Tuesday, 06 June 2017 00:00

League Tables

By now any year year 13s should be thinking hard about whether to go to university and if so, which course. The latest Guardian league table for Economics held a few surprises for my students who were not all that good at predicting the top 10. They were surprised to see Leeds in 10th and even more surprised to find Oxford Brookes and Edinburgh down in 26th and 27th. But what do these league tables tell us?

Let's start with what they are not:

  • They are not objective or entirely scientific. They are based in large part on a national student satisfaction survey. If as a university you have an especially demanding clientele then you may find yourself pushed down the rankings. Different tables also choose to include different criteria or weight them differently.
  • They do not tell you which university will get you the best degree. Many league tables include research ratings for various universities. While it is great to have access to the top academics in your field, as an undergraduate you will have little if any contact time with them at most universities and just because they are incredible researchers does not mean they can teach well.

With a careful eye on what criteria the ranking uses however, league tables can be an invaluable tool to help you decide. I like the Guardian rankings because they don't include research but do include 'value added'. This is an imperfect measure but it does give you an idea how well the university teaches its students. The likes of Oxford and Cambridge will always do well on the numbers gaining top degrees and top jobs because they take the best in the first place. What you should be interested in is how much they are going to help you improve.

So with all that in mind, pick through the tables carefully, don't take them as gospel and do make sure you check what is behind the headings - most will offer you a link to how they calculate them.

Here is the link to the Guardian's latest league table.

Published in Blogs
Tuesday, 06 June 2017 00:00

Writing a Personal Statement for UCAS

Matt Pringle has had several years’ experience teaching Economics, Business Studies and Critical Thinking. Dr. Rob McMahon was Tutor in Politics at St John's College, Oxford from 2003 - 2005 and ran PPE admissions at the College in 2004. He has five years of interview experience at The University of Oxford. Between them they have read personal statements from, and given advice to, hundreds of students. Here is what they have to say about the dreaded UCAS personal statement.

Some people claim that universities don’t look at your personal statement. Sadly a few universities (off the record) do say that they place little or no weight on the personal statement as they cannot even be sure that you wrote it, but the vast majority are interested in what you have to say and a well written, enthusiastic, personal (to you) personal statement may well persuade them to give you a chance even if your predictions/results are not quite top of the pile.

Here are some general principles:

Proof read carefully. Nothing says ‘I don’t really care about this course’ like poorly written English or misspelled words (yes I have even had statements with the name of the course spelled wrong!).

Be enthusiastic. Remember, this person is going to have to lecture to you, read your essays and possibly have tutorials, seminars and supervisors meetings with you. They want to see that you are genuinely excited by the subject and have some thoughts to offer. This will make you an interesting person to teach and not just an unwelcome distraction from their research.

The admissions tutors don’t care as much as you think about what you have read. I have seen lots of personal statements with lists of books and papers that the applicant has supposedly read. The problem is that you may not have read them and even if you have you may not have understood a word. The university is interested in what you thought about a book and what that lead you to read/do/study next, such as enter an essay competition on the subject or write an article. It is better to talk about 2 ‘low brow’ books you have read and the insightful comments you have about what they say than to simply list 30 seminal texts.

The admissions tutors are interested in you for your academic profile. That doesn’t mean don’t put down that you captained your school football team or plan on wiping monkeys’ noses in the Amazon on you gap year. It is good to show that you have other interests and skills. It does mean that you should spend most of your time talking about the subject and be clear in WHY you have done other things and what they have taught you, not just what you have done.

Get it in early. Some universities will wait to make offers until the end but some will make offers as they go along so the earlier you get your form in the better chance there will be plenty of places left.

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