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PRESSURES on today's students to win places at the university of their choice is huge and it is not altogether surprising that some turn to outside help to improve their chances. The immediately-accessible and ever-helpful internet may seem to be a good friend in need but it has to be used with discretion. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has recently surveyed 50'000 applications, many for medical sciences courses at Cambridge and Oxford, and found a surprising similarity among about five per cent of them.

For instance no fewer than 800 applicants had surprisingly similar experiences in childhood that made them want to follow a medical career; one was about burning pyjamas at the age of eight, another concerned an elderly or infirm grandparent, and a third was a revelation of the complexity of the human body.

Cutting-and-pasting material from “model” examples on the internet is apparently a growing practice and it is easily detected by UCAS's CopyCatch software programme. The personal statement on the application forms is the one place where a student can project his or her own personality and commitment to those sitting in judgement on their future. The fact that so many have to resort to the internet to explain why they want to follow a career in medicine is perhaps less a cause for criticism than for regret that such bright young people, often with straight As to their credit, lack an inner conviction of their own.