Cambridge University claims personal statements are only a minor factor in application process

Timur Cetin – Deputy News Editor 18 December 2012

While a study released last week challenges the fairness of personal statements as part of the university application process, The University has spoken against the conclusions of the report.

The study commissioned by the Sutton Trust, a charity which aims to improve educational opportunities for young people from non-privileged backgrounds, and carried out by Dr Steven Jones of Manchester University, reviewed over 300 personal statements of applicants with the same grades from public schools and state schools. It was noted in the research that applicants from lower- or middle-income families were at a disadvantage because “state school applicants appear to receive less help composing their statement, often struggling to draw on suitable work and life experience.” The study thus concludes that personal statements do not make the applications process fairer.

However, a spokesman for Cambridge University told Cambridge News that the personal statement was only one among many other factors in the decision-making process. Academic merit, as “demonstrated by achievement in public examinations and considered in the context of the quality of the schools or colleges at which it was achieved”, is the most important criterion in the selection process.

He added: “The University does not take into account non-academic factors such as extra-curricular activities or leadership potential, because we recognise that these may derive from social advantage rather than appetite or commitment. Excellence in an extra-curricular activity will never compensate for lower academic potential.”

Chief executive of the Villiers Park Educational Trust charity, Richard Gould, also expressed concerns about the conclusions drawn from the report – claiming that state school students are not disadvantaged in terms of their personal statements since they are increasingly viewed in light of students’ social backgrounds.

While Gould recognises that privately educated students are more likely to be given guidance in the writing of their personal statements, and that relevant work experience is a “big brownie point”, he believes universities are taking personal statement with a “pinch of salt” and are becoming more aware of the fact that these opportunities were more easily accessed by some students than others. ” are looking at the school and what the results are at the school and are coming to a conclusion that a student getting high grades at one school might be a bigger achievement than getting the same grades at another school”, Mr Gould added.

Timur Cetin – Deputy News Editor