How to help your child with their UCAS application

 Edited transcript of the video above.

I’m Kat, I’m the Student Recruitment and School Liaison Manager at City University. I’ve been working at City for five years and before that I actually worked for a big further education college in Weston-Super-Mare, I was the UCAS coordinator there. So, helping students with some personal statement applications.

I’m from kind of just outside London so when after three years there, I thought it’s time for me to move on. I want to move back closer to home and the job with City just came up. It been the perfect job really, I’ve really loved working there and it uses a lot of the skills that were in my old job. In that after eight years I still talk about personal statements and student finance, and everything related to university just with a different angle. A lot of what I do is still supporting students with their transition to higher education even now.

Fantastic, and you were explaining that City is obviously part of the University of London. So, can you explain a little bit about what that means?

Yeah, there’s universities that are under that kind of University of London umbrella. We’re all individual universities, so if a student wants to make an application to one of us then they absolutely can but it’s a separate application depending on which university they want to apply for. If they want to apply to us, that’s one of their five choices, if they want to apply to King’s that’s another one of their five choices.

I think that’s just a really important distinction to make because it is a little bit confusing because a lot of us have a really similar name mostly. The kind of benefits of the University of London is that we do share some facilities like Senate House Library. All students that are part of the University of London have access to that very cool library but also, we share some accommodation, we share some elements of social life.

I mean how many applications a year are there?

I mean we’re talking hundreds of thousands of applications.

How do they stand out? What should they be doing?

Absolutely so probably the main recommendation I would give parents is get involved. Sixth form is a really important part of the application, it defines a lot for a young person in terms of what courses they want to apply for and the type of university they can see themselves at. Remember, every student applying to university is at sixth form or has been at sixth form in the past, so that’s kind of something in common with every student.

When they can stand out is by going beyond the sixth form syllabus and show their commitment to the subjects in their own ways. We would really recommend students do that. We can gain a really good insight from how much a student wants to do a subject from the types of activities they get involved in.

So, university taster days I would say are number one. Loads of them can be done online now, that’s the benefit of the pandemic, we didn’t have that before. They were always in person but now lots of universities will have on-demand tasters that are even like 15 minutes. It’s usually an academic from the university talking about their research or talking about their subject and a student can gain a lot from that in terms of working out whether or not they want to do that subject. Which at least if they work that out for free that was a way better decision than if they started a degree and didn’t like it!

But also, they can then talk about that in their personal statement, so if they go to a psychology taster and a particular theory is mentioned then they may want to reflect on what they learned through that taster. Maybe they do a bit of extra reading themselves? Then they’re showing us, as a university, that they can already do that kind of thinking in their own time.

They put a deadline in for applications, don’t they? What are the deadlines?

This this is a fantastic question because it is different for every sixth form but there are some UCAS national deadlines. The 15th of October is the first deadline and that’s for anyone who’s applying for any courses at the University of Oxford or Cambridge. Or they’re applying for any universities that offer medicine, veterinary science or veterinary medicine and dentistry. That’s the first deadline.

The second one and this is an important change because for I don’t know how many years at this point, at least the whole time I’ve been working in this field, the main deadline for UCAS applications has been the 15th of January. It has changed for UCAS in 2022 and they’ve moved it to the last Wednesday in January which for will be the 26th of January. If any of you are watching and your child is applying in 2022, it’s the last Wednesday in January in that year.

So Oxbridge and medical and veterinary is October. And that’s completed application forms?

Completed application submitted. The reason that they have an earlier deadline is that there is usually an interview process for those programs. They need a bit more time to coordinate. Now that doesn’t mean that if you’re applying for the January deadline your course doesn’t have an interview. It’s just less likely or the university maybe doesn’t have as many that they need to process, so it’s okay to apply for the January deadline.

What I would say though, and you touched on this where you said that sixth forms have different internal deadlines. The internal deadline is almost more important than the national deadline because your sixth form will likely say we need the application to be submitted by October half term. That’s a really common benchmark but it could potentially be sometime in November or early December. That deadline is so important because what that deadline does is when your child submits their UCAS application it actually goes to the sixth form first. They will check it for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and checking that things are okay. Trust me as somebody who used to do this like I did spot people having spelled their first name incorrectly because the UCAS application form is kind of stressful right. Things can go wrong, so sixth form is kind of that buffer to check that stuff. If there are any elements of your application form that would need amending, they send it back to the student for them to go login.

Can you tell if it hasn’t been written by a student?

Yeah, you can. It’s so important that it’s the student’s own words because they’re the person who’s going to be studying this course. They are the person that we want to hear from. Parents you will want to help, and your help is valuable, but it’s just worth thinking about how you kind of channel that help.

Particularly if you know that your child maybe needs a bit more help with spelling and grammar. Or maybe making sure that the structure’s okay and that the order of their paragraph is okay, you can absolutely help with that. Your child would probably really value your input, but the personal statement is called personal for a reason and it’s personal to them. It’s super important that it’s their own work.

So, Kat just when we’re talking about the student application form, how much detail should a child go into about extracurricular or even work experience that they’ve had? Again, they’re trying to differentiate themselves from their classmates, what’s your view on that?

Yeah, this is a brilliant question because it comes up all the time. The first thing I would say is it’s important to understand there’s a difference between extracurriculars and what’s kind of known in the university space as a ‘supercurricular’. This was a term that’s mostly used for Oxford and Cambridge applications, but I think it’s really valuable for all students. It gives you a really good sense of the types of things that would count as really valuable to a university. Supercurriculars are things like being involved in university taster days, summer schools, reading around the subject, listening to relevant podcasts, watching relevant documentaries anything that the student shows their love the subjects in their own time.

An extracurricular is things like being involved in sport, speaking another language and dance, things like that. The personal statement is only about an A4 page, it really isn’t very long and there is a character count. If the student goes over that UCAS probably won’t let them submit it or it will end halfway through a sentence. So, it’s really important that the student sticks to the character count which is four thousand characters including spaces. It’s every punctuation mark, every letter, the last full stop.

There’s only a page of space they’ve got to talk about themselves and as a university what we are most interested in reading about is the students what we call kind of academic content. This means talking about sixth form and how that supported them and then super curriculars because super curriculars are course specific. Work experience is also really valuable and for some students this kind of blurs into a super curriculars, so for example medicine doing working in a doctor’s centre that’s super curricular because it’s probably the most relevant thing they’ve done in preparation for their application.

Other work experience is still really valuable even if it’s unrelated. An example I often use for students is let’s say you’re applying for nursing, but you have a part-time job in McDonald’s or somewhere like that. On the face of it they are completely different because the workload is not the same but if you look at the work experience a lot of the skills are really similar. In terms of customer service, people skills, dealing with difficult customers, managing lots of tasks, working in a team. So, if your child does have work experience, they did through like school in year 10 or they have a part-time job or something like that, they can still talk about it. Just not in as much detail as if it’s a kind of super curricular work experience but it’s still definitely worth including.

And then extracurriculars these kind of sports music drama etc, it is a much smaller paragraph, and some students really struggle with that because they’ve been involved in loads of things. They need to maybe kind of differentiate okay what these were super curricular which of these were an extracurricular and they may need to cut down their extracurricular paragraph.

It’s not that we don’t want to hear about those things, but we don’t want to see just a kind of bullet point list of extracurricular achievements because that doesn’t actually tell us a lot about the student.

We would much rather hear about you been involved in playing football for 10 years. What do you gain from being involved in football? Well, being part of a team is probably the biggest thing that a student could talk about from doing that. We would much rather than talk about one or two extracurriculars and how those experiences were useful.

If they have got loads of things, they can approach their sixth form and say, would it be okay if you talk about these in my reference instead? I don’t have space in my personal statement. The reference that the tutors provide is a bit more about promoting your student and talking about their achievements. So, they can then maybe include their extracurriculars in their references.

And the personal statement, I guess you know you have to as admissions you have to work to a formula. What sort of percentage, I don’t know if you’re able to answer? You might not want to answer this, if there are marks ordered to an application form what percentages is the personal statement?

Every application form is looked at wholistically, so we will look at predicted grades, we will look at the rest of the application form, the personal statement, and the reference. I would say it’s difficult to maybe put an exact percentage because different courses will put different value on the personal statement.

If your student is applying for anything competitive, so any of those early 15th of October universities and courses. Or they might be applying for something like maybe nursing that took a real high for 2021 applications because of the pandemic, so nursing became competitive, midwifery is pretty competitive, teaching can be competitive.

The personal statement is really valuable in those applications because we do need to look at something extra to kind of decide whether a student is suitable for the course, so the personal statement is really important. The personal statement is important for every application, it will be looked at for all application. But then it may be that if a student’s applying for a more theoretical subject, then maybe their predicted grades take the higher weighting.

Maybe, we need like an A Level in maths, and it needs to be an A and if the student’s predicted to C, then the student may not be successful on the program for that reason. Sometimes they can change weighting based on the subject.

Even if they smash the lights out from the personal statement, if they don’t get the A…

…it might be they’re too far away. I think it’s really important that students should always take the time on the personal statement. The other thing that students don’t know is which universities or which courses are really going to be looking at your personal statement. You could be applying for history and not realise that that university puts a lot of emphasis in the personal statement and a lot of your application kind of hung based on how well you did in that. So you should always put the work in it.

The other reason the personal statement is valuable is come results day. If you just missed the grades that are needed for the university that you were hoping was going to be your first choice the personal statement is looked at. Kind of ‘okay, well did they have a really strong personal statement? We do still have spaces on the course… they were just under the grade… sure we can still take them’.

The personal statement may not have been used as much at the kind of October or January deadline, but it may save you come results day.