Personal Statements – A vital task or an unnecessary burden on young people?
For some students, preparing a Personal Statement is a golden opportunity to express their future goals. But for others, it is a task that fills them with dread. Our universities expect and demand Personal Statements with a student’s application to express what young people hope to achieve on the course and beyond. While all of us at some time or another have prepared a Curriculum Vitae, the Personal Statement seems to have become more and more prevalent in recent years. Some schools spend months helping the student hone their Personal Statement to virtual perfection, while utterance of those two words seems to be introduced into conversation from Year 7 or earlier. Young people are encouraged to consider taking up life developing opportunities such as volunteering for charities or embarking upon the Duke of Edinburgh Award as ways of preparing for university. Many parents and students perceive the process to be added pressure on young people. One parent said:“When a young person doesn’t know what they want to do as a career, is unsure if university is the right decision and is still finding their way, the pressure to write a statement that ‘sells’ them to university and pitches them as suited to a specific course can be overwhelming.” There is certainly an abundance of information available. One website described the Personal Statement writing process as ‘a balancing act between sufficient self- promotion and unattractive boasting’. This must surely be a terrifying prospect to most 17-year-olds, whose only act of ‘self-promotion’ is posting photos on social media. A quick search on the internet reveals that a fully written Personal Statement can be purchased for as little as £109.99. There is clearly money to be made from this business. Cheltenham-based Training and Higher Ed consultant Keith Carter, worked as a trainer for the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) for eight years. He travelled the world educating both teachers supporting students and potential applicants in the process required to enter British universities through UCAS. Keith said: “There are various reasons why Personal Statements have come into focus. Universities
offer a wider range of courses, many of which place less emphasis on the core academic subjects. Also, universities are moving away from face-to-face interviews, so the Personal Statement is expected to paint a clear picture of the applicant. For the student, it is an opportunity to stand out and set themselves apart from the next student who may have been predicted or achieved the same grades or higher.” There is no doubt that competition is fiercer than ever before. Each year there are now around 700,000 applicants, each one writing a Personal Statement. This compares to around 400,000 in the early 1990s and 50,000 in the early 1960s when the concept of a centralised admissions service was introduced, in UCAS’s predecessor UCCA. But while it plays a vital role, there is also a plethora of free help available – much of it provided by UCAS. Fiona Johnston, UCAS’s director of operations said: “A Personal Statement is a chance for the student to show they would be a great fit on the course. They can talk about why they are applying for the subject, what they’ve already done that’s related, and their ambitions – both during the course and after graduation. “Tutors want to make sure that the students are ready to step up to degree level in the subject and that they’ll enjoy it.” Fiona says the tutors are looking for the student’s enthusiasm to ‘leap off the screen’. But the value of the Personal Statement may go beyond university to employers who, after all, stand at the ultimate finish line for the students. Gloucester-based Quayside Wealth Management regularly takes on apprentices and manager Alex Kell said: “We’d never ask for a Personal Statement, but we have had them supplied by colleges when younger adults don’t have true employment experience. Although we’ve never requested them, the CVs that have been coupled with a statement soon stand out from those which haven’t” l
50 | December 2018 | www. punchline-gloucester .com
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