How to fill out the perfect UCAS application for a drama course
As the deadline for UCAS applications approaches, Susan Elkin speaks to the tutors who will be receiving them to find out what they’re looking for from aspiring performers and talk through some of the common pitfalls
If you want a place on a 2019 higher education drama course, you only have a month left to apply. Most universities and colleges operate through UCAS and the deadline for applications is January 15.
The process can seem daunting, with long text sections and a seemingly never-ending list of places to go wrong on the form. How do you present yourself so that you stand out among hundreds or even thousands of others? Are there any pitfalls to avoid?
Much of it comes down to the personal statement on the form.
“We’re looking for genuine enthusiasm for the subject and motivation for studying it at an advanced level,” says Adrian Kear, programme development director for performance arts at Wimbledon College of Arts, which is part of University of the Arts London, and launches two drama performance courses next year. “So show us your participation in youth groups, drama societies, amateur performing groups or how your own personal interests have all developed your practice. Why do you want to specialise?”
Nick Scrivens, programme leader on the BA (hons) actor-musician course at Guildford School of Acting, which is part of the University of Surrey, agrees: “I like to know what experience they’ve had in theatre and performing, but I also like to get a feel for the jobs they have done, volunteering or extra-curricular activities that they enjoy. Please write about what you are passionate about.”
In many cases, the UCAS form is the prelude to an audition or interview, which is why the personal statement is so important.
“I always read the applications with colleagues before we meet the writers and the ones I appreciate most are those that give me an insight into who the applicant is, not just what they have done,” says Scrivens. “Above all, we say: ‘Just be yourself’, because that’s the person we want to see at audition and what you write on your UCAS form can really help the interview to go well.”
Kear concurs: “We want to get to know you, so make sure your personality comes across in your personal statement – in particular your creativity, imagination and ability to work both individually and in groups. Don’t tell us, for instance, that you want to be famous and yearn to play Hedda Gabler. Tell us instead why you want that, what you would do with the role given the chance and how you would stage an exciting, original production.”
Access as much information as you can. “Use the ‘how to apply’ sections on website course pages to focus your thinking on specific skills that will strengthen your application,” says Kear, although he also points out that applicants must also remember that the UCAS form cannot be targeted toward specific institutions. You might jeopardise your chances with some universities if you appear only to be really interested in just a couple.
There are basic practical issues too, before you get to the all-important personal statement. Get the right UCAS code for the course you’re interested in, for instance. “It’s much easier to get that and get it right from the institution’s own website than by trawling though the UCAS website,” says James Bowden, co-principal of Dorset School of Acting, which runs a foundation course and is starting a sixth-form course next year, so he prepares students for university continually.
Bowden also advises applicants to “check, double-check and check again” to ensure you have entered everything correctly and to “avoid panicked phone calls when you’ve made a mistake”.
On the other hand, if you have a problem contact UCAS because it is “top-notch brilliant” even if you’ve accidentally clicked the wrong button, according to James Grimsey, creative director at Arts1, which prepares many sixth formers for university. “UCAS runs brilliant exhibitions targeted at creative students too. We attend every year,” he adds.
One of the things Grimsey has learned from UCAS, for example, is that a large number of personal statements open with the seven words: “All my life I have wanted to…”. His simple advice is to try to avoid this and other obvious generic statements.
Bowden suggests you might start your personal statement with a quote from someone in the industry that epitomises your thoughts, but make it clear how it relates to your understanding of actor training.
Don’t try to fill in your UCAS form without support, either. “Let someone else read it,” advises Scrivens. “It needs to be someone who is in your corner and can tell you when you’re not giving the whole picture.”
Kear agrees: “Get someone you know and trust to read over your application, checking that it ‘flows’, that there are no gaps and most importantly that grammar and punctuation are spot on.”
And everyone agrees, however intimidating the form might seem, procrastination is not a good idea. “Get started on filling in all the general details as soon as possible,” says Bowden.
“Just start doing it,” agrees Grimsey. “Break it down into smaller pieces and work your way through it.”
The UCAS application deadline is January 15. Go to ucas.com for more information