On top of the recently announced UCAS personal statement changes, UCAS has also announced that there will be changes to the reference letters. UCAS has received complaints that referees need to put too much effort into writing references compared to the value that universities get out of them. These changes will be enacted in fall this year, applying to applicants for 2024 university entrance.1UCAS – Future of Undergraduate Admissions 2023, pg.4 (https://www.ucas.com/file/672901/download?token=VccObZXZ)
Therefore, they are changing the references to three structured short questions instead of a free-text essay. The new guided questions are as follows:
- Enter a general statement about your school/college
- Enter any information about extenuating circumstances which may affect this applicant’s performance in examinations or other assessments (Optional)
- Use this section to outline any other circumstances specific to the applicant that you think universities should be aware of (Optional)2UCAS – Future of Undergraduate Admissions 2023, pg.4
So, what does this mean?
These questions shift the focus from an individual’s achievements to the circumstances in which they were achieved. This helps bridge the privilege gap between students from the upper and lower socioeconomic classes. Instead of reading a reference letter that only outlines an applicant’s achievements, the letter now has a dedicated section that allows referees to explain those achievements or the lack thereof. If a student has to spend most of their free time working a part-time job or taking on childcare responsibilities at home, referees may not think to outline such background information in the current form of the referee letter. But with the new format, disadvantaged students will be able to explain why their profile differs so much from a student that is privileged.
For privileged students i.e. those from private schools, this means universities will be even less tolerant of any blemishes on your record as most students will not have extenuating circumstances. So, when pitted against another student with the same grades and achievements that has extenuating circumstances that outline their lack of privilege, it is easy to assume that universities would pick the latter student. If a student from such a background can achieve so much while struggling in other areas of their life, it must mean they have untapped academic potential. On the other hand, a privileged student with sub-par grades that, in theory, hasn’t had much else to worry about, would show universities that they may not have further promise as a prospective student.
So, private school applicants, beware! Make sure your academic record is strong and consistent!
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- UCAS – Future of Undergraduate Admissions 2023, pg.4 (https://www.ucas.com/file/672901/download?token=VccObZXZ)
- UCAS – Future of Undergraduate Admissions 2023, pg.4