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How to Write a Personal Statement
Ok, take a deep breath, find a quiet place and expect to devote several hours to writing your personal statement. This is your chance to show universities why they should pick you for their course over a host of similar candidates. It could be the difference between getting a place at university or not.
Your personal statement isn’t only used in the admissions process either; if you get an offer but don’t get the grades, they might look at your personal statement to see whether they will accept you anyway.
But before you start hurriedly scribbling stuff down, take a moment to think who is going to be reading it. The people you need to impress are: subject tutors, who are specialists in their field and feel super passionate about the subject you want to study, and admissions tutors, who will have read thousands upon thousands of personal statements in their time.
So what are you going to do to make your personal statement stand out? How are you going to show your passion for the subject? What’s going to make them scramble to make you an offer?
How to prepare…
Before you start, you should have a list of five or so courses at different universities to which you are applying. You only have one personal statement, so if you’re applying to different courses, make sure it’s relevant to all of them. Don’t mention one particular course or university in your personal statement.
At university open days or higher education conventions, seek out an admissions tutor and ask them what they want to see on a personal statement. Check university websites to find out what they are looking for in a student and perhaps even use social media to get an even greater insight into what makes an ideal candidate. You might want to follow universities and academics on Twitter or read their blogs to get a feel for the course and the kind of people who will be teaching it.
Next, have a good old brainstorming session. What are your strengths in the subject you are choosing to study? Why do you love it? Why are you choosing to study it? What evidence can you present to them to back up your statements? What work experience do you have which is relevant to the course? What extra-curricular activities do you get involved with that show desirable skills or attributes?
How to structure your personal statement…
A large proportion of your personal statement should be devoted to your subject choice and your relevant academic achievements (usually about two-thirds). If you’re applying for a vocational course, then relevant work experience should form part of this. Generally, your extra-curricular stuff should fill the other third of the personal statement.
Make sure your personal statement has an introduction and conclusion. It shouldn’t be random mishmash of sentences like: “I love studying maths. University is great. I’m a school prefect.” Instead, it should follow a line of argument, e.g. “University will give me the chance to explore my passion for maths, particularly statistics. Above all, I am looking forward to taking on my own project in the third year. I’ll relish the chance to apply the responsibility I learnt as a school prefect to my university studies.”
Writing about your subject…
Most of your personal statement should be dedicated to outlining why you have chosen to study this particular subject. Why does it interest you? You need to demonstrate your personal understanding of the subject. You should mention current or previous studies relating to the course, show your understanding of what is required to study it and how you fulfil the requirements. For very competitive academic courses, you need to demonstrate a high level of academic achievement or potential.
Essentially, you want to show them that’ll you’ll be a valuable and dedicated student, perfect for the course. So, tell them what parts of the subject particularly interest you and give them evidence of further reading you have done. It’s crucial you tell them why you want to go to university and what you plan to get out of it (i.e. not just three years of hangovers). You might even want to mention future career aspirations.
Including extra-curricular activities & work experience…
The key thing to remember when writing about work experience and extra-curricular activities is to keep it relevant to the course and outline why these experiences make you a good university candidate. Therefore, you might want to include extra-curricular activities that show examples of leadership, responsibility or self-motivation.
Tell them what your work experience, job or voluntary work has done to increase your understanding of the course or provide you with the skills needed at university. You might also want to briefly mention any hobbies or interests that you feel they should know about; just a sentence on this will do though.
Some tips on style…
It’s your personal statement, so you have to show some personality. You want the first part of your personal statement to grab the reader and lure them into reading more. The reader will have read shedloads of personal statements in their time, so give the poor soul some respite and make your personal statement interesting. For starters, avoid generic statements like “I am passionate about science.” Don’t just tell them you are passionate about the subject, but show them why. Give them evidence!
The trick is to keep your writing style formal, while finding ways to inject your personality into it. Avoid using long fancy words, stilted business-speak or academic jargon. Don’t go too trigger happy with the thesaurus in a bid to impress, but, at the same time, make sure you don’t repeat yourself. Use a variety of sentence lengths and constructions.
To joke or not to joke? It’s tempting, in a bid to show your personality, to insert the odd joke into your personal statement. My teacher went through my personal statement with a red pen and struck off all of my jokes. He was probably right. What you find funny, might not amuse the reader!
You only have 4,000 characters (47 lines) to impress, so make sure your writing style is short and snappy. No long winded sentences and repeating yourself!
You should always write a draft of your personal statement first in a Word document. Show it to your parents, teachers or careers adviser and ask them to go through it and suggest changes. Write a second draft and get friends, family or your teacher to proofread it, check for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
A final word of caution: it might be tempting to use your sibling/friend’s personal statement and pass it off as your own. However, UCAS has measures in place to sniff out any plagiarism (including copying from the internet or books), so don’t think you’ll be able to get away with it. You won’t!