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Higher Ed: Charting a brighter future?

Successful applications are based on extensive research, craftsmanship and a clear vision of the end goal, explains RICHARD DAVIES, Head of Sixth Form at King Edward’s, Witley.

Credit: Will Pearson

Start with the ‘Why?’

What is your purpose or core belief? Those individuals and organisations that have had a transformative effect on society, such as Apple, Martin-Luther King and the Wright brothers, have succeeded precisely because they are able to answer these questions and this vision informs their decision-making (Sinek, 2014). Consequently, when confronted with the daunting University Admissions process it seems appropriate to start by asking ‘Why?’

Intelligent re(search)

Credit: Unifrog

Just as with any good piece of academic writing, there are three key principles that will predicate successful university applications: extensive research, structure, and craftsmanship. With over 50,000 UCAS courses, pupils are in danger of being paralysed by the ‘paradox of choice’, which you might be able to relate to when walking down the cereal aisle of the supermarket (Schwarz, 2004). Fortunately, there are a number of technology platforms that are able to refine search parameters to reduce this to a more manageable number. Last year King Edward’s subscribed to the Unifrog platform which has had a transformational effect on our pupils’ experience of the research phase of the application process. Pupils start, in January, by thinking about the course they want to study and use filters and rankings on the platform to create shortlists. Perhaps they prioritise teaching quality, student satisfaction, research, or the percentage of students in graduate-level jobs within six months. If they are captivated by the dark clouds hanging over the economy and want easy access to policy-makers and captains of industry, they can filter universities in London, or maybe they are interested in conducting scientific research far from the madding crowd and filter by campus universities. The platform also reconciles pupils’ predicted grades against the entry requirements for the universities on their shortlist and classifies them as ‘aspirational’, ‘solid’ or ‘safe’. This feature helps manage expectations. Inevitably, pupils may amend their courses and/or universities through the process as their insight develops, but by the end of the summer term they should have attended three university open days and be in a position to submit the first draft of their personal statement. We place considerable emphasis on academic craftsmanship at this stage, as pupils continually work and refine their statements with tutors, the Head of Careers and myself, in order to have a finished piece of writing ready to be reviewed and submitted by the autumn half term.

Explore | Discover | Take Action

Credit: National Citizenship Service

Beyond evidence of how academic studies have prepared you for your chosen course, you will need to demonstrate key skills and qualities from additional contexts. The first should be related to your chosen degree course and could consist of work experience, a Massive Open Online Course, Extended Project Qualification or additional reading, but the key here is to reflect on the learning rather than just listing experiences. The other context which you will be able to draw on is the skills and qualities, such as leadership and communication, from your extra-curricular activities and how these skills can be transferred to your degree course. There are a number of programmes with strong currency, such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and National Citizenship Service, but whatever experience you use remember the reflection is paramount. Invariably, the summer break is the only opportunity pupils have to complete an ambitious project like this, which again reiterates the importance of starting early and completing extensive research.

Bursaries and Scholarships

“We have a general misconception about scholarships that they are available only for severely disadvantaged students or extreme high-flyers.” – Myles Jarine, founder of Grantfairy

– Myles Jarine, founder of Grantfairy

Returning to the ‘Why?’, Myles Jardine reflects that it was only when he was in China, pondering what to do with his life, he realised the scale of financial support available to students. He since eschewed the £50,000 university debt in favour of founding the Grantfairy app which now lists 120,000 individual bursaries and scholarships totalling just shy of £1bn, ranging from small (£300 choral scholarship at Exeter University) to life-changing (the Bank of England offers a £30,000 scholarship together with two internships, for pupils from ‘black, mixed African or Caribbean backgrounds’ (The Times, 2018).


Whilst the application process can be intimidating, by starting early and investing sufficient time in research, visiting potential universities, and crafting a personal statement that reflects on anecdotal experiences to demonstrate their academic, professional and personal suitability to the course (see opposite) pupils will reap the rewards.

  • Agarwal, R. & Salt, D. (2017) ‘UCAS Personal Statement Guide’.
  • Schwarz, B. (2004) ‘The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. New York: EccoAgarwal, R. & Salt, D. (2017) ‘UCAS Personal Statement Guide’.
  • Sinek, S. (2014) ‘How Great Leaders inspire Action’, TED https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en accessed 19/01/19
  • Stannard, I. (2016) ‘How to write a winning ucas personal statement’.
  • The Times (2018) ‘Goodbye, student debt. Hello, bursary bonanza’. January 21st 2018.
  • UCAS (2018) ‘The past, the present and the future’ UCAS Teachers and Advisors conference.