UCAS is coming: look busy

It happens every year, thousands of young people across the country descend into completely justified panic: its university application season.

For this reason, we thought we would put together some top tips as you approach what is one of the strangest and most important hurdles in your academic career in the hope of helping you pre-empt the bits that could trip you up.



Please, this has to be the most mundane and therefore frustrating reason for your application to go wrong. There are a series of deadlines that you need to meet and missing them- will seriously affect the way that your application is seen, that is if they will even look at it. It may sound like you really are stating the obvious but this actually happened to my brother!

So here they are, the dates you CANNOT MISS:

  • 24th March 2018 Some art and design courses have a March deadline.
  • 15th January 2018 Applications for the majority of undergrad courses must arrive at UCAS but 18:00.
  • 15th October 2017 Applications of Oxford, Cambridge or most courses in medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine/science should arrive at UCAS by 18:00.
  • 31st August deadline for remaining conditions to met according to offers received.
  • 23rd October 2018 deadline for adding clearing choices and for universities or colleges to accept clearing applications.


Picking Your University

Now there really isn’t a guide for this, as it really is a question of what is important to you as an individual. However, here are some questions that it is worth asking yourself as you whittle it down to the chosen few.

Choosing your university - Macat Critical Thinking Blog

Personal Statements

This, in my opinion, the weirdest things you will ever write especially as they are so different to what you will be producing on a day to day basis in school.

The basic rules:

  • 47 lines of text of 4000 words
  • 85% academic
  • show off- but not too much; things like “what can your university offer me?’ will not go down well.
  • don’t just repeat the phrases: ‘I am passionate about…’ ‘I am good at…’ ‘I really enjoy <the subject you are applying for>’ ‘Why should I be considered for a place on your course?’


Big Tips

We have all spent most of our secondary education being taught to jump through hoops in order to achieve the highest marks possible. If you were lucky you might have had a teacher who succeeded in finding a balance between mark scheme and nurturing individual strengths and interests. However, that is a tall order for anyone trying to make sure that the 25 or so students[1] in their care are engaged and receiving equal levels of support. How then are we meant to make our personal statement personal if you’ve been studying the same thing as 54000 other people?

  • Read beyond your curriculum. This is tough to do, especially if you are applying directly from school because you have to keep up with schoolwork. That said, it really does make a difference, no English tutor is going to think you’re going the distance if everything book you mention appears on the syllabus. Moreover, you will inevitably blend into the pile of personal statements they have been trudging through for many hours. If you’re applying to do Environmental Sciences at UAE, why not take a look at Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and make sure to include your thoughts about it; is this 1962 book relevant in 2016? Do you think that Carson presents a fatalistic view of humans’ impact or has it galvanised you to want to study environmental studies by showing you that things can change? It can be very hard to know where to start when you go off-piste like this so I would recommend that you start with something that you are familiar with and look at the footnotes and bibliography or, if it is a fictional book, even take a look at the ‘others also bought’ section on Amazon. This will help you to find things in your area of interest while also showing you can work and think independently.
  • Extra Curricular Activities: Universities, of course, want to know that you are more than your grades, and it is important to give a view of your extracurricular interests.  However, when including these try to think about how you can to link extracurricular activities to your degree choice.  Perhaps you are a long distance runner and your training has given you a direct insight into the field of sports science.
  • Start writing and worry later. Starting your personal statement is really daunting; it’s a strange mix of worrying about the quality and being vaguely aware that this is the beginning of the next chapter of your life.
    Having done this and tutored it many times, I believe the ‘word-vomit first attempt’ is the best way to get over this hump. ‘What is this unpleasant suggestion?’ I hear you say.


    • It’s quite simple: sit down and mid map ideas for an hour or so, the more the merrier and the messier the better, maybe your favourite book, a talk you went to, or a specific part of your course that you found particularly engaging.
    • Now grab a highlighter and circle you 8 best ideas and start to write. Do not worry about the producing perfect prose, an enigmatic and enticing first sentence, perfectly linked paragraphs, or adhering to the word count. Keep going until you feel like you have word-vomited yourself out and then leave it overnight.
    • Go back with fresh eyes and a red pen and start picking out what are actually interesting points that are going to exhibit your best features as a student and which are codswallop. You might find that there is one paragraph that you think you can tease out and extrapolate upon enough to produce the entire statement, or you might spot a recurring theme or tone in your splurge that you can structure it around.
    • You may end up getting rid of 95% of it but you will have left the starting blocks, and that’s a big achievement.
  • Be honest: It can be tempting but be careful not to exaggerate. This is particularly important when it comes to interviewing as tutors often refer to personal statements and you don’t want to be caught out.
  • Drafting:  It’s very easy to give into the temptation of saying ‘I’ve been over it a hundred times’ but drafting a personal statement is vital. Furthermore, it’s incredibly helpful to keep past drafts, partly because you may want to lift things from previous versions and it’s very satisfying to see how far you have come. During this drafting process, it is also helpful to give your statement to different people to read over. Many of us are not brilliant at self-promotion and need some encouragement to have the guts to say ‘You want me at your university!’ This is, at the end of the day, a sales pitch, and the better you market yourself the more likely that admissions tutor is to pick you off the shelf.
  • PROOF IT! The personal statement box on your UCAS form doesn’t have spell check so triple check all spelling and grammar before copy and pasting and always re-read it once you’ve put it in there to make sure that it has rendered correctly.


Admissions Tests:

Some universities include admissions tests in their applications. Oxbridge candidates will all sit aptitude tests either prior to the interview or at interview. The most important thing to remember with these tests is that they are about gaging aptitude so don’t forgo applying to a course because you haven’t ever studied that specific course. To find out if you will be required to take an admissions test, follow this link: https://www.ucas.com/ucas/undergraduate/getting-started/entry-requirements/admissions-tests

Once you have finished your application ensure that you follow your school’s submission process and hit go!

For help with reading material, check out the Macat Library or sign up the Macat iLibrary for continued help when your reading list comes in.


Good Luck - Macat Critical Thinking Blog