicants also listed the highest number of work-related activities and drew on more prestigious experiences.

One 18-year-old applicant’s experience included working “for a designer in London, as a model…on the trading floor of a London broker’s firm…with my local BBC radio station…events planning with a corporate 5 star country hotel…in the marketing team of a leading City law firm…and most recently managing a small gastro pub”.

For state school applicants, work-related activity was more likely to involve a Saturday job or a school visit to a business, the study found.

The Trust says it wants Ucas to consider whether the personal statement, in its current form, is an “appropriate and fair indicator of applicants’ potential”.

It calls for a series of measures, including a limit on the number of experiences described by applicants, more help for state school pupils in preparing statements and universities to take young people’s background into account.

Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Sutton Trust, said: “This research suggests that the personal statement further disadvantages students from low- and middle-income backgrounds.

“Personal statements should be more than an excuse to highlight past advantages. Applicants should outline how they might contribute to campus life, and universities should make it clear that applicants are not penalised for lacking opportunities in the past due to family circumstances.”

However, some academics and sector leaders took to Twitter to question the research’s findings.

Mary Beard, professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, tweeted: “Does Sutton Trust report really think I’m taken in by slick expensive personal statements on ucas forms…we’re not that easy to con.”

While Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive of the Association of Colleges, asked where state schools and colleges would find the resources to provide more support to pupils.

simon.baker@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 6 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

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Social media icons

Gabriel Egan laments the narcissistic craving for others’ approval brought on, he says, by the use of social networking websites

James Fryer illustration (8 September 2016)

Some lecturers will rightly encourage forms of student interaction that are impossible for those covering their faces, Eric Heinze argues

Elly Walton illustration (25 August 2016)

Treating students as consumers has precipitated a rush to the bottom to give them exactly what they want, says John Warren

Handwritten essay on table

Universities must pay more attention to the difficulties faced by students, says Daniel Dennehy

Theresa May entering 10 Downing Street, London

The prospect of new grammar schools on the horizon raises big questions for HE, writes Nick Hillman