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Can you really fit all this on a personal statement? Extra curricular opportunities

(50 Posts)
tangleweed Tue 21-Feb-17 15:50:54

My DD is in Y11 and we get lots of communications from school about doing things like summer schools, lectures at local universities, exhibitions, Duke of Edinburgh, NCS, books to read, etc, etc which all say 'this will look good on your UCAS personal statement'.

I can see that many of these things might be great experiences, whether for learning skills, developing confidence, increasing knowledge or even just plain interesting or fun! But, not having experienced uni applications for 30+ years, all I can see is that there's quite a limited amount of space on that form, so how would you, for example, use the fact that you've attended 10 public lectures if you don't have space to list them? But, if you can't give details, who is to say you haven't just made up that you've been to various lectures and summer schools? Is there something on the UCAS form asking for evidence of things that you've done?

Sorry if I'm being dense, I suppose I just want to have an idea of how to support DD in choosing what might be helpful to her (& knowing what records to keep of what she's done) but not to get too overwhelmed by trying to take advantage of all the different outreach stuff that seems to be available in Years 11 and 12 in our area (close to London so perhaps more opportunities than in some areas).

It seems to me that a lot of these things are really aimed at giving school students a taster of what their subject is like to study in greater depth, what uni life is like, etc - which is probably all very helpful in ensuring that they make good choices about which subjects and unis to apply to. But it feels like we are expected to make more of it than that and schools (I presume not just DD's school?) can create a frenzy about filling spare time with experiences for the UCAS form.

I am left wondering what kind of things are actually going to be helpful, so I am hoping someone with older DCs might share their knowledge of their DCs actually found useful - whether for the personal statement or for choosing courses, or maybe for other reasons.

Aftershock15 Tue 21-Feb-17 16:06:27

We have just started the university entrance process with ds1 (currently lower sixth) with a talk from school plus some university admissions speakers. The point they made about the personal statement and activities was that they were only relevant if you could apply something from them. So putting lists of lectures - pointless, attending a single lecture and explaining how this had fired up your enthusiasm to study an particular subject, and the extra reading this lead to - a good thing. One of them said how a weekend job in say macdonalds could show you had learned time management (to fit in studies), team work and dealing with the public but wasn't the sort of thing schools encouraged for personal statements.

chemenger Tue 21-Feb-17 16:10:19

I helped my dd with her personal statement and I have seen quite a few (I am a lecturer, we don't normally use personal statements in selection but have done occasionally in the past). We concentrated on telling how extracurricular experiences had given her transferable skills - so outward bound gave her independence and team working, CCF let her take responsibility for teaching skills to others, work experience related to her proposed degree let her see what it would lead to. Just listing things is going to make a dull PS. It isn't a tick box exercise, its an expression of why she wants to do the degree she is applying for. Some of the best PS's I've read related simple things like Saturday jobs to skills and insights gained.

goodbyestranger Tue 21-Feb-17 17:35:59

OP I have seven older DC who have recently gone through the process and have had a very high hit rate with offers from top or topish end unis. They've chosen their extra curricular interests on the very simple basis of enjoying them and they haven't tried to weave them into the academic part of their personal statement at all. They certainly never, ever took part in anything purely for the purposes of CV building and I would have discouraged that anyhow. I think their approach has been to list their interests in a short paragraph at the end of the personal statement and to not insult the admissions tutors by telling them that playing a certain sport or participating in a certain competition has made them into team players etc on the grounds that tutors presumably couldn't give a toss whether students are team players or not, although they might like to see that incoming students have interests they can pursue to relax outside their academic work, for balance - if they care at all that is. I wouldn't overthink it.

chemenger Tue 21-Feb-17 17:46:41

I definitely agree with goodbyestranger that young people should pursue extracurriculars because they enjoy them. Students need outside interests to get them through the hard times at University and genuine outside interests make them more interesting people to be around. In a perfect world I actually would be interested to know if students were team players because a lot of our course involves working in groups and skills in making teams work are invaluable, but as I said we don't select on the basis of personal statements, so I will never know.

yeOldeTrout Tue 21-Feb-17 17:48:46

how would you, for example, use the fact that you've attended 10 public lectures if you don't have space to list them?

Only mention them if highly relevant to the course being applied for. Choose what to write b/c it's relevant to the course, not because it shows them to be generally clever & capable.

But, if you can't give details, who is to say you haven't just made up that you've been to various lectures and summer schools?

Even if you do give details, who's to say someone didn't just pretend to have attended.

BertrandRussell Tue 21-Feb-17 17:49:59

The only things remotely useful for a personal statement are things directly connected to the course your child wants to study. Honestly.

BertrandRussell Tue 21-Feb-17 17:50:59

Think how incredibly unfair it would be otherwise.

titchy Tue 21-Feb-17 17:51:42

Dd had extra curriculars coming out of her ears. Not one was even mentioned on her PS although all could have been used to demonstrate team work, time management etc.

What she did include was what she had learned from the one books and lectures she attended on x, y and z and how these contributed to her interest and understanding of degree level of her subject, and what she hoped to do afterwards.

tangleweed Tue 21-Feb-17 17:54:11

Thank you all. That all puts it into better perspective. So I just had a chat with dd who is getting a bit panicky about all this (& tbh prob not helped by me) & said she should just carry on with the activities that interest her and use any other events/lectures/summer schools if she wants to find out more about a subject/see what uni is like, etc rather than think she ought to be doing all that stuff.

Chemenger what factors do you use to select candidates - GCSE results, appropriate A level subjects, predicted grades?

EnormousTiger Tue 21-Feb-17 18:52:13

Also I think the form itself has a separate space for some of these elements by the way. For example my twins have two instruments with grades 6 - 8 or 6 and 7 and I think grade 5 music theory goes on there too. They applied last year and I remember when one was putting on his GCSE subjects and grades seeing a bit of the form about music exams and going through all their certificates to give them the details.
I think they mentioned both having a music scholarship to the school as it involved a lot of work (which is actually quite a big thing and something they enjoy a lot). I am sure they mentioned D of E too.

As goodbye says above most of the PS is about things relevant to their subject. One of mine wrote a particularly good PS in my view (and his head unprompted also mentioned that too) which really shows why he loves that subject and his interest in it. However most of the reason they have had offers is because their exam results are fairly high so I would not worry too much about the statement. The universities want to know you love your subject so things relevant to that are mostly what the PS is about. My older 3 children were similar.

The interesting issue last year has been AS exams. My children's school last year did 4 AS exams in lower sixth - the system is gradually switching over to the new A level though so it can be unfair if universities count AS grades when some schools aren't doing them. I think it's helped that mine have done them (they both got AAAA) and liked lower sixth work better than the GCSE year as they could give up a few disliked subjects.

EnormousTiger Tue 21-Feb-17 18:52:58

Also I would say if possibly just do 9 or 10 GCSE in good core subjects and have some hobbies rather than say 16 GCSEs taken over several years. I think it's better to have fewer but in good subjects and have some hobbies too, not least for your own sanity.

swingofthings Tue 21-Feb-17 18:54:12

DD did and continue to do quite a few of these and I agree that it's not about putting a name of the CV, not even trying to link them to some learning, but the fact that they really do gain from them.

Before doing DoE, DD would whinge asking to be driven everywhere, loathing to do any walking and was petrified of heights. After her getting her bronze medal, her fear of heights was totally gone and for the first time that summer, she actually asked to go on a long walk! Since, she started walking everywhere and really enjoy it!

Before NCS, she would have never dared make a phone call to a stranger. One of the tasks she took over during NCS involved making cold calls to business to ask if they'd be prepared to help with their fundraising. Since then, she doesn't think twice calling for a taxi, to make appointments, to ask if they have jobs going etc...

All these activities have helped her with her confidence, her independence and ability to take initiatives. It becomes a lot easier to write a personal statement with these skills.

You have 4000 characters to play with. It's a case of picking the extracurriculars that look best for the chosen subject (I used to volunteer as a personal statement reviewer), and linking the skills to your chosen subject and your studying skills.

You don't need to provide evidence that you've attended these things. If an interview is involved they may ask her about her experiences, which would weed out anyone lying, but generally they're quite trusting.

Some qualifications are worth UCAS points in themselves - things like music grades above 5 etc - so that clears up a little extra space if necessary.

Admissions tutors don't want to read a long list of everything you've done outside of school for the last four years - a sample of the ECs that are really impressive/beneficial/applicable to the chosen degree are much better.

chemenger Tue 21-Feb-17 19:23:54

We normally select on academic qualifications only. We are in Scotland though, so a good proportion are post-qualification offers, which makes it easier. We do not use ucas points so music qualifications etc are ignored.

tangleweed Tue 21-Feb-17 19:56:11

Thanks chemenger - that does make sense. And thanks everyone for loads of info.
EnormousTiger I had no idea ANYONE did 16 GCSEs! DD is doing 10 which I think is the max number at her school - I think some people do 6 or 7, so glad to hear 10 is ok. She does quite a lot of hobbies and DofE so I think she has a good range of interests.

swingofthings that is very interesting about NCS. DD's been thinking about doing NCS but not met anyone who has done it so good to know it was so beneficial.

Needmoresleep Tue 21-Feb-17 20:21:01

Not that many Universities put a lot of weight on Personal statements when selecting students. Those that do provide guidance. It is in their interest that good students present themselves well, especially if they do not get a lot of help from school.

I would look at a few University websites and print off their PS guidance and use them as a guide, and it depends slightly on subject. Medicine, say, can end up looking very different from economics, and an arts/humanities subject different yet again.

This is the
Warwick guidance

Specifically on extra-curricular it says:
"With this in mind, you might want to think about how any of your extra-curricular activities and/or work experience could illustrate your interest in your chosen subject or show evidence of skills which would be particularly useful to that field of study. Although we are keen to hear about your work experience and extra-curricular activities, they should not dominate your personal statement; remember that you are applying for an academic course of study, and the limited space available to you for your personal statement should predominantly focus on this."

NancyJoan Tue 21-Feb-17 20:21:10

I helped my niece with hers. We focussed on the extra curricular stuff that directly relates to the course she's applying for, and made room to talk about why she did it/enjoyed it and how she feels it relates to her course, rather than just a list of what she has done. Left out music stuff, went hard on self improving stuff! She got offers from everywhere, so I am clearly a genius.

BasiliskStare Tue 21-Feb-17 20:46:06

Ds did 9 GCSEs (although the school also required him to study 2 more subjects up to that level without taking an external examination)

Re the PS - Ds was rejected from LSE. Looking at their guidance for PS - I think , in hindsight, he wrote a PS which would fit most of his choices , but it did not fit what it looked like LSE were looking for. He thinks, also in hindsight , whilst he got a place at a good university , applying to LSE was a mistake , in that they seem ( I do not know - others can say better) very specific in how they want you to explain why you want to be there and what your attributes are. However , LSE seem out of the ordinary in requiring something very specific from the PS. Again others will know better.

BasiliskStare Tue 21-Feb-17 20:50:16

Ah should just say - he thinks that the reasons for him being rejected from LSE were more than just the PS. smile He thinks there were things they would like which he simply was not good enough / interested enough in. So just to say - my point was LSE seems to give very great guidance on what they would like to see from a Ps - but clearly , there is more to it than that.

user1471531877 Tue 21-Feb-17 20:51:13

Apart from Oxford / Cambridge and the Vocational degrees ,in the last 3/4 years I haven't heard of a single person not getting all 5 offers -so I wouldn't worry too much.

user1471531877 Tue 21-Feb-17 20:53:52

Oops - sorry Spoke too soon re LSE

EnormousTiger Tue 21-Feb-17 22:02:22

My children's cousin on the other side of the family did 16 at a comprehensive school in a disadvantaged area (and it just seemed a it much to me, but good for him for passing them all). SAnd he does have hobbies too and he won a choral scholarship so he's actually done very well so I suppose I am arguing aganist myself there - he did 16 and has hobbies. I still think doing 9 or 10 gives you more time just to "be".

Ohtobeskiing Wed 22-Feb-17 07:18:16

My dd is applying for a vocational health related degree. It appears the personal statement is a big part of the process and she certainly hasn't had five offers!

TheOnlyLivingBoyInNewCross Wed 22-Feb-17 07:26:10

Secondary school teacher here: the message we are getting is that all the universities are interested in is why you want to study the subject you're applying to study, and what you've done beyond the classroom to develop your interest in it.

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