Magazine article The Spectator

Applying Myself

Magazine article The Spectator

Applying Myself

Article excerpt

The 'personal statement' on University admissions forms are rarely the student's own work. I have weitten enough of them to know.

The harvest is in, the smell of dried leaves is in the air, Parliament's back in session, and pretty soon the 17-yearolds will start ringing: the university admissions deadline is approaching and someone will need to write their personal statements for them.

Everyone who wants to go to university is required to fill in a Ucas form. It's an administrative task until you get to the dreaded personal statement section, and then you have to call for back-up. The Ucas website encourages students to commit their personality to paper. In no more than 4,000 characters, they should outline key skills and hobbies and explain what's drawn them to their chosen subject. Worse still, the personal statement is allegedly extremely important: 'This may be your only chance to make the case for you to be offered a place, ' the Ucas website says.

Those 4,000 characters (about 850 words) are the bane of sixth-formers' lives. It's no wonder that, left to their own devices, they come up with things like: 'An extremely significant educational experience that led me to this application was when I first read The AS Level Constitutional Law Textbook, ' or:

'My passion for business was first born when I did work experience in a shop and realised that business is vitally important to all our lives, ' and so on.

They need help, and they'd be crazy not to get it. 'Why would anyone write their own?' says my cousin Malachy Guinness, who set up a tutoring agency. He points out that with no interviews, there's no way of checking the authenticity of the statements. His company fields dozens of calls each month on the personal statement question. They favour a collaborative approach: 'It's better if the pupil has some input, ' he says. But some private tutors can, for £500 or so, craft an elegant personal statement after a brief phone call.

For some reason I've become something of a go-to guy for friends and relations. Over charge). Sometimes the teenagers pretend to but more often they treat it like a straightvery, very little progress on the personal statement and I just have no idea what to write in it, literally none, ' said one emailer. I often work the years, I've written a dozen or so (free of contribute by sending a 'draft', by which they mean three or four half-finished sentences, forward commission: 'I'm afraid I have made in a team; in a typical session, my accomplice and I spend long hours with furrowed brows earnestly discussing what drew our candidate to sociology, while the candidate wanders in and out of the room. Sometimes, after the applicant has drifted away altogether, we have to ring them to check they've read the book we're referring to on their behalf or to ask what's on their syllabus, but generally we can do without them. I'm not alone; another seasoned statement writer found herself having to look up 'communications studies' on Wikipedia over and over again as she tried to explain why her nephew was so keen on it.

The nephew was no help at all.

It's not just kind friends and paid assistants that do it. One recent applicant describes trying to make some suggestions while his teacher worked feverishly to get it done in time for the deadline. The teacher just held up his hand with his eyes closed and asked politely not to be interrupted.

Ambitious parents sometimes encourage their teenagers to call in more than one person. My mother, who is also often called in to help nephews, nieces, children's friends, vague acquaintances, was sent a draft statement that took her by surprise because it didn't need much editing. …

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