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How to write your application: Six tips from a Head of International Admissions

Students writing in class

‘Applications really are looked at thoroughly, and admissions staff look for the gems that make each one unique.’

So you’re about to write something that could change your life forever? First of all, don’t panic! To help you get started, we’ve spoken to UK admissions officers and international officers for their advice.

For applications to undergraduate courses, and some postgraduate courses, you will need to apply through UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). Take a look at Essential advice for your UCAS application for information about the process, plus the tips below for that all-important personal statement.

Here, Head of International Admissions Richard Brunt (right) from Oxford Brookes University gives his top pieces of advice for writing an effective application. Find out what essential information you should include – and why it’s a good idea to avoid quoting Titanic! (Hint: See no. 6 below…)

1. Be yourself

'What single quality can you bring to the course that no one else can? Yourself! Applications really are looked at thoroughly, and admissions staff look for the gems that make each one unique. Being able to personalise the application is a really good way of ensuring it stands out from the thousands that schools, colleges and universities assess each year.'

'At our university, every personal statement will be read by the appropriate admissions tutor. We want to find out about your motives for studying in the UK, your enthusiasm for your chosen subject, and everything else that you do outside the narrowly academic which tells us what you are like as a person.

‘Above all, be honest: our selection process is about making sure that you will enjoy and benefit from your time here – and your personal statement may be the starting point for a Skype interview.’

~ Helen Adams, International Marketing Administrator, University of Buckingham

2. Explain why you and the course were made for each other

'We can’t guess your interest in the course, so tell us what makes it perfect for you. What aspects are you really looking forward to? What research have you done on the subject, that has convinced you it’s a perfect fit? How would being offered a place on this course fit into your future career plans and ambitions? We want to know!'

3. Show how your experience would support your studies

'Highlight your relevant experience – such as paid or voluntary work, or activities outside of class – to demonstrate that you have an understanding of the practical skills required for the course or related career paths.

'If you’re worried that your experience doesn’t seem to fit exactly, think creatively about what it has taught you in a wider sense, and how you could apply this to the course. You don’t need to have worked in a bank to study finance, for example – perhaps you’ve done other roles that taught organisational skills and logical thinking.'

4. Reveal your passion for the subject

'There is no such thing as the "perfect application", but we do expect your desire for the course to be clear. If everything else were equal (for example, if all applicants had the same exam results), we would feel more confident making offers to the applicants who communicate their burning passion for the course.'

If you are applying to undergraduate courses through the UCAS system, you will be sending the same application to up to five universities or colleges. This means your personal statement should focus on the subject you want to study, your interests and experience, rather than a particular institution.

'Show your passion for the course… but also remember, even if you have a top choice, that all the universities you’ve applied to will read your statement, so don’t tailor it to just one of your choices!’

~ Gemma Carroll, International Officer, University of Glasgow

5. Write it well

'Ensure your statement is well-written and free from grammatical and spelling mistakes – you’ll need to do this throughout your studies anyway, so you may as well practise now. Also, be succinct – the more concise you are at explaining your reasons for applying, the more convincing you will be, and the more space you’ll have to persuade us further.'

'We understand that it is harder to come across as naturally in your second (or third, or fourth) language if you’re not a native English speaker! Make certain you have checked your grammar and spelling numerous times and had a few others read it over for you. Don’t make any sudden last-minute changes without checking the whole document for typos and repetition!’

~ Dr Joanna Shearer, Head of Student Recruitment, Imperial College London

6. Don’t quote your favourite inspirational movie line

'There is nothing worse than seeing quotes, song lyrics or proverbs in your application, as this is the one opportunity that you have to sell yourself. As an admissions tutor, seeing valuable space in a personal statement taken up with quotes is extremely frustrating!'

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