Yesterday The Observer announced it had “discovered” that sixth-formers are paying up to £350 for personal statements “written by graduates to help them cheat the university admissions procedure”.
With the trade in custom UCAS personal statements going back a number of years, The Observer seems to have been employing the notion of “discovery” in the sense of, say, David Cameron “discovering” a new band called Coldplay, or someone who’d been in prison for the last ten years “discovering” new sandwich bar Pret a Manger.
What The Observer didn't explore was the quality of these custom written statements – which extend from UCAS form responses, to pre-written essays, right through to Inns of Court Scholarship application form model answers. While generally not awful, they’re by no means brilliant either.
For example, the model UCAS personal statement for a place to study law on the website of essay-writing company Oxbridge Essays reads like something a young Alan Partridge would write...
Here’s an extract:
“As well as having a theoretical and academic face, law has another which is definitely practical and which opens a clear possibility for a young man to take his theories and to apply them to ordinary life that society might be better served by them and might benefit from my knowledge and my expertise. No doubt there is a certain naivety in my last sentence, and as I wrote it I had in my head that old phrase of Francis Bacon — ‘Laws are like cobwebs, where the small flies are caught and the great break through.’”
This Oxbridge Essays “example answer” for an Inns of Court scholarship is similarly Partridge-esque:
“It may not be the best thing to say but all the Inns are beautiful and offer fairly similar services. I wanted to go with whichever Inn I felt a greater attachment to and that was Lincoln's Inn, primarily because I used to walk through New Square past Wildy's each day on the way to university and was able to picture myself working in the gardens for which Lord Denning used to care from time to time in his later years, or drinking tea in the newly refurbished MCR!"
This sort of stuff might get you as far as the legal equivalent of Radio Norwich, but if you’re aiming for the top, far better to look elsewhere for inspiration.