UCAS personal statement is unfair ‘essay without a question’

Eighty-three per cent of drafts by students from certain groups failed to supply an opinion about a relevant academic topic

ucas personal statements are unfair

Personal statements in university applications unfairly disadvantage students from less privileged backgrounds and should be scrapped, a think tank has said, The Times reports.

A report by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that the statements prevented students from poorer backgrounds from demonstrating their potential. Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, has already said she is in favour of reform.

The report’s authors say the free-form section of the form should be replaced with two short-response questions asking about the applicant’s interest in their course and their relevant skills.

The lead author of the report, Tom Fryer, said the personal statement was currently asking applicants to write “an essay without a question” which was ambiguous and allowed those with support to thrive.

Academics analysed 164 personal statement drafts, written for the university admission forms of 83 applicants from underrepresented backgrounds. They found that 83 per cent of drafts failed to supply an evidence-based opinion about a relevant academic topic. Many applicants struggled to organise their statement effectively, with 35 per cent failing to write with cohesive paragraphs in at least one of their drafts. Some candidates had spent 30 to 40 hours trying to craft this part of the form.

Tom Fryer, lead author of the report, said: “Is it any wonder that an essay without a question, a ‘personal statement’ that’s more academic than personal, generates an ambiguity which allows those with more support to thrive? Universities are currently operating an admissions system that contradicts their own code of practice. The personal statement should be replaced by short- response questions.”