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Preparing my university application

I was the first in my family to go to university, so when I applied, I was nervous about creating a strong application. I was fortunate to have a supportive sixth form that talked me through the UCAS application process. A significant part of this process is writing a personal statement that you create based upon the course you are applying to. It is certainly daunting at first because you only have a limited word count to include a wide range of information. This blog post will explain some of the ways that I prepared myself for higher education and some tips for writing your personal statement.

  1. Research the course you would like to study

This is significant because finding the right course for you will ensure that you are passionate about it and excited to study in the future. As I wanted to study a primary teacher training course, I researched the different universities that offered it. I was pleasantly surprised to see that some universities offered the teaching course with a mathematics specialism, which is my favourite subject. The University of Brighton was one of these and as a result influenced my decision to apply. The UCAS undergraduate website includes a course search function, which will support you with your research. Another benefit of researching the different universities is that you will begin to see slight differences in their course structures which will help you decide which works best for you.

2. Keep up to date with the latest news stories and articles in your subject area

By reading recent news articles and other information about your course/subject area you will be able to know what is happening in terms of the latest developments and debates in the sector. This is a great thing to bring up in a personal statement because it shows you are reading around the subject already! For teaching courses, the Guardian has a section with articles that are education based and I discussed one of these in my personal statement to show my awareness of current issues. I have linked the website to the Guardian here to help you begin your research into a range of subject areas.

3. Gain as much experience as you can

James at work experienceBy gaining experience in your course sector, you are boosting your application because you have a greater understanding of the field and can include this in your personal statement. This can make applicants stand out because they are able to demonstrate practical knowledge they have gained from their experiences. For example, I volunteered at my local primary school for four years and worked with a range of year groups. The picture above shows a display that I made in a year 4 class back in 2017. This demonstrates my ability to create displays that are linked to the curriculum and are engaging for the children. I wrote a paragraph about what I had learnt from these experiences in my personal statement and this cemented that I was going into a career that felt right for me.

4. Create a paragraph plan

By writing a clear plan for your personal statement, you will be helping yourself include all the information required in a structured way. Due to the limitations in word count, you will be writing 5/6 paragraphs. Once you have written your first draft, make sure you get someone to read it through and check for any spelling or grammar errors. I was fortunate that my sixth form checked our personal statements three times to offer improvements which helped me to refine and polish it.

5. Sell yourself!

When writing a personal statement, you can feel embarrassed because you are creating an entire essay all about you and why you are suited to study your chosen course. I remember feeling quite cringe when I wrote mine but that is a very natural feeling! It is so important that you sell yourself and state a variety of your achievements. I included the fact that I achieved my Gold DofE award, a picture of my final expedition in the Brecon Beacons is shown below. When writing about my achievements, I also mentioned the skills that I gained from them. For example, with DofE I developed team working and communication skills that are vital to have when working with a range of teachers in school! Therefore, when writing about your achievements, mention the skills and qualities you have developed from them and then link this to your course area.

James Gold DofE expedition

Interview process

After writing my personal statement and sending off my UCAS application, I waited a few months to hear back from the universities. For primary teaching courses, an interview is required, and I was delighted that I got an opportunity to interview for all the places I applied for. I remember being nervous before attending the interviews but once I met some other applicants and looked around the universities, I was excited! In terms of preparation for interview, I would give very similar tips as mentioned above for writing a personal statement:

  • Keep up to date with news articles and research in your course area

You will be able to answer questions about recent developments in your course sector and bring up articles you have read as part of your response. This illustrates to academics that you are engaging in reading already which makes you stand out from other applicants.

  • Gain some experience in your sector if possible

If you have been able to gain any sort of experience in the course area, this will help substantiate your answers to interview questions. You can also mention what you have gained from these experiences and what you hope to improve over the duration of the course. For example, I was less confident about teaching English before I started the course and wanted to develop my practice so I could create engaging lessons for the children in this area.

  • Research the universities you are applying for thoroughly

By researching the universities you are applying for comprehensively, you will be in a position to ask any course-specific questions at the end of the interview. This looks fantastic because you are showing an eagerness and passion for the course.

  • Dress in formal/professional clothes

Finally, by dressing up smartly, you will feel professional which will enhance your confidence. Personally, when I look the part, I feel the part. So, when I attended interviews, I ensured that I wore a smart shirt and this helped me to feel ready to perform well.

If you prepare yourself in these areas successfully, you will be in a position to do your absolute best at interview!

I hope this blog post has been informative and given you a few things to consider in terms of preparation for applying to university. I wish you all the best with your applications, you will be great!

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James Lewington • 15th December 2020


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