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Completing your application

Your application

The university’s sales document is its prospectus; yours is your completed application, so be sure to sell yourself as hard as they do. But you may be interviewed by someone holding your application, so don’t over-do it! Remember: this is your own application – not the school’s, not your parents’ – make your own case. Selectors are looking for good grades and motivation, promise for the future, wide (but not necessarily straight) interests and activities. In short they want to know whether you are likely to benefit from their degree course.

The vast majority of applications are now electronic – certainly all those to UCAS and CUKAS. This is pretty foolproof: it stops you entering invalid information on choices, entry requirements, course codes etc. You may need to complete a paper form for direct applications to some colleges (but usually a form downloaded from the website); then you will need to keep a closer eye on the detail when you complete it.

However you apply, the information you are asked for is usually this:

Personal details: Fairly straightforward.

You may be disconcerted to be asked by UCAS to reveal your ethnic origin, occupational background and whether your parents are graduates. But this is not used for selection purposes; it is only sent to the university or college for students who are accepted, for statistical purposes.

Choice of course: You can make up to five choices through UCAS (plus another six through CUKAS, if you want to study CUKAS courses). Make sure they include a fall-back choice, so you are still in with a chance if your exam results do not match your expectations. Universities may not see where else you are applying to but admissions tutors will obviously see which courses you apply to at their university. So think twice before applying for totally different courses at the same university − would any of the admissions tutors feel you were sufficiently committed to their course?

Examinations for which results are known: Put down everything, even failures/low grades; you should also include any AS-levels taken in Year 12 for which you are getting a certificate. You must tell the whole story. And it need not seem all bad, eg coming back from a failure or disappointing result indicates persistence, motivation and determination.

Examinations to be taken: Again, put in everything.

Employment: If you are applying from school and have worked part-time, you can include it here, particularly if it is related to the course you are applying for. You can use your personal statement to expand on your employment record and to mention any casual jobs you have done.

Personal statement: This is the most difficult section but it is your key selling opportunity so use the space positively (UCAS and CUKAS have a word limit). Be sure you write it yourself. If your parents write it for you, it will show; if you pay a company to write it for you, it could be worse. UCAS and CUKAS use a similarity detection system that checks each personal statement against a library of personal statements from a variety of sources, so they will know if it’s your work; if it’s not, they report to the universities and colleges you have applied to how much is similar to other statements.

Draft it first until you are happy with it; then paste it in to your application. This is your one chance to sell yourself, so give relevant and precise information. Include everything that gives you some depth – don’t put reading (say) as an interest; you’re expected to read, so be specific. Then you can answer actual questions if you are interviewed. The admissions staff will read dozens of these – maybe hundreds − so be sure you stand out from the crowd. If you have a career in mind, say so (shows motivation); but don’t lose sleep if you don’t know. It can take a lot of time to get this section written. You may find it helpful to work in pairs or groups to decide what to cover.

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Your reference

All applications must be supported by an educational reference. A lot of importance is attached to it, so get the best you can. Your sixth form tutor or course tutor is expected to write your reference if you are still at school or college, and to predict your likely results if you are taking summer exams.

Don’t go out of your way to flatter them but show interest, motivation, persistence and, above all, that you’re teachable. Make sure they know of any activities and interests outside the classroom which are relevant. Some teachers/tutors discuss the reference with students first. Anyway badger whoever writes your reference to write a full and fair one.

References are often thought of as confidential but they are not. Under the Data Protection Act, you can get a copy of it − and any other personal information UCAS holds on you. UCAS makes an administration charge of £10 and you have to apply in writing.

Make sure you give your referee enough time (their diaries are usually fuller than yours). Messing up your references is one of the easier ways of messing up your application.

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