Give yourself a good write-up

First impressions count with UCAS forms, so don't use blue ink and do learn to spell.
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The Independent Online

Autumn term. Wailing and gnashing of teeth in sixth form common rooms up and down the land. If it's September it must be UCAS form time.

Autumn term. Wailing and gnashing of teeth in sixth form common rooms up and down the land. If it's September it must be UCAS form time.

The chances are that this is the first really important form that you have had to complete. Life is going to hold a lot more - for insurance claims, mortgage applications (and just wait until you see the Inland Revenue's tax forms) - but as a beginner you will need advice and guidance. You will receive plenty, some of it no doubt conflicting, but it is up to you to do the final version of the form - which really is important. It is the first impression for an admissions tutor, who has the (frequently difficult) job of selecting students for courses. Based on this you might receive offers of places or as a first step, invitations to interviews - at which you have another chance to shine. It's up to you to make this initial impression a good one.

When you are given your form it may look complicated. Don't worry. It isn't. It simply needs time, care and a thorough study of the accompanying booklet. That too, looks a bit daunting - if read in isolation. The advice is to read both together, section by section. All then falls into place.

 

HOW TO BEGIN

Well before you reach for the form you should have made your choice of universities and colleges and researched them properly. This may sound obvious but it is surprising how many applicants write something in their personal statement that does not apply to all their choices - or apply for too wide a selection of courses. As you will read elsewhere in this supplement, admissions tutors are conventional animals. They like to see proof of commitment to something definite (as opposed to a mix of law, art and maths) in Section 3.

Next, take photocopies of the form - or print it from the UCAS website - and do several drafts. Follow the instructions for each section as you go. They are very comprehensive, so will not be repeated here. It is worth stressing that you must use either black ink or type. The form will be photocopied and reduced in size before being sent out. No other colour will work.

Section 10 - the Personal Statement - on page three is usually the most difficult part. Structure it as though you were writing an essay. This makes it easier for admissions tutors to read and shows them that you can produce text that follows a logical order - as you will be expected to do on a higher education course.

Until now you have given exactly the same information on the form as everyone else. Here is your chance to be creative. Think hard about the activities and experiences you describe. Draw on your Record of Achievement, part-time employment, out-of-school interests and so on. Can you boost the form by writing about voluntary work experience in the environmental or health fields? Have you attended any subject insight courses or done something really unusual like climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

Don't give too many interests - this implies a Jack of All Trades rather than someone with strong interests - and don't list "reading" and "walking" (without any expansion). Who doesn't do these things?

 

SILLY MISTAKES

These are all genuine errors that have appeared on past UCAS forms.

* Using blue ink.

* Giving the current date (for example, 1.10.00) as their date of birth.

* Giving a date of birth under "First entry to live in the UK"! (This applies only to people who were born and lived elsewhere for a period.)

* Applying for courses that do not exist. Apparently 8 per cent of applicants do this! A charitable explanation could be that they turn over two pages of the UCAS Directory at once and put the right course by the name of the wrong university.

* Putting the wrong course code. Bad handwriting is often responsible here. But anyone who puts H instead of N is actually applying for engineering instead of business studies.

* Making spelling mistakes. There are apparently a lot of badmington players out there and people who attend collages.

* And a mistake that may not be discovered unless the applicant is interviewed - putting down an interest about which they know very little. One admissions tutor likes to tell the story of the applicant who had claimed a strong interest in the works of Jane Austen in Section 10. Invited to name a favourite book, the candidate gave Wuthering Heights.

 

ELECTRONIC APPLICATION SYSTEM (EAS)

If your school or college is now using this you will find it surprisingly easy to use. It guides you through the sections one by one and refuses to let you make many of the common mistakes! Experimenting last week, I was not permitted to give a non-existent post code, a date of birth giving the current year - or choices of institution in any other order than as shown in the directory.

The method is that students complete the first three pages, then pass these via floppy disk or computer network to the member of staff who will be checking the form and writing the reference (also on-screen.) They still have to do a small amount of paperwork - to sign the form and send the payment with completed payment slip to UCAS via school or college.

But you cannot just opt for EAS and use it by yourself. It must be done through schools/colleges that have the right hardware. Most schools and colleges are still using paper-based forms, although the number that are switching to EAS is increasing steadily. Do not worry if EAS is not available to you.

The last piece of advice is to get your form into UCAS as early as you can. The early ones reach the admissions staff sooner. They read them and start to make some of their offers. It's as simple as that.

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