Personal statements and reference writing

The UCAS reference and
personal statement guidance
How are they used?
As part of the assessment of candidates against a range of criteria
agreed with Admissions Tutors.
Different institutions will give different weight within the decision making
For some students, on some courses they will be critical
Personal statements should be the end result of the decision-making
References are the only part of the application not written by the student
Teacher Support and References
Encourage wide-ranging research
and a broad perspective on subject
Review the application carefully and
Advise on the subject focus of the
personal statement
Suggest additional or extended
reading and encourage evidence of
this in the personal statement
Personal Statement – the basics
A personal statement needs to be 70-80% directly relevant to the
They get one application for all 5 choices – but additional information
can be sent direct to a specific HEI
It should demonstrate their interest in and knowledge of their chosen
It should provide evidence of relevant skills and experiences
The application is limited to 47 lines - it should be focused throughout
It may be used as the basis for any interviews
Personal Statement – what to include
Demonstrate motivation and interest:
• “Computing is a thought provoking subject, covering a range of
disciplines, and has permeated every aspect of modern life. It
has also given our imaginations new dimensions: opening up
whole new modes of communication, connecting people from all
over the word. What excites me most about the subject is the
seemingly limitless potential of computers: from changing the
way that people communicate to how businesses operate, we
have only just begun to understand what computers can do for
us. Computing has given us the power to shape up our future
according to our thoughts, and that idea makes me feel that
nothing is impossible.”
Personal Statement – what to include
Examples of current study and skills/knowledge gained:
• “Frequent independent assignments in Geography have also
enhanced my data analysis and research skills.”
• “My Biology A level has shown me the intricacies of brain function
and how functional abnormalities are closely linked with
psychological ones e.g. the link between the function of
neurotransmitters and synapses with depression.”
• “My studies in Maths and Physics have ensured I take a logical
approach to obtaining a solution to any problem, as well as
relating studies on forces and kinematics to the biomechanics
modules of a Sports Science degree.”
Personal Statement – what to include
Demonstrate enthusiasm for subject with examples of wider
• “I have endeavoured to broaden my studies further and this has
led me to be an active follower of the magazine 'Biological
Sciences' and also the journal 'The Biologist' which looks at new
developments and controversial issues. Alongside this I have
become a member of the Society of Biology at a student level.
The society allows me to keep up with the advances and
discoveries in biological science and will continue to do so during
my progression as a university student.”
Personal Statement – what to include
Including relevant extra-curricula activities / work experience:
• “To gain a practical experience I have completed two work
placements. The first was with the City of York Council's
architects. During this I was taught to use AutoCAD, I later
furthered this with a CAD course. I was given the chance to
shadow an architect's site visit and attended a meeting on the
conservation of York's Georgian Mansion House. It gave me a
clearer insight on what is required of an architect and removed
several of my misconceptions of the job. My second placement
was with Weedon Partnership Architects, a private firm. Whilst
there, an architect imparted to me his fascination for
environmentally beneficial structures and the delicacy with which
they are designed. He also taught me to use Microstation and
took me on a construction site visit. The experience reinforced my
enthusiasm and I realised I liked the team orientated environment
where people still enjoy an individual role.”
The UCAS reference
Reference providers have a duty to the person who is being written
about and to the prospective university (and potentially to a future
employer or professional body) receiving the reference.
• Submitting an inaccurate reference may expose the reference
provider (the individual and / or the college) to legal liability.
• Providing a false positive or negative reference, or failing to
disclose potential ‘risk raising’ information can leave the
reference provider open to legal liability.
The UCAS reference – before starting
Find out more about your students’:
• Career goals
• Chosen HEIs
• Chosen courses
• Entry requirements
• Skills / qualities / experience / knowledge needed
• Mitigating circumstances
Read the application (including the personal statement)
Teacher Support and References
Tell us about:
Performance subject by subject
The student’s potential for further
intellectual development
Any restrictions or limitations in
terms of the academic options
available to the student
Mitigating circumstances,
personal problems or particular
challenges the student has had to
The impact of any disability or
learning need
Weak reference for a strong student
Short, no indication of course, no information about subjects, no detail,
very generic …
• X is an articulate and mature student who has an excellent record of
attendance and punctuality. X develops excellent relationships with
his peers and members of staff.
• X is motivated towards his studies and shows initiative when working
on assignments. X completes work to deadlines and works
consistently. X is a confident student who can make presentations to
• During his time in the Sixth Form X has always been willing to assist
members of staff and has made valuable contributions to Sixth Form
life. X has made highly appropriate course choices. I recommend him
to you without reservation.
The UCAS reference – What to include
• Academic performance: skills and qualities
• “In Economics, X is a conscientious and highly motivated pupil
who is firmly focused on achieving success. He has impressed
with his scholarly, enquiring approach and quiet determination
throughout the AS course (grade A achieved) and he is already
excelling at A2 as he reads widely beyond the confines of the
syllabus. In class, he is always attentive and his contributions to
discussions are carefully considered, insightful and accurate. He
has an excellent grasp of even the most complex issues studied
and he can develop effective, coherent arguments supported by
carefully selected diagrammatical analysis. He enjoys data
interpretation and analysis and he makes full use of all available
information when making judgements.”
The UCAS reference – What to include
• Academic performance: skills and qualities
• “X has found the course challenging but is making progress in her
A level studies in Mathematics. She is able to set out calculations
in a logical form and can recognise appropriate methods for
problems presented in familiar contexts. She is able to apply
relevant theory with some success and written solutions are
improving in detail and accuracy.”
• “X’s reluctance to read around the topic has ensured that her
knowledge has not really extended beyond what has been taught
in the classroom. She can, on her day, produce top work and
proved in her AS examinations just what she is capable of. If she
can become more consistent, especially in applying detailed
subject knowledge she could improve still further.”
The UCAS reference – What to include
• Academic performance: relevant project work
• “X’s extended project into gender differences in maths makes
great use of psychological theories and shows her willingness to
read around the subject in a greater depth than is required at A
• “Particularly noteworthy was the extended investigation that X
carried out into the UK current account deficit, where he
successfully employed a wide range of techniques from his
extensive economics toolkit to arrive at some very interesting and
well-supported conclusions.”
The UCAS reference – What to include
• Personal qualities / achievements / contribution to school/community
• “Hard-working, thoughtful and mature, X was a natural choice to
be appointed Senior Prefect and has carried out his duties with
calm assurance, maintaining positive relations with pupils and
• “The winner of the Politics Prize and captain of the 1st XI cricket
team, X undoubtedly has the ability and drive to cope with the
most academically demanding of university courses.”
The UCAS reference – What to include
• Participation in subject-related / preparation for HE programmes
• Eg summer schools, taster days etc
• “X’s enthusiasm has been evident throughout the course, but she
was especially buoyed up after attending the Oxford University
psychology taster course last summer, which she arranged and
organised independently.”
The UCAS reference – What to include
• Individual circumstances
• Do discuss with the applicant before disclosing these
• Circumstances that have had an impact on the applicant’s ability
to fulfil his/her potential
• Circumstances that have had an impact on previous results
• Circumstances that explain a difference between previous
achievement and predicted grades
• Impact of any disability or learning need
The UCAS reference – What to include
• Concluding recommendation
• Comment on applicant’s suitability for chosen path (career as well
as HE)
• Has the applicant got the ability to succeed academically?
• Clearly indicate if you would recommend the student
• What type of student would the applicant be?
The UCAS reference – What to include
• Concluding recommendation
• “Progression into higher education would seem to be a natural
and appropriate next step for X. X is a focused, keenly perceptive
student who has a mature and committed approach to her
studies; she will prove to be an excellent student at degree level
and I have no reservations in recommending her to you.”
• “X has become adept at prioritising her attendance in school to
lessons, although this has been at the expense of other
compulsory parts of her timetable such as morning registration.
Throughout this, X has maintained a willingness to communicate
with mature conversations about her future. X's developing
independent approach to learning will stand her in good stead for
higher education.”
The UCAS reference – what to include
• Give a fair, honest and relevant appraisal of the applicant’s
potential to study at HE
• Draw out skills and qualities that are relevant to the applicant’s
chosen area of study
• Make sure that the predicted grades match the reference
• If predicted grades are above AS grades – explain why potential
exceeds previous attainment
• Make sure that the reference is relevant to each of the
applicant’s chosen courses
• Remember that applicants can ask for a copy of the reference
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