Life After Sixth Form

Helping you get that university place or career

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Oiling the wheels of the PS machine

Now I’m ploughing through drafts and multiple revisions of your
personal statements it has occurred to me that there are a couple of
things you can do that will help to make it a little quicker and
easier for me.

To check that your PS is appropriate for your application, I am having
to check the courses you are applying for, and that those courses are
suitable for your qualifications. If you can put those details at the
top of your personal statements, it will save me having to log in to
UCAS-Apply and scroll through each application.

So just pop at the top your five course choices, the subjects you are
taking, and the grades you got in summer, and it will help me to get
through the process a little more quickly, easily and with sharper
focus on what you need to do to target your PS more precisely to your

Thank you.


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Keep Your Personal Statement Tidy

As you re-draft your PS, you should be revising it in the light of comments made in the margin. Once you have changed something, if the original comment is still there it can be confusing or misleading when I come to look at your PS again, so please delete the comments as you go along (just click the 'dustbin' icon in the comment to do this). 

If you are unsure about whether your revision is good enough, or deals with the comment adequately, you could add your own comment at that point to draw my attention to the issue. For example you might add a comment saying something like: " You suggested I should be more specific about my work placement. I've changed it now. Is this OK?"

That way it will always be clear what stage you are at in the revision process and we can make it more of a dialogue towards making your PS shine 🙂

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The Reference / Personal Statement Relationship (and why some of you need to pull your finger out!)

With just 33 days until the internal deadline for UCAS applications, quite a few of you still seem unclear or indifferent as to why you should be sharing your personal statement via Google Docs, and other information about the progress of your application via your Posterous blog (indeed, more than half of you have not yet supplied me the address of your blog).

So let me explain a bit about the process from my point of view, that might help it to make sense to you.

You, individually, are absorbed in your own application. You know the process you have gone through to choose the area of study you want to pursue, and to narrow down the courses on offer to the maximum of five you can list on the form. You know the websites you have checked; the correspondence you have had with universities; the contact you have had with people who are already students or have done similar courses before you. You know what your Centigrade questionnaire threw up. You know what open days and visits you have been or are going on. You know what work experience or work-shadowing you have done. You know what reading around your subjects you have done.You know if you are doing an Extended Project, or additional lessons, or take part in relevant extra-curricular activities.You know what you got for your GCSE's, and your AS results. You know the conversations you may have had with subject teachers about your performance and about any exams you may be having re-marked or are going to re-sit. And so on.

I know some of that information. I have access to the comments your subject teachers have made on your reports, and I have access to your UCAS application itself. You may have told me a piece of relevant information in person. It is important to you, so you will assume I have remembered it. But sadly, to me, it might have been just another of the countless pieces of information about the hundreds of students I tutor or teach each year, and I may have forgotten it, or my faulty memory may have connected it with the wrong person by mistake.

You may have written something relevant down on a piece of paper in PSE last year, or sent me an email about it. But do you think it is in your best interests that I should rely on checking through a wodge of different papers, looking at your school reports, checking through my past emails, trawling through your UCAS application, and trying to dredge things out of the memory banks to piece together the material for the best reference I can honestly write for you?

I want to know the story of your application: not just the end point. I want the drafting of the personal statement to be a dialogue between me and you, so that I can comment on the context of things you include in your PS, and so that with the limited space we both have, we can avoid unnecessary duplication: there's no point me just repeating things that are in your PS. It is likely that there are things you may want to put in your personal statement, but are struggling to find room for, that would be better included by me in your reference. Your admissions tutors will want to know that you are a well-organised and self-reliant student who has carefully thought through the reasons for their application. If all I have to go on is a PS that appears 'out of the blue' with little sense of context, or how you have reached the point you are at now, it can be very difficult for me to say anything specific and meaningful in that regard.

On the other hand, if I have a series of blog posts that takes me with you on the journey you have been on towards your final application, then I will have plenty to say. If you have let me know (through uploading your CV, for example, as a start) about all your extra-curricular activities and interests, then I can mention some of them instead of you, helping you to stick to the 70:30 ratio in favour of subject focused content in your PS. And if at any stage you are struggling in any way with the process, it is better that I know so that I can try and help you myself – or point you in the direction of someone else who can. 

Then, when I come to write your reference, I have in a single place all the information I need and can just switch between the windows on my laptop containing your UCAS application, your blog, and your subject reports. We will already have had a dialogue about what you are leaving out of your PS for me to include in the reference.

So what now? If you didn't start your blog before summer as I suggested and regularly update it since then, it's not too late to sort it now. It just means that rather than lots of blog posts spread over the past few months, you will have to update me in one go on what you have done to reach the point you are at now with your application. Then I suggest that you update your blog very frequently (say, every two or three days) to keep me up to date with where you are at, and what you are doing. It need only be a sentence or so, and remember that it is as simple as sending an email to Examples of useful updates may be things like telling me about open days you've been on, articles you have read, things that you have found particularly interesting from your studies, good assessment results or marks achieved, books you are reading, or conversations you have had relating to your courses or potential career choices. Even if your update is no more than "I'm still waiting for you to comment on my PS, sir", it will show me that you are engaged with the process (and might give me the nudge  need to get round to it!).

I know you have lots of things competing for your time at the start of a new academic year. Well so do I: that's why I want you to work with me on this to ensure I can offer you the support you need to make your UCAS application the best we can make it.

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YouTube College Application – Teach42


And where America goes….

[click on the picture above to read the article]

Whilst I would not suggest that you all rush out and make YouTube videos to support your application, it is clear that contact with University departments beyond the UCAS application itself can be helpful in making your name stick in the mind of admissions tutors, and possibly making your application stand out from the crowd.

Of course, if done badly, that might jeopardise your application. If you’re pestering an admissions tutor with questions that are answered by a proper look through the course website and prospectus, you will just look like a doofus. On the other hand , useful supplementary follow-up information (perhaps relating to work-experience, results gained or other relevant achievements after the UCAS application is submitted) could well see you looked upon more favourably.

Particularly if you are applying for a course where you are told you may need to submit a portfolio, or one involving creativity or media skills etc, maybe you could consider whether a video contribution might just enhance your application.

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Personal Statements – be specific

As I work my way through Personal Statements one type of comment I’m making over and over again is to be more specific about experiences you are referring to.


For example if you say you have done work experience somewhere, you should indicate how frequently, for how long, how it was organised (totally your own initiative? drawing on family contacts?).


And don’t only be specific about the experience itself, but about what you gained from it. “This helped me develop team work skills” or whatever always sounds a bit lame. Tie it down to particulars. Every time.

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Personal Statement Support via Google Documents

As some of you know, I quite often use Google Documents to share and comment on work with students and colleagues, and have started to do so with Personal Statements. However, the method I was using was a little cumbersome, as I was taking the responsibility of receiving the statement, copying it into Google Docs, then sharing it with the student concerned.

Goodness knows what I was thinking, as Miss Shakespeare has been using the obviously much more sensible and elegant approach of getting her students to take responsibility for adding the PS to Google Docs and sharing it with herself and Mrs Hurley. She has also produced a clear and simple instruction PowerPoint presentation on the process that Mrs Hurley kindly shared with form tutors earlier, and which you can find below:


Download this file

This prompted me to do something I’ve been meaning to get round to for a while and create a couple of screencasts on how to set up and use a  Google account and use Google Docs that I can use with any classes (hence it’s not specific to personal statements). You might like to watch the screencasts in conjunction with the PowerPoint if you’re the sort of person who benfits from being shown the process visually, as it happens.

Screencast 1

Watch on Posterous

Screencast 2

Watch on Posterous

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Personal Statements (again)

Thank you to those of you who have got drafts of your Personal Statements to me. Apologies if it feels like you are having to wait for my feedback when you want to get on with it, but sadly there are only 24 hours in the day. At the time of writing I have six ‘in the queue’ and I will get these looked at and respond to those students by the beginning of next week. If you have uploaded your statement to your blog and haven’t  heard from me by the beginning of next week, do feel free to give me a gentle nudge.

For anyone still wrestling with their PS (I heard one or two plaintive cries to that effect in form and PSHEE earlier this week) you might like to look for inspiration at The Student Room. The link to the main site is over on the right, but if you’re too lazy to go that way and find the ‘Personal Statement’ tab at the top of the home page then just click this link and go straight there.

As always when looking at other people’s personal statements, remember that even though the candidate may have been successful in gaining a place that doesn’t mean that their personal statement is ideal, and that on the whole competition is stiffer than ever now, so what may have been  fine then may not cut the mustard now. However, there are lots of examples of good (and not so good) Personal Statements there to give you ideas if you are feeling lost.

However DO NOT BE TEMPTED to simply ‘lift’ bits of personal statements from there or anywhere else. UCAS is now using sophisticated software to check the originality of personal statements and copying parts of others (even if you change the wording a bit) can cause you to come an almighty cropper.