Why the reframing of personal statements on UCAS applications needs to go further

Image showing a blank computer screen

UCAS has announced that, from 2024, the personal statement element of the university application process will be reframed into structured questions with six key areas of focus:

  • motivation for the course
  • preparedness for the course
  • preparation through other experiences
  • extenuating circumstance
  • preparedness for study
  • preferred learning style

Professor Fiona Patterson at Work Psychology Group is a leading expert in the field of assessment, selection and innovation in organisations.  She welcomes the review and the intention to provide a more level playing field for students from different social backgrounds.  But feels strongly that there is potential to take this further.

“Replacing the personal statement with these structured questions will certainly help students without access to support who might suffer from blank page syndrome. So, this is definitely a step in the right direction.   But being able to put pen to paper is not the main issue around widening access. It’s content.

Content is key

“These key areas of focus still seek to draw out the same type of information that would traditionally go in a personal statement. Which means that a more educationally privileged applicant will likely have wider and potentially more impressive things to say on extra-curricular activities under ‘preparedness through other circumstances’ for example than someone who can’t afford to take up an internship or access experiences abroad.”

Professor Patterson continues “There is a large volume of research evidence suggesting that personal statements lack reliability and validity. And nothing to suggest that they are accurate predictors of success.  They are highly resource intensive to mark and the content of them may also unfairly cloud the judgement of individuals making selection decisions.

“That said, getting young people to reflect on the areas of focus themselves is not an unhelpful exercise.  It promotes dialogue and deeper reflection around the course to help applicants to make more informed decisions when making their application.

“I’m really pleased to read that UCAS intends to continue to engage with the sector to help shape the delivery of the reforms and would like to see them draw on expertise from a broad base of experts including those with specific selection and recruitment experience”