Counselor resources

Planning and preparing for UCAS applications

Jim Faherty from ISF Academy in Hong Kong shares tips for counselors on planning for UCAS applications for students who want to study in the United Kingdom

Cialfo Community
September 6, 2021
5 min read
Planning and preparing for UCAS applications
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Planning and preparing for UCAS applications

How counselors can best prepare for UCAS applications

  1. Get your juniors started over the summer
  2. Personal statement tips
  3. Setting timelines for early applications
  4. Writing references

Get your juniors started over the summer

Start drafting your personal statement

Ideally, students should have prepared a draft of their personal statement over the summer, or at the very least, started to brainstorm and flesh out their ideas. This makes the process less stressful when school starts so that both students and counselors aren’t starting from scratch. 

Whittling down your longlist

Students should have drawn up a longlist of schools before or during the summer holidays, and do their research over the summer to start narrowing down this list. They should think about the reasoning behind why a certain university makes or doesn’t make their shortlist.

Familiarization with additional requirements

This is particularly important for courses or universities that have additional admissions requirements (e.g. a portfolio for courses related to the arts) or earlier deadlines (e.g. Oxbridge, Medicine, Veterinary Science). 

Personal statement tips

Start early 

Students are generally not used to writing in the style required. Starting early gives students the opportunity to brainstorm different ideas and go through a few drafts to refine their writing style.

Tailor your guidance and support

Each student will have different challenges when it comes to writing their personal statement. It is important to sit down with your student and have a chat to get a sense of where exactly your student needs support so that you can tailor your guidance to meet their needs.

Use sample essays with caution

While sample essays may be a useful model for students to get them started, there is a risk that students use these as a crutch and not come up with their own original ideas and essays.

Setting timelines for early applications

Consider internal deadlines

An internal deadline for students of at least two weeks in advance is helpful as it gives university guidance counselors ample time to check through everything from references and requirements to personal statements.

Publish your school’s timeline

Set out a timeline for each grade level so that students and parents are informed on what’s coming up for the year ahead. This empowers students to take ownership and start planning and prioritise their own application tasks.

Writing references

Schools vary widely in how they approach the reference writing process, but here are a couple of best practices you can adopt.

Identify the most appropriate writer

This is important, as we want to ensure that we pick a teacher who is best placed to add value to the student’s application. Having a conversation with the teacher who is writing the student’s reference and priming them on what is required is helpful as well.

Get skilled up

As a counselor, you may need to give guidance to your colleagues or even write references yourself. It’s important to ensure that you have the right skills so that you can write the most effective reference letters for your students. The Character Collaborative offers a really useful course on improving your skills as a reference writer. 

A big thank you to Jim Faherty, University Guidance Counselor at ISF Academy in Hong Kong for sharing his tips and advice

Image credits: Robert Tudor and J. Kelly Brito

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