How to make a strong college application

IMG_3448How can students make sure that their sixth form application is as strong as possible and does justice to their achievements, interests and aspirations?

If you are in Year 11, you need to be thinking about where you want to continue your education after 16. You are free to choose where to apply, whether it’s a sixth form college, FE college, school sixth form or training provider. You can make several applications and each college or school will consider your application independently and decide separately whether to make you an offer. So applying to a sixth form is not the end of the process of choosing, it’s very much a part of it.

So here are my 10 top tips:

  1. Make sure you have researched the sixth form you are applying to. Do they offer the programme you are interested in and do you have a reasonable chance of meeting their entry requirements? If you need more help, see my post about choosing a sixth form.
  2. Check you understand the application process and deadlines. Read the application form carefully to see what is expected from you, fill in the easy bits such as personal information. Do a first draft of any section which requires longer responses or choices.
  3. Tell us about your ambition; where you see yourself in 5 or 10 years – we’re not going to hold you to this. Don’t worry if you have more than one option or if you’re genuinely not sure.
  4. Justify your choice of programme in terms of your ambition and your interests. Tell us what you’ve most enjoyed studying at school, including coursework or research projects you found particularly interesting. Have you researched what degree course you might want to progress to at university and what their requirements are – subjects and grades? If you’re not sure where you are heading, have you made sure that your choices keep your options open?
  5. Tell us about yourself, give us a sense of what you are interested in, what you are passionate about, what you enjoy doing and why. We are really interested to know about the achievements and skills you are most proud of; a sporting achievement, playing a musical instrument, performing on stage, designing games, writing a story on Wattpad or in the school magazine, organising an event, coaching, volunteering, some kind of leadership activity, things you learned on work experience etc.
  6. We are interested in what you have learnt from your involvement in any extra-curricular activities such as Duke of Edinburgh, Prince’s Drawing school, Woodcraft Folk, Scouts, Guides or church or mosque youth groups. All of these are opportunities to demonstrate your commitment to helping others and contributing to society. Give us an idea about what activities you might want to take up or continue with at college.
  7. Tell us about something you’ve read or a lecture you attended and why you enjoyed it. What appeals to you about a particular writer or genre such as science-fiction, horror, historical fiction etc.
  8. Don’t forget to tell us about all the languages you speak. Being multilingual is a real asset and will help you throughout your studies and in employment.
  9. Be concise in your writing style. You don’t need to tell us your whole life story! Don’t rush into the final copy, show your draft to a teacher or careers advisor and take account of their feedback. Before sending anything off, double check that you’ve filled in everything you need to complete, and of course…
  10. Send it off in good time!

Over the years I have read thousands of college applications from year 11 students and the best ones are those which are complete, legible, well considered and which give us a strong sense of the real person behind the form.

Together with a good school reference, a strong application sets the scene for a really helpful interview. And that will be the subject of the next post in this series.

Previous post: How to choose a sixth form

See also: Your college interview

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
This entry was posted in Education, Learning resources, NewVIc, Parents, Students and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How to make a strong college application

  1. Reblogged this on SecondaryCEIAG and commented:
    Very useful advice from Eddie Playfair, Principal of Newham Sixth Form College, for CEIAG folk to show Year 11 students to help them with their College applications and personal statements. No doubt the forthcoming post about College interviews will go straight to the top of the bookmarks folder as well. It’s really great to see a Head of a Sixth Form using blogs to interact in this way.


  2. Reblogged this on Camden Careers & Employability and commented:
    Useful information from a college principal about how to fill in your college application form.


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