This is the second part of my guide for applying to UK universities via UCAS for polytechnic students in Singapore, covering the remaining sections, employment, personal statement and reference.

4. Employment
If you’ve have any working experience, say part-time at a fast food joint or being your own boss, list them here, if you do not have any, you can leave it blank and mark it as “completed”. I work mainly as a freelancer, so I put “freelance” as part of my job experience, an example as follows:

Employer: Shaun Chng – Self Employed (or your employer’s name)
Address: 288B Singapore Street Singapore 123456
Nature of work: Web developer and product designer
From February 2005 to April 2007, part-time

5. Personal statement
Many will shriek in fright when first faced with a daunting task to write a personal statement, you should see a personal statement is your way of picturing yourself, the applicant, towards the university admissions staff. Yes though it can make or even break your application, the low down is that your personal statement is a powerful way for you to strike the lasting impression as well as stand out from monotonous grades, particularly in situations where universities have to choose between 2 academically evenly matched applicants.

What should I write?
Everybody is unique and everybody will definitely have much to say about themselves, talk about a hobby, a sport you enjoy doing, your Co-circular activities, a person you’ve helped or your community service work. The key things to mention here are anything you’ve NOT mentioned in any other part of your application, that is, do not mention what fantastic grades you have or what bombastic company you worked for, that will turn against you and whats more, that’s repetition and wasting valuable space in your statement which can be put to other good use.

It’s like telling a story, but not your life story!
Usually write in a first person perspective, using “I have done various activities”, rather than “Joe has done various activities, ranging…” it gives it a more personal touch and paints a better picture of you to those accessing your application and please do yourself a favor by not starting each paragraph with an “I”, be creative!

Those thinking of taking a year out or doing a deferment because of national service may want to justify why and what you intend to do and achieve during that year out. Also, be straight to the point and do not include hangers, ambiguity or areas open in your statement which requires interpretation. If you are applying for language majors and wish to show off your skills here, I say, leave it to the barrage of entry essays from your college after your application is submitted, remember we are here not to access the people accessing your application!

It’s not vacuum packed
I won’t recommend using point form to list details, such as awards or achievements. Though it can be more effectively displayed/listed in that manner, it will effectively take a whole single line off your statement, imagine wasting a single line to “Medisave award 2009” or “NYAA award 2009” where you can squeeze in 4 times more content if it were a full line, stick to paragraphs and list multiple instances separated by commas, grammatically you are not wrong.

No nos
Big no nos will include grammar and spelling errors as that reflects very badly not only on you as an applicant but also on the possible quality of work you can produce as a student. Another big no will include lifting or copying someone else’s personal statement, plagiarism is dealt with very seriously in UCAS and they have automated systems to check statements for plagiarism.

Seek opinions and always edit edit edit!
You are strongly recommended to compose and edit your personal statement on a word processor, say Word, or in Open office, which thankfully almost completely eliminate spelling errors (but laughingly at the expense of inviting you to spew more words in). When done, print it out for your teacher or parents to go through, it helps getting views from another party- Is it too boring? Is it trying to hard? This helps you tone out the writing on top of correcting your language as well.

Characters, paragraphs and lines!
Thereafter, confirm your character count using the review function on your word processor, copy and paste your essay into your UCAS application, do note that the line count in Microsoft Word is not the same as that in UCAS due to text formatting differences, so it will take quite a bit of snipping here and there to get your essay in. And yes, do need not have a line break after each paragraph as that effectively steals a precious line off your line count, the next paragraph can always go on cleanly on the next line.

6. Reference
The final part to your UCAS application process. Once you’ve completed your personal statement, give yourself a pat on the back and reward yourself with a cup of coffee as you are almost done. If you’ve registered on UCAS as a mature student, you have the flexibility to fill out this section on behalf of your referee, otherwise you will be given a separate login which you can give to your referee to log into the site and complete this section for you, either way, they will be faced with the same fields, it pays to inform your referee what to and write for you so he/she will accurately draft a good reference which best describes your true abilities, anyway, your referee is already doing you a favor, don’t leave them hanging!

Some fields of note:

Predicted grades: Nil (The applicant has not entered any pending qualifications, unless if you are an A level student, then your Prelim results will come here.)

Date(s) when applicant is unavailable for interview: Nil (Usually it won’t be recommended to fill this in as most university schedules are packed and won’t entertain change of interview dates, but again this only applies to universities who require an interview as part of the selection process.)

Referee details
The only hard part of the reference is to bug someone who knows you well to write a statement for you. Preferably look for a close lecturer who taught you. A great choice will be one who took you for your FYP (final year project), or if you want bragging, rights, try asking the director of studies to be your reference. You will need few personal particulars from your reference but nothing that too personal. Fields will generally include the full title and name of referee, post/occupation/relationship. The others are standard polytechnic address details which you can lift from your polytechnic website, for example:

Organisation name: Singapore Polytechnic
Address: 500 Dover Road, Singapore 139651, Republic of Singapore
Telephone number: +65 6xx xxxx
Fax number: +65 6xx xxxx
Email address:

Do note that though this seldom happens, do let your referee know that there is a chance that UCAS may contact your referee directly using these details to clarify your relationship and submitted details, so that they will be more prepared for it and avoid last minute impromptu shocks!

Generally a reference is rather similar in nature to your personal statement, but it is generally written in a third person perspective with respect to you, the applicant. The content can be new or reaffirm what you’ve written in your personal statement. You can list pointers in point form I will recommend passing a copy of your personal statement together with a brief reference guideline to your referee to get them started, after all they are not exactly people with much spare time in their hands and they are still doing you a favour!

Sample guideline for reference
A general guideline (similar to what I’ve submitted, with explanations in italics):

To Whom It May Concern

Letter of Reference for Chng Shing Ji, Shaun, IC No: S8XXXXXXX

Mr Chng Shing Ji, Shaun, was a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering student in the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering in Singapore Polytechnic from June 2005 to…

(This is the header of the statement, serves more or less to address the applicant and acknowledge that you are a valid student)

He was an outstanding student…
Exceptional analytical skills to problem-solving tasks…
Punctual carry out his duties…
Deliver his best performance both in academic and non-academic pursuits…
High level of motivation and self-discipline…

(An excerpt from my referee in point form for illustration, generally what we are looking here are personal qualities seen from another party, also skills which seem out of place and can’t otherwise “brag” about in your personal statement. These of course have to be genuine and true to paint an accurate picture of you as a candidate)

Mr Referee Name
Singapore Polytechnic

(End off like how any letter will end, with the details of the referee here)

And that’s it, a reference is totally not that difficult, it is infact easier and shorter than your personal statement.

Ok, that is all I have for this guide for UCAS based on my own successful application. If you have any additional questions, do feel free to leave it in the comments below or reach me via the website contact form. Cheers and all the best in your studies!

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  1. hey shaun! KCL and uni of manchester offered me unconditional offers for a degree in mechanical engineering. in your opinion, which one would be the better choice to go for?

    • hi daoyan, both are good unis. I believe you can’t go wrong choosing either.

      King’s tend to be better in technology, especially with robotics and related in my own opinion.

      If cost is an issue, Manchester will be a good place as it’s a nice little self-sufficient city by itself. Very conducive. Cost of living there is very affordable and can be easily half of what you may pay in London.

      Living in London is of course very expensive, but with it you really get the bussles which makes up a “happening” college life, it’s up to you really whether you like the exposure in the areas. Kings is located along the river thames so it’s really cool by itself.

      I believe both are city universities? i.e they do not have dedicated sports facilities and a stadium (something like Imperial, RMIT and SMU in SG), so on that, there’s nothing much to compare here.

      Ranking wise, both are top 30 in the world, though I won’t advise you to make your decision on that as ultimately, it’s the experience there I want you to go for.

      Hope this helps!

  2. thanks for this guide, Shaun. I’ve got a question, though. Do applicants have the responsibility to send universities their own results, assuming they’ve been given a conditional offer (e.g. GCE A-levels)?

    • Hi James, no you do not need to send in your hard copy result slips. All you have to do is to indicate all your modules in UCAS itself. That is all.

      Sending in anything immediately after this point is pointless. From what I was told, due to the amount of mail the admissions department get, any mail which they do not request for will not be entertained.

      Only upon official notification or request from the university (the university will contact you using your UCAS details) where they will ask you for copies of your academic transcripts for verification.

      You can either order a fresh set from your admin office or photocopy them and get your admin office to certify them as true copy (with your school stamp or director’s signature etc).

      Usually the university will request for additional personal info at the same time and may send you a form through snail mail or emailed to print. These can be a particulars form, questionnaire, etc which you must populate and mailed up to UK with your transcripts as well. Only then where you can send them over with the candidate details/identifier ID as indicated by your university admission’s office, where they will be dutifully received and processed.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Hey Shaun,
    Thank you so much for this guide!(: You have really put a lot of effort which I – and a lot of other people, I’m sure – really appreciate. I have a question, though. I intend to buff up my college app by taking on a number of commitments. Would you say applying for the NYAA Gold Award would be a worthwhile investment of my time? I understand it is a prestigious award (that you managed to get, great job!) but would Oxbridge necessarily regard it as such?

    • Thanks!

      The NYAA would be a nice thing in your CV, but not a necessity. Few people I know here in Cambridge have the NYAA. I have to emphasize that taking up the NYAA gold is quite a big and long commitment, this is so considering if you are starting from nada, it’s definitely not quite a walk in the park!

      Generally Universities are keen to know more about how you can contribute to them as a whole, a simple CV without the bells and whistles do work too. In the end, it’s all these which will get you the university interview, then after that, it’s a whole different ball game.

  4. Hey Shaun,

    First of all, thank you very much for providing such valuable information. I just started preparing for my application, and facing some doubts.

    1: Will it be good to include and elaborate my internship experience in my PS, or just put it in the employment section?

    2: I am a poly student, do i enter 0 or 1 in the Point of Entry section? Cos i have heard many students getting exempted for the first year if they apply for the same degree course as their poly diploma?

    Hope to hear from you soon! Thank You!

  5. Hi Shaun

    Great help!! Thank you for taking the time to write this. I do have a question though.
    With the polytechnic diploma, is your choices to universities in UK limited to the one that accept the diploma? I am interested in accounting and finance.


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