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UK Admissions FAQs Answered by a Former Oxford Admissions Officer | Part 3

12 JUN 2021

In Part 3 of our UK ‘FAQs Answered by FAOs’ series, Hannah shares what the most important part of the UK application is, how she thinks COVID-19 circumstances will affect the upcoming admissions cycle, and offers tips for writing an impressive UCAS personal statement.

This blog is the third in a four-part series of Frequently Asked Admissions Questions answered by former University of Oxford admissions officer, Hannah Rowberry. In part three, Hannah answers the following questions:

  1. What’s the most important part of my application in the eyes of admissions officers?
  2. How do you think the elimination of SAT Subject Tests and the SAT Essay, and other educational disruptions, will impact UK admissions?
  3. How do you make a UCAS personal statement impressive?

After graduating from Cambridge with a degree in Natural Sciences, Hannah worked as a scientist, science teacher and College Outreach Officer for the University of Oxford. She has also been an Academic Registrar and an Admissions Officer there, experiences she now draws upon in supporting Crimson students in preparing for university life.

1. What’s the most important part of my application in the eyes of admissions officers?

This is a question I get asked a lot, and the answer is pretty simple: everything is important! Applications are viewed as a whole, and in context. Grades are the initial “viability check” of your application, and these alongside test performance may determine progression to interview, but all aspects are taken into consideration in making these decisions. Interview performance is a test of “teachability” so again may determine the outcome of your application, but is still viewed alongside everything else. 

One aspect won’t necessarily make or break an application, but it’s best if they’re all strong of course! I’ve seen students applying with extremely strong academics and supercurriculars, where the interview is practically a formality. I’ve also seen students with less impressive academic records, but for whom the context of their application has been taken into account, and they have been able to demonstrate their academic potential through their personal statement, tests and interview performance.

2. How do you think the elimination of SAT Subject Tests and the SAT Essay, and other educational disruptions, will impact UK admissions?

For students applying to the UK with US qualifications, this represents a big change, but one that is hopefully the universities’ problem to solve rather than a source of stress for applicants. For students who have already taken some of these exams or are due to take them before they are discontinued, universities will of course honour existing offers, and potentially also allow them to be used to meet offers in future years. For students who were planning on taking these exams but will now be unable to, the current advice from universities is that the student gets in touch with them to discuss their options. 

Entry requirements for US qualifications vary considerably between UK universities, and currently they will all be in the process of reviewing what their standard offers will be going forward. I would imagine there will be a move towards more universities asking for APs in the future, particularly if they have specific subject requirements, but they will also need to consider alternatives for students without the opportunity to take APs. UK universities also accept a wide range of other international qualifications, and of course the typical UK qualifications (A-Levels and the IB). 

As for the impact of other disruptions due to COVID, such as missing school or cancelled exams, these will all be taken into account by universities when assessing applications. It will be particularly useful for schools to provide details of any disruptions, and the impact on a student’s performance and opportunities, within the UCAS reference.

3. How do you make a UCAS personal statement impressive?

The UCAS personal statement is a short essay about what you want to study, why you want to study it, things you’ve done that demonstrate that interest, and other experiences that demonstrate skills and qualities that will make you a great student. It’s important to research the course selection criteria and demonstrate how you meet them. Some universities (although not Oxbridge) will literally be ticking criteria off a list when they read your personal statement. 

Writing a personal statement that indicates you don’t really know what the course is about is a common deal-breaking mistake — so make sure you research the course content and show your awareness of this. Give evidence of your interest, skills, and qualities, rather than simply listing them, and discuss your learning and insights from each experience; it is important to add depth and show your ability to think independently. Don’t forget that for Oxbridge, your personal statement is also a great opportunity to “speak” to your interviewers! They’ll read this just before your interview, so it’s a great chance to flag topics and experiences you might like to discuss. Ultimately, this is your personal statement — use your own words, talk about genuine experiences, and let your enthusiasm shine through!

NEXT WEEK: Read the final installment of our Frequently Asked Admissions Questions series to learn about the role of extracurricular activities for UK university applicants, insights into the interview process for Oxford and Cambridge, and when students should get started on their applications to UK universities!

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