UCAS have now published their Future of Undergraduate Admissions report, part of an ongoing review of the university admissions process, promoting social mobility and widening participation in higher education. This strategic document examined five key areas: 

  • grade transparency
  • the personal statement
  • references
  • personalised recommendations
  • a register of university outreach activities

The mainstream media has focussed on suggested changes to the UCAS Personal Statement.

Research by the Sutton Trust suggests that the current Personal Statement is a real barrier to social mobility and widening participation in higher education. The theory is that grammatical excellence, ‘super- curricular’ experience and extra– curricular activities, currently expected by Admissions Tutors, are not achievable by all applicants. As a result, applicants from higher socio-economic backgrounds, attending excellent private or state schools, with access to excellent university advice, have an inbuilt advantage, while candidates from less affluent backgrounds may struggle to find enough appropriate content to fill the 47 lines of the current Personal Statement.

However, UCAS has decided not to abolish the Personal Statement entirely, because anecdotal student evidence suggests that many enjoy discussing their motivation for study. As a result, students applying for 2025 entry will be expected to answer a series of structured questions. These are:

1) Motivation for Course – Why do you want to study these courses?

2)Preparedness for Course – How has your learning (so far) prepared you to succeed on these courses?

3) Preparation through other experiences – What else have you done to help you prepare, and why are these experiences useful?

4) Extenuating circumstances – Is there anything that the universities and colleges need to know about, to help them put your achievements and experiences so far into context?

5) Preparedness for study – What have you done to prepare yourself for student life?

6) Preferred Learning Styles – Which learning and assessment styles best suit you, and how do your course choices match that?

Not unexpectedly, the questions on “extenuating circumstances” and “preferred learning styles” have attracted much comment. The former is currently covered in the school’s confidential contextual reference, while the latter echoes a failed 2017 EEF educational theory which suggested that children learn better with one particular ‘learning style’ - visual, auditory or kinaesthetic, with teachers tailoring their lessons to meet the needs of each individual in their classroom. Recent research has debunked this theory, and it is our belief that this poorly structured and thought-out question needs serious rethinking.

UCAS believe that this new framework of questions will support students who are likely to struggle with the current structure of the Personal Statement. The new suggested format will signpost them to the areas which Admissions Tutors will now be required to interrogate.

This UCAS consultation is ongoing. Once finalised, teachers will have a clearer remit when advising students on their university application. However, it will still be particularly important to give students guidance on how to answer these new questions and how best to showcase their abilities and potential.

Education Advisers Ltd will of course continue to provide support and advice in this area, helping its clients to achieve offers from the top universities in 2025.