Life After Sixth Form

Helping you get that university place or career

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

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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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