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Change to Personal Statements for 2025 Entry

Change to Personal Statements for 2025 Entry

10 min Read|February 17 2024
|Written by:

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Contents

The landscape of university applications in the UK is transforming. From 2025, the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is set to revolutionise the way aspiring students present themselves to universities. Central to this change is the overhaul of personal statements, a staple of the application process for decades. These changes, applicable from the 2025 entry, mark an important shift in how students will convey their aspirations, preparedness, and suitability for their chosen courses.

This article aims to dissect these changes, providing a comprehensive understanding of what they entail, their implications for prospective students, and the reasoning behind this significant shift in the UCAS application process. As we navigate through this transition, we want you to understand not just the 'what' and 'how' of these changes, but also the 'why' behind them, so that applicants and educators alike are well-equipped for this new era in university undergraduate admissions.

Background of Personal Statements in UCAS

For many years, personal statements have been a cornerstone of the UK's university application process through UCAS. Personal statements provided students a platform to express their academic interests, achievements, and aspirations beyond the confines of grades and test scores. This narrative component enabled applicants to stand out as individuals, showcasing their passion, motivation, and suitability for their chosen courses.

Traditionally, personal statements have required students to craft a coherent and compelling essay, typically limited to 4,000 characters or around 500-600 words. This format demanded not only a deep understanding of the chosen subject area but also the ability to articulate thoughts and experiences effectively. For universities, these statements provided valuable insights into the applicant's personality, critical thinking, and potential to thrive in a higher education environment.

However, despite their value, personal statements have also been a source of considerable stress and anxiety for applicants. The open-ended nature of these essays often left students grappling with what to include and how best to express themselves. This challenge was particularly acute for those without access to quality guidance or support, potentially leading to disparities in the application process. Recognising these issues, UCAS's decision to revamp the personal statement format is a move towards a more structured, equitable, and less stressful application experience.

Reasons for Change

The decision to reform the personal statement process stems from extensive research and feedback collected by UCAS indicating a need for a more accessible and less stressful application system. According to UCAS's own data, a staggering 83% of students found writing personal statements to be excessively stressful, while 79% struggled to write them without adequate support. These figures highlight a significant challenge in the existing system – the creation of a personal statement that can often be an overwhelming and inequitable task for many students.

Furthermore, the existing format was found to disadvantage those without access to high-quality advice or guidance, widening the gap between applicants from different educational backgrounds. This disparity was particularly pronounced for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who might not have the same level of support in crafting a personal statement that adequately reflects their potential and achievements.

UCAS’s initiative to revamp the personal statement process is also aligned with its broader goal of diversifying university admissions. By simplifying the application process, UCAS aims to create a more level playing field, giving every student an equal opportunity to showcase their abilities and aspirations. The new format is designed to reduce the ambiguity and stress associated with personal statement writing, making the process more straightforward and less reliant on external assistance.

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Overview of the Change to Personal Statements

Number of UCAS Applicants

In 2025, UCAS is shifting from the traditional personal statement to a more focused and structured set of questions. This change is designed to provide a clearer and more supportive framework for applicants, reducing stress and promoting fairness in the admissions process. The new format comprises three main questions, each with a distinct purpose, and an optional section for extenuating circumstances:

1. Motivation for Course: This question delves into the student's genuine interest in their chosen course. Applicants are encouraged to express what drives their choice – be it career aspirations, a profound interest in the subject, or other motivations. It's an opportunity for students to demonstrate their understanding of the course content and how it aligns with their future goals. This question also serves to ensure students have thoroughly researched their options, understanding the unique aspects of each course and how it fits with their personal objectives.

2. Preparedness for Course: Here, students are asked to articulate how their academic background and formal learning experiences have prepared them for success in their chosen courses. This may include specific subjects studied at the school or college level, skills acquired, and how these elements contribute to their readiness for higher education. The response should reflect a clear understanding of what the course demands and how the student’s prior learning supports these requirements.

3. Preparation through Other Experiences: This question broadens the perspective, inviting students to discuss other activities that have contributed to their preparation for university. Responses may cover a range of experiences, including extracurricular activities, work experience, voluntary engagements, or personal projects. The emphasis here is on reflection – students should articulate what they have learned from these experiences and how they contribute to their preparedness for the course.

The optional section on Extenuating Circumstances allows students to provide context to their academic and personal experiences, offering insights into challenges faced and overcome. This section acknowledges that each student’s journey is unique and that certain experiences may have impacted their educational pathway.

UCAS's revised approach, informed by feedback and extensive consultation, aims for a more straightforward and transparent application process. It seeks to guide students more effectively through their responses, removing the guesswork and anxiety traditionally associated with crafting a personal statement. However, note that the questions specified above are subject to change as UCAS finalises its research into the area. To stay up to date with these changes and prepare for them, consider getting in touch with a UCAS application tutor.

Impact of the Change on Applicants

The introduction of the new question-based format by UCAS in 2025 is poised to have a positive impact on university applicants. One of the primary benefits of this change is the reduction in stress and uncertainty associated with writing a traditional personal statement. The structured questions provide a clear idea on what kind of information is expected, making it simpler for applicants to articulate their thoughts and qualifications.

This new format is particularly beneficial for students who may have previously found the open-ended nature of personal statements daunting. It levels the playing field by reducing the reliance on external support or resources, which not all students have equal access to. The questions are designed to extract relevant and specific information, enabling all students, regardless of their background, to effectively showcase their motivations, preparedness for study, and suitability for their chosen courses.

Moreover, the optional section on extenuating circumstances allows students to provide a more holistic view of their academic and personal journey. This is especially important for those who have faced challenges or circumstances that may have impacted their educational experiences, ensuring that these factors are considered in the admissions process.

Wider Context and Additional Changes to Application

Making Higher Education More Accessible

The transformation of the personal statement format is part of a broader move by UCAS towards a more inclusive and supportive university application process. This change is accompanied by several other initiatives aimed at assisting applicants, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, in making informed decisions about their higher education.

These developments include introducing a personalised course recommendation tool. This tool uses extensive data, including subject interests, career aspirations, and academic achievements, to recommend suitable university courses to applicants. In its pilot phase, this tool demonstrated its effectiveness in broadening students' options, often suggesting courses they hadn't previously considered​​.

UCAS is also intensifying efforts to widen access to higher education. Programs like the Fair Access Programme and the Outreach Connection Service are instrumental in linking students and educational institutions to resources offered by universities and third-sector organisations. These initiatives play a crucial role in overcoming barriers faced by students from less advantaged areas, contributing to a notable increase in their university application and attendance rates​​.

Preparing for the Changes

As the UCAS application process undergoes significant changes, both students and educators must adapt to these new requirements. While the exact questions replacing the traditional personal statements have not been finalised yet, it is important to prepare for the new process and anticipated format​​.

Brainstorming and Practicising

Students should start by familiarising themselves with the proposed question areas, such as motivations for choosing a course, preparedness through learning and other experiences, and any extenuating circumstances. Even though the precise questions are still being developed, understanding these key areas will be vital. Students should practice articulating their motivations, experiences, and how their academic journey aligns with their chosen course.

For a thorough preparation, we recommend consulting a UCAS personal statement tutor to help you in the process so that you can learn to convey your strengths most effectively in the personal statement questions.

Staying Up to Date

Educators and advisers must also stay informed about the latest developments in the UCAS application process. They should prepare to guide students through this new format, helping them to reflect on and articulate their responses effectively. This is especially important given the new structure, which seeks more targeted and specific information than the traditional personal statement format.

By proactively preparing for these changes, students can ensure they present a well-rounded and compelling application, while educators can provide the necessary support to navigate this evolving landscape.

Conclusion

The imminent transformation of the UCAS application system, notably transitioning from the traditional personal statements to a series of precise, focused queries, marks a significant evolution in the UK's university admissions arena. Scheduled for introduction in 2025, this initiative is designed to mitigate the application-related stress and foster an environment of equal opportunities for all aspirants, irrespective of their backgrounds.

For students and educators alike, keeping pace with these changes and adapting to them is imperative. In essence, this reform heralds a new era in UK higher education, one that promises equitable access and an unbiased platform where every student can effectively showcase their unique capabilities and dreams, paving the way for a more just and accessible academic future.

FAQ

Are the new UCAS questions the same for all courses?

The UCAS personal statement questions are designed to be broadly applicable across various courses. However, the way students respond to these questions can and should be tailored to their specific course choices. For example, while the question about motivation for a course remains consistent, a student's answer will vary significantly based on whether they are applying for a science, arts, or humanities program. The key lies in how applicants relate their experiences and aspirations to the specific requirements and nature of the courses they are applying for.

How do these changes influence the role of UCAS references?

The changes to the UCAS application process, including the personal statement reform, also extend to the references provided by teachers or advisers. References will transition from a free text format to a more structured approach with specific sections. This new format will likely prompt referees to focus on distinct aspects of a student's capabilities and experiences, ensuring that the information provided is directly relevant to the application. It will help educators provide more targeted and concise insights about a student's suitability for higher education.

How do these changes affect deferred 2025 university applications?

For students planning to defer their university entry to 2025, it's important to note that they will be subject to the new UCAS application process, including the reformed personal statement structure. This means that instead of preparing a traditional personal statement, they will need to respond to the specific questions set by UCAS. It's advisable for deferred applicants to stay informed about the final details of these changes and start thinking about how they will address the new questions in their applications.

When will the final UCAS questions be confirmed?

As of now, UCAS has not confirmed a specific date for finalising the new personal statement questions. The process of refining these questions is ongoing, involving consultations with students, schools, universities, and colleges. Applicants and educators are advised to regularly check the UCAS website and updates for the most current information and to begin familiarising themselves with the proposed question areas to prepare effectively for the upcoming changes.

Can I submit different answers to different universities?

The UCAS application system allows students to apply to multiple universities, but it requires them to submit a single set of answers for the personal statement questions. This means that while students can apply to different institutions, their responses to the personal statement questions will be the same for all applications. It's important to craft answers that are broadly applicable and reflective of the student’s overall academic and personal achievements, motivations, and preparedness, keeping in mind the varied courses they are applying for.

Do the changes affect mature or international students differently?

The changes to the UCAS application process, including the new personal statement format, apply to all applicants, including mature and international students. The aim is to create a more equitable and accessible application experience for everyone. However, mature and international students may have different life experiences and educational backgrounds to draw from in their responses, which can be an advantage in showcasing a diverse range of experiences and perspectives.

Can I still mention extracurricular activities in my answers?

Yes, extracurricular activities remain an important aspect of your UCAS application. While the new format introduces specific questions, these still allow room to discuss activities outside of formal education. Applicants should relate these activities to the questions, particularly those asking about preparation and motivation. For example, leadership roles in clubs or participation in sports can demonstrate skills relevant to your course choice and should be included in your responses to illustrate a well-rounded profile.

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Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Written by: Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

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Oxford University - PhD Mathematics

Rahil spent ten years working as private tutor, teaching students for GCSEs, A-Levels, and university admissions. During his PhD he published papers on modelling infectious disease epidemics and was a tutor to undergraduate and masters students for mathematics courses.

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