Tearing your hair out over your UCAS Personal Statement? You're not alone. IdeasTap member Joe Winters – who is about to hand in his university application – shares his experience...
I have just finished my Personal Statement.
Trying to condense a lifetime’s interest in English Literature, several years of extra-curricular work and that special sparkle that “makes you tick” into one cohesive document has been tricky.
I can’t help thinking that anyone who actually can mine the depths of their soul to extract the core of their personality, their very being no less, in order to produce 4,000 characters (including spaces) of engaging prose is probably the last person who needs three years at university. This, however, will not stop me trying.
There has always been the assumption at my academic state school that I, like everyone around me, will go to university. I can’t remember the exact moment when people started saying “Oxbridge”, but it feels like forever now. I’ll apply to other universities, but it’s easy to forget this; saying you’re applying to Oxbridge is a declaration of belief in your abilities. Teachers take you more seriously; it can only aid your application.
I often feel guilty when I say “Cambridge”. Many of my friends pretend to be less ambitious than they are. They pretend to worry that they won’t pass, when really they’re concerned that it won’t be with 100%. I often qualify my application with the exaggeration that “everyone has to apply for Oxbridge" at such an academic school.
What is really worrying is the unpredictability of the system. Thousands of excellent students apply every year; inevitably, perfectly qualified applicants will not get a place. We keep being told that all we can do is apply, but it always feels like there’s something more, if only someone would tell us the secret.
As many applicants drop out of the process, I see fewer and fewer of my friends at each progressive guidance meeting. As someone still in the running for a place, I feel guilty witnessing the numbers dwindle and have to remind myself that I am not in competition with everyone in that room; I am in competition with everyone in the country.
Many of the remaining applicants think less of those who decide to follow alternatives to university, but I have more respect for the bravery not to apply in an environment that assumes everyone will, than those who politely ignore their interests and settle for a degree they think will later make them money. It’s painful to watch people without any enthusiasm apply for courses that probably won’t take them; it undermines the efforts of those who really care about continuing study.
I think it’s offensive when politicians with very little experience or expertise in education wade into an infinitely complex debate with oversimplified arguments and soundbite absolutes. The problem with the perennial reformer’s cry of “back to basics” is that what they really mean is a group of subjects that they took when they were at school. But true basics lay not in particular subjects or skills, but in the basic relationship between learners and teachers.
The education system we have is far from perfect – creative approaches to learning have undoubtedly been replaced by focus on exams – but obsession with efficiency, cutting waste, competition and getting “back to basics” treats education as an anonymous production line and ignores the fact that the results of the following months could change lives forever.
However, we are on the brink of a revolution in education. The writings and speeches of thinkers such as Ken Robinson are beginning to change the way that those in power think about creativity and the fundamental ways in which we learn. It has never been of more importance that we in the middle of the education system join the debate and make our experiences known.
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