The Sutton Trust published a report today looking at how a written personal statement can be influential in getting even the brightest students into the best UK universities.
This is especially so, according to the report, if you come from a privileged family background that prepares you well for writing the maximum 4,000 words needed to convince an admissions tutor of your worth as a future undergraduate at their highly selective university department.
The report raises all kinds of issues to do with social mobility and education in England, of which I list a few below with interesting links:
- going to private school gives you a competitive edge because you are coached by teachers who really care about you.
- it is important to be able to write fluently and expressively by the time you reach the end of your schooling, so despite the barriers raised by Ofqual you need to do well in your GCSE English.
- if you come from a certain ethnic background it is possible your family will have an identity that predisposes you towards certain subjects and, more importantly, achieving well in them. So for example both British Bangladeshi and British Chinese children aspire to study science, but the latter achieve better results within it and so progress further.
Where do we go from here?
The report recommends that in the UK we move more towards the US approach of candidates being allowed to write a ‘diversity essay’ to explain what they can bring to a college’s mix of campus life. In fact if you look at the Common Application form for US colleges you can see that candidates get a choice of up to 6 different types of essay with a maximum of only 500 words, which I imagine can be tough depending on your writing skills.
Another issue is the impact that entry to medicine has on the school system in England. It requires not only the best grades in the ‘hardest’ A-level subjects and the most impressionable personal statements, but also the best university admissions test results and interview performances – all involving a huge investment which inevitably favours those schools and/or parents who are best equipped to help their children tackle this.