No-one really likes the admissions process – not the admissions office at the given colleges and universities, not the teachers that guide you, and least of all, not you the applicants. Emotions run high, your personal statements are a chore, and so many of the university applications are just the same. If you want people to enjoy it a little more, make your UCAS form stand out from the crowd.
The university admissions team will appreciate it, your prospective professors will admire it, and you’ll dramatically increase your application’s chance of success. So, how do you do it? What actually looks good on a university application?
Let’s take a look. Because whilst we know that the application process isn’t fun, if you want to go to university, you are going to have to commit to it.
Here are some tips to make your UCAS form stand out. Good exam results are just the beginning. There’s a whole lot more that will give you the edge too.
What Looks Good on a Uni Application?
A university application is one of the most important things you’ll write in your life. Because whilst your GCSE coursework or even your degree thesis are important, convincing a higher education institution to take you on is one of the more significant achievements. It puts everything in perspective.
Given this, it’s also one of the most stressful experiences in your educational career, for sure. Whilst life follows a given route for most of your life, this is the first time that you have to write down and take stock of your achievements. You have to consider why it is that you deserve a place in the next stage of your life. And for many, legitimately, that is not so easy.
However, there are some fool-proof ways to make your UCAS application stand out from the crowd (‘crowd’ here is not just cliché – as all applicants have to do it). Get these in your application and job’s a good one.
We said above that good grades are just the start when applying to university. It’s true: at the top universities, everyone is going to have excellent test scores and an excellent academic record.
Whilst they are not enough alone, they are a necessary foundation for what comes next. The trouble is that you can’t assume they are sufficient for admission to university.
So, apply to university with as good grades as you can get. But don’t rest on your laurels: what else do you need for your application?
A Compelling Personal Statement
Most tutors, admissions officers, and universities and colleges point to one thing as the most important element of your application. That’s the personal statement, the cornerstone of your UCAS form.
Knowing how to write a personal statement is not something that is realistic to expect of you before applications to university. It is very unlikely that you will have done it before. However, you will have to learn fast.
In the meantime, you’ll find many people offering different bits of advice. However, the fundamental is to show that you are suited for the course to which you are applying – and that you have the skills and enthusiasm to thrive.
Here are three points with which to get started.
Decent Written English
If there is one thing that you should really avoid when writing your personal statement, it is typos, grammatical mistakes, or spelling errors. However, this is a given. A good grasp of English is crucial to the admissions team giving your application anything more than a cursory glance.
If you are applying for a humanities subject, this is going to matter even more. So, make sure it is well written. It’ll have a huge impact on the admission decision.
Commitment to Study
Decent written English shows that you care about your application. Following this train of thought, your personal statement is also going to want to demonstrate a commitment to the course to which you are applying. And to the very act of studying itself.
So, commitment is one of the key skills that the personal statement you’re submitting will want to show. During secondary school, in extracurricular activities, or to wider reading, remember that commitment matters more than most things during university applications.
If commitment is a primary virtue in your undergraduate admissions, something that matters just as much is independence. We’ll talk a little bit about this below. However, your personal statement needs to show that you can think for yourself and that you have your own interests.
Whether this is football tactics or medieval fashion trends, having the individuality and drive to pursue your own interests is exactly what university is all about.
Find out more about what makes a university application stand out!
What Activities Look Good on a University Application?
So, commitment and independence are the two most important qualities that your personal statements need to scream. But how do you show them? It’s all good saying you have them, but how do you convince the office of admissions that you, out of all the prospective students that are saying it, actually have these virtues?
Here are some ideas that will leave no admissions officer in any doubt at all.
A Real Commitment to Your Subject
Whilst commitment can be shown in any field under the sun – from the Duke of Edinburgh award to chess competitions – what universities will want to see on this differs. For example, Oxbridge tends to care less about extracurricular activities than other universities; they would much rather see evidence of academic dedication.
However, Oxbridge isn’t all universities – and showing that you can see something through to the end is a crucial skill in any field. Here are three things that look great on your UCAS application.
Any Competitions or Awards
If you have won any competitions or awards, make sure that your application mentions them. These can be anything from a poetry competition to a science prize. If your award shows dedication and skill, it can speak volumes about your capacity to learn and grow.
Find out about the Young Enterprise programme!
A Relevant Extended Project Qualification
An Extended Project Qualification – an EPQ as it is known – can be a great way to show that you have what it takes to see a big project through to its end.
In fact, the EPQ was designed to prepare you for a degree program – and making something of it in your personal statement would certainly be a wise move.
Check out the other school clubs that can boost your application!
Serious Extra Reading
University admissions – and that’s all universities, not just Oxford and Cambridge – want to see that you have put the time in to do some reading into the subject that you are applying to study.
To their eyes, this demonstrates that you are really engaged with the academic field that you are hoping to enter. It will absolutely do no harm to your chances. However, if you get called for interview, do make sure you have actually read what you have claimed.
Proof that You’re More than Just School Life
What universities want to see too is an interest in the world beyond the classroom. If everything you claim to like has been spoon-fed to you by your subject teachers, it will be difficult for universities to think of you as someone who will thrive with the independence that universities offer to your studies.
We mentioned independence above – but you can swap that word for ‘individual interests’ or even ‘initiative’. Regardless, an ability and desire to seek out information for yourself is handy.
Other Interests Beyond School
We’ll talk more about extracurricular activities below next, but an ability to talk about things outside of the walls of the classroom is important. Maybe you learned a theory in a geography class – can you apply that to something happening in the world? Maybe a history lesson showed you something – can you see that in a different period that interests your more?
Mentioning these sorts of things in a personal statement will show that you are human as much as anything – and that you can bring interesting things to university discussions. That, by the way, is what any interview will be based on too.
Many prospective students ask about extracurricular activities. How much do they matter? Is there something that can help more than others?
Putting aside the UCAS points that musical instrument grades can give you – which help of course – these activities are most important in the way that you use them in your personal statement. What did they help you to achieve? How did they change you? Why did you do it?
Having been in the hockey club is not enough in itself.