9 What the UCAS form is really all about

This is a cynical view, but universities are all about money.

Students represent income. That’s why they want you. You bring cash into the university which they can spend on impressive buildings and expensive equipment for their world-beating research. But if things go wrong with you, they won’t get the cash.

So what can go wrong? You can leave the university before you graduate.

There are four reasons why you might. The first two are the same. So is the third one.

First, you fail the exams. The truth is you just weren’t smart enough to cope with the course. So admissions tutors want some reassurance that this won’t happen. The primary source of this reassurance is the actual exam results you’ve already got. They show what you can achieve. (Your predictions may be relevant here but, as I’ve said, they’re not very reliable.)

Second, you fail the exams. The truth is you’re an idiot and think university is all about getting drunk. You don’t do any work and you fail. The admissions tutors want some reassurance that this won’t happen, either. Again, the fact you’ve actually passed exams in the past is a help. But so is evidence that you’ve behaved responsibly in the past. Holding down a menial job for a decent length of time, for example.

Third, you get thrown out. The truth is you’re an idiot and think university is all about getting drunk. It gets so bad they have to ask you to leave. Once again, the boring job you’ve had stacking shelves at Asda for the last eighteen months is pretty strong evidence that you can be responsible when you need to be.

Fourth, you drop out. The truth is the course was really boring and you just couldn’t bear doing another year of it. This is a really important point to address in your personal statement. You need to show that you really understand what it means to study one subject, full-time, for three years, and that you are genuinely very keen to do it. Because it’s not easy. The third year is really hard. The material gets difficult, the workload is high. The courses get pretty specialised. Go into it with your eyes open, and show the admissions tutors that you know what you’re letting yourself in for.

You can reassure them about this in four ways.

First, by showing that you’ve researched the content of the degree and you’re excited to get started on studying the material at undergraduate level.

Second, by showing that you already spend a lot of time reading about the subject you’re applying for because you are genuinely passionate about it – and not just from the textbook you’ve been given at school: I’m talking about independent reading. Ideally something more impressive than reading The Economist, though you should definitely be doing that if you’re applying for Economics.

Third, by showing that you’re the kind of person who has committed to long-term projects and has seen them through to the end. This is where you mention your Gold Duke of Edinburgh, or your Grade 8 violin. Or the eighteen months you’ve spent at Asda.

Fourth, you have a life-plan and this degree is an essential part of it. You know that you want to become an investment manager, and studying Economics will help you be a really successful investment manager.

(You may not have a clue what you want to do with your life after university. That’s totally fine. Lots of people your age don’t. Lots of people my age don’t. University is not just about getting a job after graduation. But if you do know what you want to do, it can be reassuring to admissions tutors to hear about it.)

So we know what admissions tutors are hoping to hear. But who should tell them?

Who should write your personal statement? (Clue: You.)

NEXT: 10 A camel is a horse designed by a committee