Alarming news has come up that UCAS intends to scrap the historic personal statement. Many generations of UK university applicants are familiar with the approximately one-page essay with a character limit of 4000 and 47 lines.
The announcements state that the new questionnaire format will come into effect in 2024, which will apply to students applying for the academic year of 2025. So, if you’re set to start university in the fall of 2024, don’t worry; these changes should not concern you (I say “should” because early news of this mentioned the possibility of applying the changes this year, but newer sources claim the earliest change is set to apply to 2025 applicants). However, what if you are set to enter university in the fall of 2025 and later? Listen up; this article is for you.
UCAS is currently doing surveys on how students feel about the current personal statement format, which yielded the following results: 1UCAS. “Future of Undergraduate Admissions – January 2023.” https://www.ucas.com/, UCAS, 2023, https://www.ucas.com/file/672901/download?token=VccObZXZ. pp.6.
- 72% of students felt positive about the current PS style
- 83% found it stressful
- 79% found it difficult to complete without support
With the bottom statistic of 79% finding it difficult to complete without support, UCAS concluded that the current format of the personal statement gives wealthy candidates who can afford outside help an unfair advantage. As such, they wish to scrap it and replace it with a questionnaire.
However, UCAS has not announced what this new questionnaire is going to look like. UCAS is still currently investigating what specific questions students should address and what format those questions should be addressed via to provide universities with the info they need. There is no decision on whether that would be in the form of an essay or just short questions – the term they used was “both groups (students and providers) identified a preference for structured questions that bring focus and clarity for students, reducing the need for support.”2UCAS. “Future of Undergraduate Admissions – January 2023.” https://www.ucas.com/, UCAS, 2023, https://www.ucas.com/file/672901/download?token=VccObZXZ. pp.6.
So far, providers have identified six areas that would provide them with useful information: 3UCAS. “Future of Undergraduate Admissions – January 2023.” https://www.ucas.com/, UCAS, 2023, https://www.ucas.com/file/672901/download?token=VccObZXZ. pp.6.
- Motivation for courses
- Preparedness for courses
- Preparation through other experiences
- Extenuating circumstances
- Preparedness for study
- Preferred learning styles
And still, with this, there is no consensus on the next steps. UCAS is still seeking more opinions on:4UCAS. “Future of Undergraduate Admissions – January 2023.” https://www.ucas.com/, UCAS, 2023, https://www.ucas.com/file/672901/download?token=VccObZXZ. pp.7.
- Additional areas of interest to universities
- Readiness, i.e. how long stakeholders will need to prep for these changes. The EARLIEST they are currently proposing is 2024, for the class of 2025 students, but they are asking whether universities, schools, and students need more time than that
- They have received “mixed perspectives” from all stakeholders for having different statements per application choice.
Point 3, in particular, makes it seem like they are still looking at an “essay format” personal statement and not just “short questions”.
One final point of note from UCAS’s statements is that this future unconfirmed change “paves the way for further enhancements in future years such as moving away from written text to multi-media submissions”.5UCAS. “Future of Undergraduate Admissions – January 2023.” https://www.ucas.com/, UCAS, 2023, https://www.ucas.com/file/672901/download?token=VccObZXZ. pp.7. Our interpretation of this statement is that they are still planning for a predominantly text-based statement for now.
So, what does this mean for our students?
The preparation work you have done with the intention to be discussed in your personal statement has not been done in vain. If these future changes are still highly likely to be text-based in long-form questions, you will still have an opportunity to showcase your experiences, thoughts, and academic potential. As for what format these changes will take, we can only wait for more news to come out.
But what will not change is that U.K. universities, like any prestigious educational institutions in the world, will want ways to ensure that they are picking the best and brightest students to form their student body. Just because the UCAS questionnaire may become more simplistic in the future, does not mean universities will give up on assessing candidates rigorously. In recent years, more and more universities have added interviews or writing and testing requirements, emulating their American counterparts.
In previous articles, we have mentioned that more and more universities are opting for students to respond to more course-specific questions by requiring additional writing supplements. For example, architecture, medicine, vet medicine, English literature, liberal studies, international relations, and management science now have additional application requirements beyond a Personal Statement. My guess is that if the new UCAS questionnaire proves to be too simplistic, more universities will require American-style supplement essays or additional statements of interest. Unlike American colleges, U.K. universities almost always place a time limit on applicants to return these forms and essays. For example, UCL’s management science gives students less than a week to complete three pages worth of questions on a form called “Additional Personal Statement”.6“Management Science BSc.” ucl.ac.uk, 30 Nov. 2022. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/undergraduate/degrees/management-science-bsc
Admission tests used to be exclusive to Oxford and Cambridge and some professional courses. But even before COVID-19 hit, many universities have added testing requirements. For example, UCL has its own version of the TSA called the TST.7“Apply | UCL European & International Social & Political Studies.” ucl.ac.uk, 21 Oct. 2022, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/european-international-social-political-studies/apply. I would venture to guess that more universities will opt for additional testing requirements to assess their candidates.
After COVID-19, Zoom has made it more convenient than ever for interviews. In fact, Oxford and Cambridge have both opted for online interviews8“Interviews.” University of Oxford, https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/guide/interviews. for the foreseeable future, even when COVID-19 restrictions have long been lifted. Another prediction I would make is that more universities will opt for online interviews if the new questionnaire proves to be too simplistic. If anything, universities will make their questions more serious and technical to test out a student’s academic potential.
As such, if you are to take anything away from this article is that just because the personal statement is changing, it does not mean U.K. university admissions are going to get any easier. Universities simply will not give up finding the best and strongest candidates, and if they cannot assess them well enough in the new questionnaire, they will evolve and add requirements that will allow them to assess students. So, whatever you are doing now or intend to do to impress U.K. universities, keep doing them. Keep reading, keep trying, and keep thinking.
When in doubt, go speak to your school counsellors or admissions consultant. When things are in flux, it never hurts to have an additional pair of eyes to monitor the changes and someone to strategize with you early and effectively.
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By Antonia Chui, Managing Director
- UCAS. “Future of Undergraduate Admissions – January 2023.” https://www.ucas.com/, UCAS, 2023, https://www.ucas.com/file/672901/download?token=VccObZXZ.
- “Management Science BSc.” ucl.ac.uk, 30 Nov. 2022. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/undergraduate/degrees/management-science-bsc
- “Apply | UCL European & International Social & Political Studies.” ucl.ac.uk, 21 Oct. 2022, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/european-international-social-political-studies/apply.
- “Interviews.” University of Oxford, https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/guide/interviews.