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Breaking down the changes to the UK university admissions process: what you need to know

Updated: Jun 3

In an effort to increase accessibility to education in the United Kingdom, the unified application system known as UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) is midway through implementing wide-ranging reforms to the structure of applications.

The headline change for 2025 is that those applying for 2024 entry were the last cohort to tackle the singular ‘personal statement’, a 4000-character essay explaining the applicant’s motivation and preparation for their chosen course.

This will be replaced with multiple short questions. Although the exact wording of the questions has not yet been released, the questions are expected to target the following topics:

  1. Goals and motivation for studying a specific subject (the selected “course”)

  2. Academic preparedness for the course through academics

  3. Academic preparedness for the course through extracurricular experiences

  4. Special circumstances that may have limited a student’s success or opportunities 

  5. Personal preparedness for studies and student life

  6. Reflection on how preferred learning style matches the kinds of experiences that would be the foundation of one’s course

Essentially, the change boils down to equity concerns: 79% of the 15,000 students surveyed agreed that the 4000-character statement is “difficult to complete without support,” and not all students can access the same level of support either through their schools or through external consultants’ advice. By breaking down what they are looking for in the essay, UCAS aims to demystify the process, thus reducing the need for external support. This exactly mirrors the changes already enacted in the teacher reference during the last application cycle, with the open letter’s replacement by a series of targeted questions about the student.

Yet, we wonder, how much will this really change the UCAS application process, and what will top applicants be doing differently going forward

On the one hand, all that is really happening is that, instead of having only students at fee-paying schools or working with consultants receive insider advice on what UCAS is really looking for in the personal statement, now everybody will have equal access to that information in the form of targeted questions. If you are already planning your UCAS personal statement based on solid advice you have received about what should go into it, you will not need to make any adjustments to your statement’s content, only to the structure! 

On the other hand, this demystification process can only intensify two pre-existing trends: greater competition for places in popular courses and universities in general, and an especially intensified competition among students from private schools due to the greater allotment of offers to students from government-funded grammar schools and sixth forms that we are already observing. Given these trends, we encourage UK families to give their children as many opportunities as possible to develop themselves in extracurricular, leadership, and research roles so that they have strong profiles not just for UCAS but also for the American admissions process, which places greater emphasis on demonstration of personal values and strengths through extracurricular impact roles.

While these changes are aimed above all at addressing equity concerns within the UK, the high likelihood is that international applicants will not be totally unaffected. While the report states they are “exploring reform in the context of international undergraduate admissions,” there is no clear guidance as to what these reforms might entail, although the reference to the “challenge of increased applications” that imminently follows is somewhat ominous. With the exact format of applications still to be decided, and with no real transparency as to the weighting of the factors under consideration, it is too early to speculate on the precise material changes we might see internationally. If the emphasis on widening access is as significant as it seems, we might expect a decrease in admissions from students with “privilege” (from fee-paying schools) abroad as well as in the UK - but the challenge of “demystifying” this, as with their essay questions, will rest on UCAS’ shoulders.

With tutors - and clients - who have been accepted to top UK universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, our team at Hermiona is here to help you through the process. Book a consultation with us today!



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