University personal statements 'further disadvantage' poor

 
students at a lecture Only 10% of first-year degree students are from low-income areas

Related Stories

State school pupils are often disadvantaged by the university application process in the UK, a report by an educational charity says.

The Sutton Trust says pupils from independent schools are more likely to shine in their "personal statements".

It says their applications are generally better written and list more prestigious, relevant activities than those of state-school pupils.

Many schools, private and state, offer pupils help with their statements.

And some companies offer to write them for money.

The statement is an essay applicants write about themselves that is meant to persuade universities or colleges they are right for a course.

The Sutton Trust's research, by Steven Jones of Manchester University, was based on a study of personal statements of 300 pupils with identical grades applying to the same department at "a leading university".

The charity said independent school applicants were more likely to have well-written statements, with fewer grammatical errors, "filled with high-status and relevant activities".

Dr Steve Jones, report author: "System needs to be reformed to better serve those [poorer] students"

"State school applicants, by contrast, appear to receive less help composing their statement and often struggle to draw on suitable work and life experience," it said.

'Managing a gastro pub'

The report highlights one application from an 18-year-old, who lists their work experience as working "for a designer in London; as a model; on the trading floor of a London broker's firm; with my local BBC radio station; events planning with a corporate five-star country hotel; in the marketing team of a leading City law firm… and most recently managing a small gastro pub".

The charity said for state school applicants, "work-related activity is more likely to involve a Saturday job or a school visit to a business".

And it contrasted that personal statement with this one from a state school pupil: "In Year 11 we were taken on a school trip to Cadbury World to analyse the aspects of the business. During the day we were given a presentation by the workers at Cadbury World who explained how they advertise, produce and promote their new and existing products. I felt this was particularly valuable to my understanding of the business world."

"In the final GCSE year there was an opportunity for a group of us to manage the school lockers."

WHAT ARE PERSONAL STATEMENTS?

Applicants are accepted on to university courses on the basis of their A-level results as well as their personal statement.

The idea of these is that applicants write about themselves and show universities or colleges they are right for a course.

They usually list achievements, in and out of school or college, interests and hobbies as well as work experience.

The charity argues that the personal statement system "further disadvantages" teenagers from low- and middle income homes.

It says it could be made fairer if there was a limit on the number of activities people could list and if there was more of a focus on what applicants might contribute to university life.

It also recommended that more schools and colleges helped pupils with their university applications and that more professions offered work placements to young people from middle- and low-income families.

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: "This research suggests that the personal statement further disadvantages [applicants] from low- and middle-income backgrounds. Good state schools and colleges already help their most able students apply for places in leading universities. This should become the norm."

"But admissions processes also need to change. Personal statements should be more than an excuse to highlight past advantages."

Tips

Universities say the personal statement is "only one factor" taken in to account when offering places.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "The report does raise the important issue of how school type, background and access to professional networks can influence the experiences of young people.

Start Quote

Does Sutton Trust report really think I'm taken in by slick expensive personal statements on Ucas forms”

End Quote Prof Mary Beard on Twitter

"However, university admissions staff are highly experienced at recognising this and taking such things into account when interpreting personal statements."

Prof Mary Beard, the Cambridge classicist and television presenter, tweeted: "Does Sutton Trust report really think I'm taken in by slick expensive personal statements on Ucas forms? We're not that easy to con."

She wrote about the statements in an article for the BBC News Website last year .

Report author Steven Jones found that although the students in the study all had the same A-level grades, 70% of those who were from independent schools went on to "a leading university" but just 50% of applicants from comprehensives and sixth-form colleges did so.

The body that manages university admissions, Ucas, gives tips on writing personal statements and warns students applications are checked for plagiarism.

One teacher from a grammar school who contacted the BBC News website said he spent some time looking at "appallingly badly written personal statements with stupefyingly banal references to jobs in fish and chip shops or restaurants".

He said at his school, sixth form teachers looked at pupils' personal statements in their "breaks and rare free periods", while he knew of private schools where senior members of staff were taken off the time table "to do nothing else" but help students polish up their forms.

 

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 82.

    I am so fed up with people talking down state schools. My children attended an excellent state comprehensive and are now a state 6th form college where they are being given great support with their UCAS applications. I honestly believe that universities are bright enough to see through inflated personal statements and identify the important stuff.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 77.

    There will always be people, children or adults, who because of their basic intelligence, personality, looks, parents, money, fitness and so on who have an advantage over those that lack attributes. This is not unfair, it is reality. The way to deal with this is to support people to make the best of what they have and encourage them to see obstacles as challenge to be overcome, not a brick wall

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 76.

    I was state educated & 1st to go to uni in family, kids are in private school & while other family members in state sector so can compare both. Main reasons why private do well - better discipline (bad pupils are moved), being a swot is viewed positively, curriculum allows extras (music, etc.) & parents interested in kids education so they ensure relevant work experience.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 74.

    could be interesting if universities did not know which school the applicants were coming from.
    not saying it should be like this but the outcome could be interesting.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 73.

    I know plenty of people from poor backgrounds who went to state schools who ended up in good universities, got good degrees and now have good jobs.

    Their secret: They worked hard!

 

Comments 5 of 11

 

More Education & Family stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

Programmes

  • A person taking a photo of fireworks on a smartphoneClick Watch

    A look at the latest gadgets which could make it easier to take the perfect night-time picture

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.