Personal statements not a visa to admissions, after all

Some universities no longer assign any marks to personal statements 18th May 2009: Foreign students struggling hard to open a new section of scholastic brilliance, by seeking admission to the University of Cambridge, need not switch on the midnight light while preparing personal statements.

For, the varsity is reported to have said it pays no attention to applicants’ personal statements, while deciding whom to interview or offer a place.

Back home, many aspirants sweat for months trying to write almost perfect personal statement, extolling their virtues and love of study. They pen down one draft after another with utmost care and caution. The smarter ones simply copy and paste somebody else’s work from the internet. This is not all. There are others, who order tailor-made versions online for as little as £24.99.

But, all this is apparently not required, as the varsity believe personal statements have over the years lost their worth and significance due to ready availability of help.
“With the profusion of companies and websites offering to help draft applicants’ personal statements for a fee, no admissions tutor believes them to be the sole work of the applicant any more,” Geoff Parks, the university’s director of admissions said.

No wonder, it is much easier just to ignore them. In fact, Parks has stated in no uncertain terms they do not assign any marks to personal statements. “I have been told by students after they have been admitted that their schools write the personal statements. Reading a very good personal statement doesn’t tell you anything about the student because you cannot be sure that it’s the work of the person concerned,” he has asserted.

And how did they reach this conclusion? A survey of 50,000 university applications two years ago, many of them for places on medical sciences courses and at Oxbridge, found a significant minority of students had plagiarised them from the internet. The giveaway was the 234 applicants. They all began their medical school application with the same anecdote about setting fire to their pyjamas at the age of eight.

But that does not mean you can take the personal statements easy. The varsity may not judge your capabilities on the basis of personal statements, but the authorities concerned may use these as basis for discussion during an interview.

Also, your teacher’s recommendations may not be your passport to admission, after all. Personal references from teachers are also treated “with a huge pinch of salt”.  The reason for this is a little different. The teachers have stopped saying anything interesting or controversial.

So what is the criterion? Cambridge admissions tutors use GCSE grades, AS level scores, and predicted grades, as for assessment.

Significantly, it is a different story at Oxford, where the head of admissions, Mike Nicholson, still regards the personal statement as a good way to distinguish the truly gifted, original and inspired students from ones merely well-drilled.

By Monika


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