Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Personal Statement - the Saga Continues

How many times have I criticised a particular phrase or acted as a human thesaurus?  Am I even allowed to mention this in a blog or must we maintain the polite fiction that parents and teachers don’t cast an eye over the children’s Personal Statements?  The idea is that they must write them by themselves or the statement will not reflect their personality.

How come then that the naturally quiet and thoughtful Perran has managed to sound so manically cheerful that if the universities don’t want him, he should be able to land a job at TGI Friday’s? 

“I wouldn’t  say that you ‘love’ something more than three times in a statement,” I mention to him, “And I’d limit the number of ‘enthusiastic’s too.  I think that people who are applying for maths and philosophy are probably allowed to sound a little reticent.”

Carenza is caught in indecision. 

“There are several history books that I never finished.  They say not to put down books you haven’t read thoroughly in case you get an interview and they ask you about them.”

“If you’d spent less long writing your statement,” I snarl, “You could have had them all finished.  Come to that, you might even have had enough time to write your own history book.”

Their heads go down again and silence reigns.  They are still editing.

Monday, 29 October 2012

No More OpenDays for a While

We shan’t go to any more general open days now.  You can’t travel to every university that might just be of interest, particularly in my case as the mother of twins.

“It’s really difficult to decide, because Birmingham was in the rain but Warwick was in the sunshine,” says Carenza. 

She’s right – was the student who showed us round Birmingham actually wearing flippers or is my memory playing tricks? At Warwick, however, the sun warmed us as a butterfly wafted past.

“Do you think open days actually make it harder?” asks Perran.

I don’t answer at once.  It’s true that lists of course modules and photos of accommodation are all on the web now.  Isn’t an open day really something of a show?  Sometimes passing a locked door in a department, I have heard a muffled sound from within and wondered whether that is where they have incarcerated the more shambling members of staff, lured away from manning the displays by the promise of chocolate hob-nobs. 

On the other hand, when you visit, you do get a feeling for that indefinable quality that the internet cannot convey.

“Which one felt more like home to you,” I ask, “Birmingham or Warwick?”

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Getting to University Open Days

Who would ever use SatNav to get to university open days, when they could instead do what I do – rely on a child with a crumpled printout of a Google map.  I am still haunted by the possibility that on the day we thought we were looking round Sheffield University, we were actually in Leeds.

My favourite open day park-and-ride scheme was at Bristol where the university had booked parking at the Cribbs Causeway retail park.  Spotting a huge Marks and Spencer, I said to Carenza,

“Look –they’ve got a sale on. When we get back here, we’ll buy you those shoes you need.” 

As we queued for the bus, a girl was handing out vouchers for a further 20% off sale prices.  Other parents were refusing, somewhat snootily – what was the matter with them?  Carenza grabbed one.  Throughout the day, when we found the sandwich stall nearly bare, when we realised we’d walked the wrong way searching for the maths department, when we had our arms pinned to our sides by the crush of people attending the “Come to Bristol” lecture, the voucher in my purse was emitting a warm glow – by teatime, we would be shoe shopping.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

UCAS Reference

  Carenza is a pillar of the community
“Have you jotted down the list of all the stuff you’ve done so that your teacher can use it to write your reference?”  I look at the twins.  They look at their shoes. 

“Look, you know, all those lunch hours you’ve given up to show prospective pupils round, the nights when you’ve turned out in the rain to play for the school band, the weeks you spent mentoring that year nine boy who would only communicate in grunts…”

“But we only did those things to be helpful,” protests Carenza.

“Yeah, writing them all down looks like, well, like bragging,” agrees Perran.

“I’m afraid that’s what you do – when you apply for a university place, you brag about all the great things you’ve done.”

I see the light change in their young eyes.  Have I just witnessed the death of innocence?  Philosophers sometimes ask whether altruism (or selflessness) can truly exist.  My answer is that, Yes, it did - until just now, when I introduced my children to CV culture.

Carenza’s eyes narrow: “Can I put down all those prefect duties when I had to stop Year Sevens from skipping in the corridor?” 

“Yes,” I reply firmly, “Write them down.”

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Personal Statements - the Saga Begins

I tiptoe through the house as a brooding silence rolls down like gothic mist from the bedrooms.  My twins are writing their personal statements. 

Perran is trying delicately to phrase the semi-achievement of Silver Duke of Edinburgh where he completed a year of ballet and of saxophone and acted as music librarian for his school, but never submitted the paperwork to prove any of these.  Carenza is trying to judge whether her successful feminist campaign to have some of the school Houses named after women will count for or against her. 

But hardest of all is to demonstrate your subject CV.  As a mathematician and philosopher, what is Perran to say – “When my Mum tells me off for not listening to her,  that is when I am thinking most deeply”.  Carenza, wishing to study history, has been volunteering at the museum.  The fact that this has mainly involved painting walls and shifting boxes will surely not matter – in a museum you just absorb history through your skin, don’t you?  At the same time, at school, they are being alert, attentive, diligent and almost manically polite – let’s hope their tutors predict them some good A2 grades.