The Sutton Trust today criticised the system of personal statements for university admissions, as they favour well-connected children from private schools. Spectator readers might not be surprised by that, though: in September Molly Guinness revealed in the magazine that those who can afford to often contract the writing of the statement out to graduates for a generous fee. Guinness wrote:
‘They need help, and they’d be crazy not to get it. ‘Why would anyone write their own?’ says my cousin Malachy Guinness, who set up a tutoring agency. He points out that with no interviews, there’s no way of checking the authenticity of the statements. His company fields dozens of calls each month on the personal statement question. They favour a collaborative approach: ‘It’s better if the pupil has some input,’ he says. But some private tutors can, for £500 or so, craft an elegant personal statement after a brief phone call.
‘For some reason I’ve become something of a go-to guy for friends and relations. Over the years, I’ve written a dozen or so (free of charge). Sometimes the teenagers pretend to contribute by sending a ‘draft’, by which they mean three or four half-finished sentences, but more often they treat it like a straightforward commission: ‘I’m afraid I have made very, very little progress on the personal statement and I just have no idea what to write in it, literally none,’ said one emailer. I often work in a team; in a typical session, my accomplice and I spend long hours with furrowed brows earnestly discussing what drew our candidate to sociology, while the candidate wanders in and out of the room. Sometimes, after the applicant has drifted away altogether, we have to ring them to check they’ve read the book we’re referring to on their behalf or to ask what’s on their syllabus, but generally we can do without them. I’m not alone; another seasoned statement writer found herself having to look up ‘communications studies’ on Wikipedia over and over again as she tried to explain why her nephew was so keen on it. The nephew was no help at all.’