UCAS's blog

The UCAS blog provides you with information about applying to uni.

The importance of completing your own personal statement

Writing your personal statement is one of the most important things you’ll do when applying to university – it should be personal, engaging, and most importantly, written by you.
It’s extremely important to write your personal statement yourself. This might sound obvious, but you shouldn’t rely on websites or other people to write one for you.
 
Remember, your personal statement is all about you, so you should use it to showcase your personality, experience, achievements, and future ambitions. Universities want to get to know you, and why you’d be an asset to the course – they don’t want to read something that’s written by someone else.
 
While it’s good to get inspiration from previous personal statements, make sure you don’t just copy and paste someone else’s work. We put all personal statements through our Similarity Detection Service to test for similarities or plagiarism.
 
During an interview or audition, universities might want to discuss certain aspects of your personal statement, so you don’t want to be caught off-guard or end up being stuck for an answer. Imagine you’re having an interview about an English literature course, and the interviewer asks why you like gothic fiction – if someone writes your personal statement for you, you’ll have no idea what they’re talking about! This could ruin your chances of getting a place on the course, so make sure you know your personal statement inside and out.
 
If you’re stuck or have no idea how to start your personal statement, we have a huge number of resources available – you can use our personal statement tool and personal statement worksheet to start jotting down some ideas, or you can watch our personal statement video for top tips and advice.
 
While there’s lots of helpful advice and information on our website, you can also ask your teachers, parents, and friends for help if you’re stuck on what to write. Tell them why you’re passionate about studying a specific course, as it’ll help you to write down your thoughts and ideas, and create a brilliant personal statement that you’re proud of. 

Budgeting on a student loan

It’s always a nice sight to see your bank account full of money. Money that you’ve never had before, and more than three digits long. Student loans are designed to help you get through your year at university. With help from your student loan, you’re expected to be able to pay your accommodation rent, your bills, and buy your every day essentials.
 
Truth be told, however, that sometimes a student loan may not be enough, and so a part time job comes in handy. Saying this, a student loan can last you as long as you budget properly.
 
Going out is fun, but not all the time.
A part of university life is being able to take part in freshers. Loads of places host student nights and special events to help you get to know people and learn the local area. Costs for drinks are usually a bit cheaper, and entry is either free or priced at a concessions rate. This is great at first, but going out every weekend, or even during the week, is a quick way to burn through the money you’ve been paid. I don’t want to be a spoilsport on this topic, because I love going out, but unfortunately, they can be costly! 
 
The food shop.
Turns out, when you have to buy your own food, it becomes quite pricey. Gone are the days when Mum and Dad bought you branded products. To save money on your food shop, try looking elsewhere than what’s on your doorstep. Most supermarkets offer delivery, so you’re able to shop at a market that have the cheapest offers. Try buying market own brands: they’re a lot cheaper and taste near enough the same. Try and cut down on eating out at restaurants often.
 
The canteen.
Whilst the canteen on campuses offer the best-looking meals, it’s a shame the prices aren’t quite cheap enough. Occasionally, why not treat yourself to a full course meal? After all, we have to eat properly. But why not look at making your own meal back at home and bringing that in, instead? You’ll save a whole lot more, and if you get a group of you together it’ll be good fun. Eating every day in the canteen will soon drain that loan.
 
Takeaways.
Takeaways are super convenient, and they’re everywhere. You can barely walk down a street these days without seeing an outlet offering easy food. They can be cheap, but getting a takeaway every other night is not only bad for your health, it’s bad for your bank balance, too. With the savings you’ve made on your food shop, whip yourself up a meal just as good!
 
Student Discounts.
Take advantage of your student discounts! Download the apps StudentBeans and UNiDAYS and see what they have on offer. Their discounts range from 10% to sometimes 30%, and those discounts are on clothing retailers, supermarkets and beauty products. Honestly, it’s a great money saver!
 
Find yourself a part time job.
If you are coming to the end of your student loan, and realising that it doesn’t last forever, then you may be worried that you’re not going to be able to live for the next few months, until your next loan comes in. Don’t worry about it! There are plenty of part time jobs out there that would work perfectly along your studies. You could even be in charge of your hours, too, so you won’t miss out on socialising as a student. Many uni’s offer a careers fayre, where you can meet employers and find part time jobs. Try asking your local bar if they need help, or maybe even see if your university campus needs help.
 
Sacrificing the non-essentials.
True, we always need to have fun in life. We need those things that keep us going, to take a break from the stresses of study. But sometimes, overindulging drains your bank balance, and you need to cut back. If there are any subscriptions you had before uni that you find you’re not using anymore, then try and cancel them. There’s nothing worse than a direct debit leaving your account with a hefty sum of money that you could use for something else. It may be a hassle to get the problem rectified, but once it’s done, you’ll be glad!
 
Use the library.
Instead of buying books upon books that you may not even need to read, try and visit the library and rent out a book from the campus. You’d be surprised at the selection, and that is what the library is there for.
 
Of course, it’s up to you how you spend your money. After all, it’s paid to you. But if you do budget and work out what works for you, then you’ll be glad when it comes to the week before our next installment, and you find you’ve still got a comfortable sum left over! 

Getting ready for Christmas on a student budget

Christmas can feel quite stressful as a student and when you’re a bit strapped for cash it’s easy to panic and get into expensive debt. Here are some top tips on how to spend less this Christmas.
 
Create a budget
Look at your bank balance then decide how much you can realistically spend on Christmas without breaking the bank. Ideally, you’ll have saved a little bit over the previous months, but if this hasn’t happened remember to be realistic. It’s the thought that counts not the cost of the present and people will understand you’re having to cut back this year – students aren’t known for having loads of money.
 
Make a list
Write down who you need to buy for and try to keep it as concise as possible. Rather than buying individual presents for everyone consider buying something for a couple together. If you’ve got a large group of friends suggest everyone does secret Santa rather than having the pressure of buying for so many people. Once you have your list and budget, assign an amount to each person and try to stick to it.
 
Make your own
If you want to make the most of the long Christmas holidays, get creative. Use sites like Pinterest to get home-made Christmas present ideas. Not only will this save you money but it’s also a really thoughtful way to let someone know you care about them.
 
Set a limit
If you can, try to get everyone you normally buy for to agree a spending limit of £5 or £10. Ultimately, it’s the thought that counts and finding meaningful presents for as little as a fiver can be really fun – it will save you a lot of cash too.
 
Bail on brands
If you’re buying for children, they’re very unlikely to be brand snobs. You don’t need to splash out on the best-known make, get a cheaper alternative they will find just as fun.
This can be the same for adults too – especially for smaller presents, bargain shops can do just as good a shop as a posh one.
 
Pay smart
The last thing you should do is get yourself into debt over Christmas. You’re in a really expensive stage of your life, your friends and family are going to understand if you don’t spend quite as much as them on presents – and frankly they probably won’t want you to... Don't go into an unauthorised overdraft or use a high interest credit card unless you know you can afford to pay off the balance fully at the end of the month.
 
If you’re really struggling, look into a 0% purchases credit card which allows you to borrow interest free for a number of months. Just make sure you make a note of when the interest free period is and be absolutely sure you can pay off your balance before the interest kicks in. You can check if you’d be likely to be accepted here.
 
Get money off
Black Friday is just around the corner and in the run up to Christmas you’ll find a lot of retailers offer big discounts so keep your eyes peeled. You might not be able to do all your shopping on one day but you’ll get it for cheaper. When shopping online always do a quick google to see if any online retailers are offering any discount codes and signing up to newsletters will often mean you’ll get discounts sent to you too.
 
Look for seasonal work
 
Lots of retailers, pubs and restaurants are looking for extra staff in the run up to the busy festive period. Keep your eye out for a temp job which will help you cover the cost of Christmas. Don’t sign up to so many hours that you won’t get your revision done – but if you could spare a few evenings a week then this could be a great way to have a very Merry Christmas. 
 
Source: money.co.uk

Of Muses and Memes

I have submitted my first assignment. My desk is littered with a combination of notes, books and snack debris and it’s possible that new life forms have evolved under there. It feels as if I have been sitting here forever, waiting for my Muse to arrive (preferably Calliope the goddess of epic poetry given that it’s the subject of my essay). But it is done, oh yes.
 
For many students, this is a watershed moment. We are told from the first day that writing for an undergraduate course is different to writing for ‘A’ Levels. As a (very) mature student the last thing I wrote before starting University was a business report, and this first assignment has been looming large for the last 5 weeks. So, what do you need to know to survive your ‘first time’ and thereafter?
 
Number one: no matter how time consuming your new social life is, go to the library and find out how it works. Book yourself onto the seminars that they offer, such as note taking, referencing and essay writing. It’s not nerdy and you will thank me for this advice many times over. A university essay has particular requirements and you need to find that out much earlier than the 24 hours before your deadline. Plus, you can save yourself a lot of money on books by getting in there early.
 
Number two: read (yes, seriously) or at least have a passing knowledge of your course handbook. They tend to have course-specific guidance on writing and referencing essays. If it’s not there, ask someone where to find it. Again, this is best done ahead of the red-hot terror in the last few hours before that first essay is due.
 
Number three: Be on the group chat for your course. It will motivate you to start working (there’s nothing quite like Group anxiety and the questions asked by really keen people to get you going) and it will keep you sane once you have started. Yesterday I found myself crying with laughter at a time when I was bogged down in the detail of my essay and needed cheering up. The chat that did that? “I want to die and a hippo eat my carcass”. You had to be there (thanks, Kate).
 
Number four: Make your motto “Do it now”. As I sit here a group of my classmates have found themselves stranded at Euston Station because their trains have been cancelled. Imagine being there and having not finished: not started: not thought about the assignment that is due tomorrow. And no, a cancelled train does not count as mitigating circumstances. You want to be the person who submitted his essay a week ago, you really do.
 
Number 5: Go easy on the Memes. Focus on your essay, at least until the thing is done. After that, the world is yours. Until next time. 

10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started University

With 2 years of university currently under my belt I’ve had plenty of learning opportunities and times to reflect on my experience so far. As a fine art student at the University of Chichester my course is largely practical and spent in the studio but I still have to attend regular history of art lectures and seminars. I have learned a lot of new things since beginning my course, some of which seem incredibly strange, so I’m going to share some of my wisdom with all of you whether you’re still in the application process or are a couple of months into your first year.

1. Your student loan is not free money

Contrary to popular belief, the student loan that you receive is not just free money for you to squander. You’re really going to need every penny to get you through the year and even then it will be tight! Make sure to budget and save as much as you can while still being able to enjoy your time.

2. Look after your physical and mental health

Your health is super important so make sure that you take care of yourself as you don’t have someone there to remind you to eat properly and take time for yourself. Try to keep on top of things and learn how to deal with stress and anxiety and if you need any help do not be afraid to ask for it.

3. First year does count 

During first year there are always some students that won’t show up to classes with the mind-set that it doesn’t count towards your final degree. First year is incredibly important in giving you the tools to help you through until third year and helping you fall into a pattern of regular work so you can get the best out of your degree. Just because it doesn’t count doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

4. Don’t leave referencing to last 

Referencing is my absolute least favourite thing about Uni meaning I have often left it to last when I’ve written an essay, something I have regretted every single time. Take my advice and learn how to reference properly within the first month. There are loads of apps, books and tips out there to help you with that dreaded bibliography so use them!

5. The library is your best friend 

The LRC will probably be where you spend the most amount of time throughout the year so use it wisely. My Uni has a fantastic library with every single book on my reading list. Check this out before spending unnecessary amounts of money on books for your course. Also learn how to use the library systems, such as finding online journals, because these will come in handy!

6. You don’t need to live up to the student stereotype

Some students, including myself, love nothing more than making a to-do list, getting stuff done and rewarding themselves with a good film and cup of tea. Do not let the student stereotype pressure you into acting a certain way at Uni. There are so many different types of students that I’m sure you can find someone to have a movie and PJ’s night with.

7. Make connections 

Networking is so important as a student. It can impact job opportunities once you have graduated and it can help massively in getting a great final grade! When opportunities to meet important professional people arise try not to miss them because you never know when that connection might come in handy. Always remember to introduce yourself and make a positive, lasting impression.

8. Freshers’ flu is not a myth 

I laughed in the face of the people who told me about Freshers’ Flu. Surely me, with the immune system of steel, wouldn’t be taken down by a cold? I was wrong, and have continued to be wrong every September since. Freshers’ Flu is real, you will get it and so will every person around you including your tutors. Be prepared!

9. You don’t need to join every society 

Universities often have a Freshers event where you get so bombarded with societies and clubs that you often end up joining three sports teams, a film society, a games society and everything in between. Don’t feel under pressure to join societies you have no interest in. All you’ll end up doing is stressing yourself out by having no free time. Really think about your interests and what you’d like to try and don’t be afraid to give it a go!

10. Enjoy every moment 

I have a very firm belief that time speeds up when you’re at Uni so make sure to enjoy every second of it. Get things done on time so you can have fun instead of pulling all nighters to finish assignments. University is such a roller-coaster but it’s filled with so many opportunities, new friends and new experiences for you to enjoy!
 

Seeing my family

Unbelievably, I’ve been at uni for just over a month! The time feels like it has flown by (I can’t really imagine life before it) but, at the same time, everything still feels new and a tad intimidating.
 
My family have just visited for the first time since I’ve been here. It was so nice to see them again and any worries that they would have moved on without me were quashed as soon as I saw them. We settled into our old rhythm straight away.
 
Yet, I had been quite nervous to see them and I think this is because I was afraid of how I’d. As a friend put it, seeing your old life and your new life merge can be weird. But it wasn’t only that. I was also apprehensive about how I’d feel if I saw them: would it make me feel very homesick?
 
Up to now, I’d been too busy with work and nights out to consciously think about the fact that I’ve been away from home longer than ever before. I’d been too wrapped up in this strange, magical bubble of sleep-deprived evenings and coffee-infused mornings to think about the fact that I hadn’t seen any of my family for a month.
 
But as the day of their visit drew closer, I found myself thinking about the people I used to see every day, family and friends; I found myself dreaming I was walking through my house; I found myself missing the many little things I used to do with my family on a daily basis.
 
So seeing them was, of course, wonderful, but it was also tinged with the knowledge that the visit couldn’t last forever. And, understandably, it was very hard to say goodbye. After such a fun day together, I wanted to go back with them, but remembering how much fun I’ve had here made me want to stay.
 
Speaking to some others whose families who have visited, I realised I wasn’t alone in feeling temporarily worse after they had left, something that reassured me. My tactic for dealing with my homesickness is simply going to be immersing myself in life here once again and reminding myself that the holidays aren’t too far away now! And, top tip: a biscuit or two can always make you feel a little better… I speak from experience!
Enia x

Don’t forget your estranged students: A universites journey in developing support.

I have been supporting care leavers at the University for over ten years now, and developed support for care leavers in conjunction with the Buttle UK Quality Mark, which has now, sadly, ended. In those early days I was one of the original ‘team’ of HE professionals working with care leavers who saw a need for a network to share and promote good practice, which led to NNECL (National Network for the Education of Care Leavers) being born. I co-chaired NNECL for over five years and I still support NNECL now - as an interim trustee whilst we move to charitable status.
 
Back in the early days I had never heard the term ‘estranged’. I was aware from working with care leavers that there were many young people who, although not termed as care leavers by local authorities, or most universities, did not have a relationship with their parents, and received little support coming to and studying at university. Many had not even had social services interventions but faced similar scenarios to care leavers, without any support from a corporate parent! It became very obvious to me that these young people where invisible, and were facing significant barriers.
 
Through my work with care leavers in around 2013 I became aware of the charity Stand Alone. We sat on various similar committees nationally; myself for care leavers and Becca Bland from Stand Alone for estrangement and I knew that, as a university this was one organisation that we needed to make links with to grow and develop support for our students. It now had a name for me – estrangement.
 
As my knowledge increased, I used my influence from NNECL to get other universities to think about estranged students. For various local and regional care leaver networks I ensured that we had standing items on agendas for estranged students and tried to replicate the good practice that had grown up from the Buttle UK Quality Mark around care leavers for estranged students at the University of Salford. So we introduced a named point of contact (me!) for estranged students, introduced 52 week/ flexible accommodation contracts for the length of the degree, and set up web pages for estranged students on the university’s web pages. I also attended as many estranged student events as possible to increase my knowledge.
 
The more we did the more students identified themselves to me as estranged. At the beginning the support was centred on gaining independent status with the Student Loan Company and help with accommodation. At the same time the Student Loan Company, via their Vulnerable Student Stakeholder Group, which both Becca and I were members, was doing some great work in making the processes simpler for estranged students to get the full maintenance loan.
 
Then the Stand Alone Pledge came along. We were one of the first universities to sign up to the pledge. I saw it as a perfect opportunity to both raise the profile of estranged students and the issues they face with the senior management team and to get estranged students involved in creating an action plan so that we could carry forward actions that were the most relevant for the students. I try to do this with all my student groups, so that any actions and support we put in place is relevant.
 
I took nine students along to a meeting with our Pro Vice Chancellor, Dr Sam Grogan. All the students had different stories and the students spent over an hour talking to the PVC about their story and the barriers they faced. After the meeting two things happened. Immediately afterwards all the students there agreed that it was an emotional experience - for most this was the first time that they had told anyone and had met another estranged student. Secondly, it was obvious that the discussion could be easily turned into the Universities pledge for estranged students which the students did and created our pledge which is available here.
 
It was obvious that making contact with other estranged students was a great help to the students present so we started working on setting up a student led group. This was one of the ‘Wellbeing’ actions in the pledge. We worked with a local youth charity who trained estranged students to be leaders of the group, called ‘PAUSE’ (People at University Separated or Estranged). This group meets weekly and is going from strength to strength.
 
The next ‘Wellbeing’ action was around training for staff so that personal tutors and as many staff knew what estrangement meant and could support and refer on to me. To make this happen we worked with HR in a ‘Student Inclusion Roadshow’, which we have managed to take to nearly all School Congresses and includes a section on supporting estranged students. This has been well received and the number of referrals from schools has increased significantly after the training.
 
Next we concentrated on the actions in the pledge relating to accommodation and money, which we had already stared before signing the pledge. This involved doing work around a process for guaranteeing accommodation and delaying deposit and upfront accommodation costs until after student loan payments; having an Accommodation Liaison role that worked with estranged students to sort out accommodation and preventing homelessness; giving an automatic £500 bursary from the Salford Support Fund, plus opportunities for more support with evidence; and widening up our care leaver bursary to estranged students.
 
This year we are concentrating on the outreach actions in our Stand Alone Pledge. We left this to last because we wanted to ensure that support at university was right before we promoted it to perspective students. The two actions that the students came up with were: Firstly, around ensuring that the message in our outreach work is inclusive and that we work with organisations that estranged young people will be at – not only colleges but also Housing Associations and homelessness organisations. Secondly, we need to address the isolation of the transition between leaving college and starting university and give estranged students as many opportunities as possible to declare their estrangement as early as possible. We have started this work by auditing our marketing material and including an estranged box on registration next year; and of course the planned UCAS estranged box on the application will help. 
 
Over the last few years I have had the pleasure to meet and to work with many estranged students. They all have their own stories and backgrounds but all are resilient and just want to succeed at university. We need to make sure that they can do this by putting the right support in place. Let us work together (a NNECL-like network maybe?) to provide the very best support nationwide!

Help and advice for care leavers

Ben Jordan is the Senior Policy Executive at UCAS. Here, he shares why you’re asked whether you’re a care leaver on your university application, and where you can find support if you’ve been in care.

We aim to help people make informed choices that best suit their aspirations and abilities, and give them the best opportunity to succeed. We provide information and advice to around 720,000 applicants each year. This includes people with a range of individual needs, including care leavers.

We know there are many challenges faced by care leavers when applying to uni, so we offer the chance to state whether you’re a care leaver on your application, as this helps course providers better understand your background, and offer support in many ways.
 
Asking the question

In the personal details section, we ask 'Have you ever been in care?' If you answer 'Yes', we’ll ask how long you’ve been in care for. We’ve avoided using the statutory definition of a care leaver, because we recognise that learners who’ve been in a care-like situation, but aren’t statutory care leavers, may also require support. This question lets universities and colleges know you have personal circumstances that may require extra support while you’re studying. After they receive your application, they will often contact you to discuss the type of support you may need.

You can provide information about your situation in the personal statement section of your application. However, you can send details to the universities or colleges separately if you prefer.

We have also recently added new help text, to make it as clear as possible why you’re being asked this question, and to explain how universities and colleges may use this information. Universities and colleges offer a range of support to care leavers, including year-round accommodation, financial, and study support. The the Propel search tool will help you find out what support is available at a particular course provider – support on offer will vary from university to university.

Getting help

If you’re a care leaver or helping someone who is, you’ll find lots of information and advice on our website to help support you. This includes:

  • information about the type of support offered by universities and colleges
  • details of the financial support available to care leavers
  • links to organisations that can offer further information, such as Propel

What do you think?

We’ll continue to support all applicants as they progress to higher education, including care leavers. If you have any ideas or suggestions about how we can best achieve this, please email us at webenquiries@ucas.ac.uk or Tweet us at @ucas_corporate.

 

Work, work, work, work

So I’d moved in, braved Freshers Week and managed to remember (most of the time) to take my keys with me before leaving my room. The next step was, of course, to do what I came here for: work.
 
But this seemed to pose even more challenges than anything I had done so far. For example, the lecture timetable would have required a degree to simply decipher (any ideas what 6L W.9 Lecture Room 10 means? Nope, me neither) and finding out where to go for these lectures was a minefield. I felt exhausted before I’d even done any actual work.
 
As a small consolation for my pains, I was told that all my lectures are optional! Initially, as you can imagine, I thought that meant I could laze about watching boxsets all day, but it quickly became clear to me that far from this being a gift, this was, in fact, another mental maze. Because how many lectures should I go to? All? None? Some obscure ones for fun? Ones after 11:00?
 
I am happy to say that now, at the end of my second week of work, I’ve managed to get to know (vaguely) what I’m doing. After trialling a fair few lectures, I’ve decided simply to go to the ones that interest me most. In terms of my other work, I’ve discovered that seminar reading takes a fairly long while and that there is no substitute for actually reading the book you’re supposed to be discussing. Or, to put it another way, read your summer reading list before actually arriving!
 
One of the unique (and quite terrifying) things about studying at Cambridge is the supervisions. You, your supervision partner and a tutor all in one room discussing the week’s topic, as well as your own essay. Unsurprisingly, everyone on the course was more than a little anxious about our first essays and the all-important first supervision. Frantic messages on the group chat about how to use semi-colons ensued.
 
Yet, like a lot of my experiences here, the supervision turned out to be a lot better than I was expecting. My supervisor is very nice and her comments weren’t harsh, but constructive, allowing me to see the poem I’d written about in a whole new way.
 
So yes, there has already been a lot of work, but it’s been ok so far. Getting the balance between fun and work is something I’m still working out, but I guess that’s all part of the adventure!
 
 
Enia x

The ten essentials for those supporting people in care

The step to higher education is daunting for everyone – but for those who come from a care background it can be even more daunting. That’s why we’ve developed a suit of resources to help teachers and advisers support students who may be care leavers – they’re all available from our supporting care leavers toolkit. Here we’ve picked out the ten essentials for supporting people in care:
  1. Advocate, encourage and support the educational development of looked after children. Have aspirations for them from a very young age. 
  2. Forward planning is extremely important. If a young person who is in care is thinking about higher education, make sure that an adviser knows this at their school. This is essential to ensure they get the appropriate funding and support as early as possible. 
  3. Help them plan for the university or college that suits them best. a. Involve yourself with planning and preparation. b. Attend open days with them. Go to www.ucas.com/open-days for more information. c. Gather information about the support packages available. d. Encourage them to speak to the designated care leaver contact at each university or college. 
  4. Find out if certain universities or colleges have special arrangements for care leavers. For example, some offer university accommodation over the holidays, others may give priority access to, or even a guaranteed place, in university accommodation. Become’s website propel provides general information about moving into higher education from care, alongside specific details about the support individual unis and colleges across the UK offer. 
  5. Familiarise yourself with the UCAS application process and application deadlines. List key dates so you know what needs to be done. You can find out more information at www.ucas.com/whentoapply
  6. Listen. Encourage them to talk about how they feel about moving on, starting afresh and aspects of university or college life. 
  7. Encourage and support them to develop new friendships when they start university or college.
  8. Prepare them for independent living. Get them up to speed with self-care skills like cooking, cleaning and budgeting. 
  9. Make sure that any financial support they receive from their local authority is confirmed in writing and that they have a copy of the document when they start university or college. 
  10. Keep in touch. Make sure you find the time to regularly contact them to see how they are getting on once they have moved on
To access this in a downloadable pdf – along with more resources visit our supporting care leavers toolkit. 
 

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