Stop nagging me, I’ll get it done soon…

Education, Oxbridge, UCAS

7th August 2018

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You’re probably thinking that with nearly three months until the Oxbridge deadline, talk of procrastination may seem a little premature. Your parents keep asking if you’ve started work on your first draft, and you’ve told them time and again that you’re about to get started, but there’s no point until you’ve finished your important legal work placement/read the authoritative text on Keynesian economics/visited 17 more museums for a bit of background insight.

In your heart of hearts though, you know that the 14th of October will roll around and you will be staring at a blank screen, the flashing cursor taunting you for your lack of discipline. But is it really just laziness that is keeping you from putting pen to paper? Understanding the reasons for procrastination are important for overcoming it, and for gaining insight into how you truly feel about the next stage of your academic career.

A fear of failure

Applying to university is a big deal. Perhaps the biggest deal you’ll have faced yet. Lots of people will have told you about how important this decision is, how much rides on gaining a degree and finding a career. And now you’re being asked to set out everything about yourself on one sheet of A4, and have yourself judged accordingly. It’s easy to see why that might feel a little intimidating.

The great thing is, if you don’t try, you can’t fail. If you thrash out a hasty last minute application and get rejected – at least you can say it was just because you didn’t have time to do it properly. Except we all know that isn’t the case. That the only thing worse than rejection is constantly wondering ‘what could have been’ if you’d put the leg-work in.

If you recognise that deep down it is fear blocking you from making a start – there are three central points to remember:

Failure is rarely permanent. Second chances are actually abundant. And it may be a tired cliché, but when one door closes, another one opens – and being denied one option can open up a range of others. If you can change your mindset from this as an ‘all-or-nothing’ high stakes affair, then you don’t have to fear failure to the same degree.

The UCAS application process is inherently unfair – most application systems are. You are being asked to communicate a nuanced, complicated and dynamic person in 4000 characters. If you are turned down, it’s not you personally that has been rejected; it’s the severely restricted representation of yourself that UCAS allows for. It doesn’t mean you weren’t worthy, just that for some reason you failed to jump through the right hoops this time. In other words, it’s not personal.

Perfectionism isn’t necessary – at least at this stage. Just get something on the page. Everything can be re-drafted, changed, rearranged and perfected at a later stage; for now though, overcoming the psychological barrier of an empty sheet is the most important first step.

This isn’t really what you want

Is there a chance that you haven’t started writing because your heart isn’t really in it? Do your motivations for your course – or your university choice – stem from somewhere outside of yourself? Perhaps it’s a desire to match up to the expectations of your parents or teachers. Perhaps it’s a desire to keep up with your peers, or to maintain a relationship.

For Andrew* it was about maintaining a dream he’d had since he was little, which had changed when he wasn’t looking. ‘I had been involved with cadets since I was young, and it was obvious to me that I was going to pursue an Army-funded degree in engineering, and then join the Corps. I’d repeated this mantra to myself and to other people so many times that the thought of doing anything else had never occurred to me. It was only as I came to the point of writing my statement that I realised that I hadn’t stopped to question whether this was really what was going to make me happy. I ended up changing everything in the space of two weeks – I applied to study creative writing’.

Use the opportunity of writing your personal statement (or not writing it, as the case might be) to truly examine your motivations. This decision has to be about you, and you alone.

You don’t know what you’re doing.

The chances are that you haven’t done this before. Perhaps a CV and a cover letter for a weekend job, but it’s unlikely you’ve written an application of such significance previously. What in the world do they want to know about you?

If it’s any consolation, pretty much everybody is in the same boat right now. The best thing you can do is immerse yourself in the personal statement world for a while. Read everything you can – the good statements, the bad – and judge for yourself what works and what doesn’t. Get something on paper, show it to as many people as possible, take on board their feedback.

Of course, the best people to ask are the professionals (yep, that would be us). With hundreds of successful applicants at their top choice university places, and with consultants who know the conventions of personal statement writing inside-out, Oxbridge Personal Statements are perfectly placed to help you overcome that initial fear of writing, and show you what it is that universities are looking for.

Regardless of why you think you’re procrastinating, it’s time to stop. Pick up a (metaphorical) pen, pick up the phone – do what it takes to get started, and give yourself the best chance of a successful application.