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The UCAS form

The following guidelines will help you to represent yourself to best advantage in your UCAS application, increasing your chances of a place on your chosen course.  

What selectors look for

The selector will take the whole of the UCAS form into account when making a decision: your GCSE /AS level or access/preparatory track record, especially in the relevant disciplines; your choice of A levels or performance on an access/preparatory course; your predicted grades; your reference; your personal statement. Some of these things are past and cannot be changed, and others are wholly or partly outside your control; but one area where you can have a considerable influence on the decision is your personal statement, and this is the section on which we are most often asked for advice.

Writing a personal statement

The following guidelines are intended to give some indication of what we look for in this section. They aren't necessarily universally valid, since different university departments have different characters and may value different approaches, but we hope you'll find them helpful. Remember that in high-demand subjects like English, where not all applicants are interviewed, your personal statement may be the only opportunity you have of presenting yourself to advantage. But don't forget to keep a copy of your statement - you may find it helpful if you are called to interview.

Preparation

Start early: although we try to consider good applications received at any date, late submission is not a good idea for a subject as popular as English. Aim to get your application in well before the UCAS deadline.

Check the course requirements: every year we have to reject a few students who haven't done this. Make sure that you are taking the right subjects. For instance, given the intense focus on literature in English at Southampton, we don’t accept only English Language at A Level; you need to be doing either English Literature A Level or English Language and Literature (these can of course be in addition to an English Language A Level). We also don’t accept General Studies as one of the three A Levels upon which we would base our offer, so if you are taking A Level General Studies you will need to be taking three other A Levels too. We also have specific requirements relating to the International Baccalaureate and Access courses, and standard offers for other internationally recognized qualifications; speak to the Recruitment Office for more information. Since English and its combinations are high-demand courses, check that your predictions give you a good chance of making the standard offer; talk to your teachers about this. In case of doubt (or special circumstances) contact the Humanities Recruitment Office before applying.

Check the course details: make sure that the course itself is right for you. Since the Southampton English course is primarily literary, it may not be suitable for you if your main interest is in English language; similarly, the Southampton film courses involve the theoretical study of film as an art-form rather than offering vocational training in film-making.

Review your reading: what books or writers have you found particularly interesting or significant, and why? What have you read outside the syllabus (or following up other works by authors on the syllabus), and why? Does your reading include poetry as well as prose? Have you explored pre-20th century writers? Selectors like to see evidence of wider reading, and an account of your interests on the UCAS form may help to guide the discussion if you are interviewed (this is also a good reason not to claim knowledge you don't have!). Don't just say: "I have a passion for literature" (this is a terrible cliche which makes us suspect your sincerity as well as your ability to write and think precisely and with supporting evidence). Specific description of your interests is more convincing.

Review your life in general: note down your relevant cultural experiences  (theatregoing, cinema, poetry readings, creative writing, visits abroad, musical activities, debating societies, reading groups, etc), and summarise them briefly in your statement. Mature applicants in particular should consider what experience they've gained outside formal education, for example writing skills, time management, professional training, working with people (including family), a broader acquaintance with books/theatre/film, etc.

Check your draft statement with your tutor or subject teacher: they may be able to give valuable advice.

Focusing your statement

Concentrate on your intellectual and cultural interests:  don't spend more than the last 20 per cent of the statement on those extra-academic activities and skills which make you a 'rounded' person. Mature applicants should note this difference from the more general personal statements expected for access and preparatory courses; and sixth-formers, too, may need to bear the point in mind. 

We've noticed an increasing tendency for UCAS personal statements to read like all-purpose job applications. This is an understandable reflection of the increasing emphasis in national educational policy on vocationally-useful skills and experience, but you shouldn't let general information crowd out more directly relevant matters like your reasons for choosing the course and your literary interests.

What is a selector likely to make of a personal statement by a film/English applicant which, after an exhaustive description of personal skills, work experience, school activities, charity work, sports, hobbies, and musical accomplishments, concludes simply "...and I enjoy reading and watching films"? This would not convince us that you are prepared for three years of full-time focus on literature and cinema.

If you're applying for combined honours, express and explain your interest in both courses: Admissions tutors are suspicious - sometimes rightly - of applicants who can't find anything to say about half of the course; and you should be able to justify your choice of a particular combination. If it involves the study of a subject (e.g. film or philosophy) which you haven't done at A level, we'll be looking for some indications of independent exploration of the subject, and a sense of what its study is likely to involve.

What to avoid

How not to write a personal statement

Good personal statements, unlike happy families, are not all alike, and if you really want to interest admissions tutors you shouldn't work from existing 'model statements'. Bad ones, on the other hand, have a lot of features in common. Would you want to read several hundred versions of the following statement every year? Note the naff introductory quotation (from a source the applicant clearly hasn't read), stilted vocabulary, cliches, formulaic structure, superfluous generalisations, indications of limited reading insufficiently compensated for by effusiveness, lack of focus on the subject, immodest self-advertisement, and inadequate command of grammar, spelling and punctuation:

"Renowned novelist William Makepeace Thackeray once said, 'There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up a pen to write.' This statement is so true/I have adopted this as my inspirational mantra. I have a passion/thirst /zest/lust for literature. Personally for me, the literature art form offers a release of feeling and great writers are often the most fascinating people of mankind. Studying English gives the opportunity to explore vast cultures within the literary world and to critically analyse the stylistic prose present in many brilliant works. I am an avid/voracious reader, ever since I was a little girl I have loved to curl up with my nose in a book. My reading spans from Dan Brown to Harry Potter, and I have a huge admiration for Jane Austin and Sylvia Plait. I have been intrigued/captivated/entranced/ensnared/enthralled/enamoured by my introduction to 'Cymberline' by the classic, highly influential and universally acclaimed Shakespeare who is undoubtedly my favourite play write, his plays show an incredibly poignant insight into human nature and I excitedly await the challenge of dissecting/delving into/deconstructing more than one work by him at University. My other A levels greatly compliment my work in English. Here are two long paragraphs about all the things completely irrelevant to an English degree, that I have achieved while at school. I relish/savour the opportunity, to further hone my writing skills at your University for which I am a perfect/ideal candidate. This will stand me in good stead for the field of journalism of which I have long wanted to be a part of."

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