Survey Finds Basic Writing, Math Valued Highly by Admissions Officers

During the university admissions season, students wonder what would make the best impression on those charged with reviewing their applications. After seeing the data from a recent survey, the Daily Mail’s Andrew Levy offers a modest proposal: run a spell check.

According to 97% of the UK and US university admissions officers surveyed, the ability to write coherently and correctly is considered the second most important factor in admissions decisions after exam results. So rare it is to encounter good writing skills among potential students that officers value the skill even higher than the ability to think and work independently.

Knowledge of basic arithmetic was also considered important by nearly half of those polled.

Neither English nor maths featured when the survey was first carried out in 2007.

The findings follow a dramatic slump in the standard of both subjects among undergraduates that has led to complaints by academics.

Six in ten academics are now providing remedial classes for first year students because they arrive so poorly prepared for the demands of higher education.

Of students who require remediation, most need help with basic English, including spelling, grammar and sentence structure.

Universities aren’t the only ones complaining about a decline in writing skills. A full two-fifths of employers also reported that they needed to help new employees learn how write after being hired. Supermarket chain Tesco’s Sir Terry Leahy and retailer Marks & Spencer’s Sir Stuart Rose complained the impact of poor academic skills on the economy as early as 2009.

Over the last ten years government education spending has more than doubled from £35.8 billion to £71 billion per year.

Basic writing and math skills weren’t the only qualities valued by admissions officers:

The survey of university admissions officers found 88 per cent looked for students who show a passion for their chosen course, 83 per cent liked to see a positive attitude towards study and 72 per cent valued an ability to work independently.

Just 35 per cent were concerned about evidence of overcoming a difficult background – suggesting a resistance to social engineering which has seen universities being told to accept more disadvantaged students.

Less than a third expressed a particular interest in teenagers who had held positions of responsibility or undertaken work experience.

Excellence in sport or involvement in community or voluntary services did not make the top ten of desirable attributes.

About 80 university admissions officers in and around UK and 20 in the US took part in the survey conducted by Jeremy Lewis of ACS International Schools.

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