University personal statements “unfair” to state-educated pupils
A study commissioned by the Sutton Trust claims that state-educated teenagers are at a disadvantage when writing their personal statements for university applications, as they are more likely to make mistakes.
In response to their findings, the trust is asking UCAS, the institution that administers university entries, to change the system.
According to their research, privately schooled students not only submit “carefully crafted” applications but also have a more privileged set of working experiences and extra curricular activities to use to stand out from the crowd.
Manchester University lecturer Dr Steven Jones examined just over 300 personal statements from potential students, all with the same grades, from a mixture of private, comprehensive and grammar schools.
His study found that places were offered to 70% of pupils from private schools, compared to 50% of pupils who were state-educated.
One private school pupil mentioned in his personal statement his work experience at a fashion design studio in London, on the trading floor of a financial broker, at a BBC radio station and in a city law firm. Meanwhile, a state student discussed his school trip to Cadbury World.
Dr Jones’ study attempts to demonstrate that the statement in its current form may be unfair to those from lower or middle-income backgrounds.
His research shows that state school pupils listed fewer work placements, among which there were Saturday jobs and visits to businesses arranged by the school.
According to the Sutton Trust, the system could become fairer by asking applicants to describe what talents and attributes they would bring, rather than describing prior achievements.
Moreover, state schools could provide better support with statements, with admissions tutors taking into better account applicants’ social background when offering help.
Sutton Trust chair Sir Peter Lampl said “admissions processes also need to change”, despite some good state institutions already offering proper support.
He said: “[…] Applicants should outline how they might contribute to campus life, and universities should make it clear that applicants are not penalised for lacking opportunities in the past due to family circumstances.”
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said the report raised important issues.
She added: “It is also important to be aware that the personal statement is only one factor universities take into account when selecting applicants.”