Working as a UCAS Coordinator for Kings
In the first instalment of a three-part interview, two of our A-level students, Joseph Nash Price-Evans and William Tampion-Lacey, interview Alan Beer, the Kings Brighton UCAS Coordinator, about his role and the UCAS process.
Joe: What is your role here at Kings Brighton?
Alan: I am a teacher here at Kings Brighton, I teach Politics and Law. My other main role is offering university application advice. I help the students apply to university — I am the UCAS Coordinator.
Joe: What is UCAS?
Alan: UCAS stands for Universities Colleges Admission Service and that is exactly what it is. It is a service for students and universities and colleges across the UK. It is an independent charity. It is regulated by the government, and universities have a lot of input into it.
UCAS basically offer a system for any student that wants to go to university to do a degree. It is how students apply — everyone applies via the UCAS application process.
Joe: What does your role entail, what does a UCAS Coordinator do?
Alan: My role is to explain how UCAS works and to give guidance to students to help them get through the different sections of the UCAS application, and help them with their personal details — it is pretty straight forward stuff but it has got to be put in the correct format.
One of the most important elements is the personal statement, which we spend a lot of time on, and which the students provide; telling the universities why they are interested in the course etc. and then also the actual university choices themselves. For most students it is five choices.
William: What training do UCAS Coordinators do?
Alan: I have been on many courses provided by UCAS but also universities come to the college, we go to universities, and in a sense that is all part of the training process because things change as new universities open and new courses are offered in new and existing universities. It is quite a big job staying on top of the whole process. It is ongoing training really that UCAS Coordinators need.
William: Have you worked in any other schools in this role?
Alan: Yes, I certainly have. I worked in quite a similar college actually to Kings, it is a little bit bigger than Kings but a Brighton-based international school and I worked there for… how old are you two lads?
William and Joe: We are 17 years old.
Alan: I worked there longer than you have been on this planet! [everyone laughs] I can safely say it is quite a long time, but my role there was looking after Foundation students, making sure they did well on their course and also the overall university process. We had a lot of students, so we had a whole team of personal tutors who would meet with the students and give advice.
Kings Brighton is fantastic for me because it is smaller so I can get to know all the students. In fact, I see all the students that go to university from Kings Brighton.
William: Which university did you go to?
Alan: I went to two universities. Essex was my first university where I did Government Studies and then I studied at Sussex for my postgraduate where I did my professional Law qualifications.
Joe: How do you help students identify the right opportunities for their own interests?
Alan: I think that can be very easy and it can be very difficult in an international environment because you have a certain number of students where it is almost kind of prescribed for them.
Some students come here with a really good idea of what they want to do at university, whether it is Medicine, Engineering, Law, Politics, whatever it is, so in that sense the advice is already really built-in to the students' expectations of the whole university application process. International students would do this a little more than British students.
In my experience, international students tend to have a little more input from parents as it is obviously a big thing to send your son or daughter away to another country. Also, most of our students have agents in their home country who have given them lots of advice.
But you also have students that really are not sure and then it is a process of listening to the student, finding out what they are really interested in, what their strengths are. Clearly one day, after university, that person will want to start a career, have a job — well that is going to be a pretty good guide isn't it, the type of degree they should be thinking about?
You have also got to take into account how the student is doing on the course, the different type of learning styles the students have, whether or not a student is really interested in having a practical work experience element to the degree. What I have seen over the years is more and more universities are offering a practical work experience year built in — that is generally known a 'sandwich course'.
So there are many different factors that we take into account, but listening to the students is really the key to it because clearly the student, the parents, the agents, we all want the student to go on to a course and to a university that is going to suit them.
Joe: How do you help the students tailor their personal statements?
Alan: It is not really tailoring, for most students writing a personal statement is quite a daunting prospect and it is not a cultural thing. I think most people don't actually like writing about themselves! They are far happier writing about something or somebody else, so there is that obstacle to get over. And to explain that this is not a life story, this is a process of convincing the university.
It’s the Admission Officers who look at a personal statement — they are going to be senior members of the university in that subject area. They are probably going to end up teaching people they make offers to themselves. So what kind of students do they want? That is where we get to the tailoring.
All students must tailor their personal statement to show their strength and passion in that subject area because obviously universities want students who are going to be really engaged on the course. There are many parts to the personal statement, but I think the most important thing is you have got to — in 4,000 characters — convince the university that you have a real passion for the subjects.
Joe: That you are the right fit for the course.
Alan: Definitely. Universities really want students, they are not expecting every student to get a first-class degree but they want students who are really interested in the subject who will benefit from the type of course they offer.
Joe: What influences a student's decision-making process?
Alan: I will pick up on a point I made earlier. I think with international students (and to a large extent with British students as well, obviously) that the expectations of family actually do play a big factor in this whole process.
Joe: It is a bigger process coming here from another country.
Alan: It is, and often, for international students, it is obviously quite expensive to come to a foreign country and it is a long-term commitment. It is a minimum of 4 years, often 5- or 6-year commitment.
Obviously some students come here and they are not too sure, and that is part of the service we provide at Kings. Not just myself but all the teachers and staff — people like John [Kings Brighton's Enrichment Coordinator] who helps students with volunteering and finding work experience etc. — can give advice that will hopefully help a student focus on and narrow down on what they want to do in the future.
As I say, we do have a few students who are not sure what they would like to do, and that is the great advantage of coming here for one or two years, as it gives them the time to visit the universities.