6 Does it really matter?

Students can become obsessed with creating the perfect personal statement.

It can eat up huge amounts of time. Time that could more productively be spent working to get the highest possible A level grades and reading around the subject.

But the personal statement is really important, isn’t it?

Well, maybe: I’ve heard conflicting views on this from admissions tutors.

You see the problem with the personal statement is that admissions tutors don’t really know who actually wrote it. Maybe it was the applicant. Or maybe they downloaded a model personal statement from the internet. Or maybe they paid someone to write it. Or got their father to write it.

Even if the applicant did write it themselves, admissions tutors don’t know what advice they were given. Maybe their personal statement is poor because they were given poor advice. And that’s not their fault so it wouldn’t be fair to reject them.

So you may spend hour after hour after hour honing the perfect personal statement when, actually, it didn’t make any difference to your application at all. (If you’re applying to Cambridge and your average UMS is below 97%, good luck trying to get an interview, however brilliant you think your personal statement is.)

Here’s some hard data. The University and College Union carried out a survey in 2015 of 2,155 admissions staff. Only around a half of them agreed with the statement “Personal statements are a useful tool to distinguish between students.”

Here are some quotations from admissions staff responding to the survey:

“Personal statements are useful in guiding interviews, but not useful at all as indicators of how good the students are or how well they will do at university (not the same thing, necessarily): most of them are essentially indistinguishable.”

“There is still a bias in the system towards public schools. The students get better coaching on statements.”

“When are the scam of admission statements going to be revealed? Everyone in the sector knows the vast majority are never read – certainly not by an academic.”

“There is a clear mismatch between the personal statements and the interviews. My overall impression is that most students did not write them themselves. The references from the head teachers are also too exaggerated.”

The rest of this guide will assume that your personal statement matters at least a bit. But try not to go overboard with it. There’s no need to spend two months writing eighteen drafts. All of my students have had offers from at least some of the universities they’ve applied to, and not all of them have had what I think are great personal statements. It’s a buyer’s market out there: universities want you. Yes, you might not get an offer from every university – you have to be right for it (and it has to be right for you) – but, if you’re honest with yourself and plan things carefully, you will get an offer from somewhere. Even if your personal statement is generic and tedious. I know. I’ve seen it happen. A lot. (And even if you don’t, if you work hard and get decent grades, you’ll pick somewhere up in clearing. Almost all universities, including lots of good ones, take people in clearing.)

So now it’s time to look at the structure of the UCAS form.

NEXT: 7 The structure of the UCAS form