The personal statement: a fair way to assess university applicants?

Document type
Jones, Steven
Sutton Trust
Date of publication
1 December 2012
Education and Skills
Social welfare
Material type

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The UCAS personal statement is an important non-academic indicator that many UK universities use as an integral part of their admissions processes. Up to half a million personal statements are written every year. This report is the first to consider how they are shaped by applicants’ educational background. 309 personal statements were analysed, all of which were submitted to the same department of the same Russell Group university by students with the same A-level results.

Academic indicators, such as A-level grades, correlate closely with students’ school type and socio-economic status. However, non-academic indicators, such as the personal statement, are often assumed to bring greater fairness to university admissions processes. This research challenges that assumption, finding that independent school applicants are more likely to submit statements that are carefully crafted, written in an academically appropriate way, and filled with high status, relevant activities. By contrast, state school applicants appear to receive less help composing their statement, often struggling to draw on suitable work and experience.