7 The structure of the UCAS form

Your UCAS application essentially has four parts.

First is factual information about you: name, date of birth, address and so on. Boring, but easy.

Second is your exam results. This is arguably the most important part of the form. It’s solid, independent facts about your academic performance. (If your grades aren’t as good as they should be, you’re going to have to address this in the personal statement. See Chapter 13.)

Third is your personal statement. I’ve already discussed how important – if at all – this section is.

Lastly is the school’s reference. There’s a question mark about how important this section is, too. A central feature of it are your predicted A level results. But schools are notoriously poor at getting these right. (Astonishingly, in 2014, of those students predicted by their schools to get ABB grades in their A levels, only 21% actually did.) It’s hardly fair for you to be penalised for your school’s inability to forecast how you’re going to do. Your predictions will be supplemented with additional remarks. These are often written by people who don’t know you very well, cobbled together from comments submitted to them by your teachers. It’s not at all clear how useful all this ends up being. (And don’t forget the quote from the UCU survey in the previous chapter: “The references from the head teachers are also too exaggerated.”)

I would make one comment at this stage. If at all possible liaise with the person responsible for writing your reference. Some information sounds much better coming from the school than it does from you.

For example, if you say

completing the Duke of Edinburgh award has really improved my leadership skills

you may sound self-regarding and even a little arrogant.

But if the school says

we’ve really noticed how Jonny’s hard work in successfully completing the Duke of Edinburgh award has enhanced his leadership skills, especially in his role as a prefect responsible for younger students

you sound like dream undergraduate material.

But before you start writing, spare a thought for who’s going to read your personal statement.

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