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6 Tips to Refine Your Personal Statement

You're done. You've written your personal statement. You've followed our advice, given it a few quick checks, and you reckon you’re good to go.

But there’s still more to be done. You may have written your statement in full, but there’s always more to be done to improve it. Here are some top tips for whipping that personal statement into even better shape.

Simplify and streamline

Especially if you’re based in the humanities, you may well be used to spicing up (or padding out) your writing with deliberately fancy or elaborate wording and phrasing. Don’t lie, we’ve all done it, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But, in a personal statement, especially considering that you’re starved for space, less can be more.

One or two fancy words probably won’t hurt, but a surfeit of ostentatious verbiage precipitates a pompous façade – see what we mean? There’s a fine line between looking eloquent and looking like you’ve spent too long buried in your thesaurus, so make sure to trim back if your personal statement is on the “word salad” side.

Read it aloud

Issues that might not stand out on paper can show up much more blatantly when spoken aloud. You don’t necessarily need to find an audience (in fact, we’d recommend against it, especially if you lack a flair for public speaking); just hearing the words can be very helpful, especially when it comes to figuring out the “flow” of your writing. If there are awkward segues or sentences that don’t quite work properly

Work your peers

You’ve probably already had a few of your teachers look over your personal statement, and maybe you’ve given it to your parents to chew on, but don’t neglect the value of your peer group. Trade personal statements with a friend – they’re likely to spot things you’ve missed and vice-versa. Make sure to take notes (or annotate a printed copy) and review them thoroughly. Obviously, you shouldn’t take your mate’s suggestions as gospel, but they might give you a few fresh ideas.

Kill your darlings

This is an old screenwriter’s adage. The meaning is simple, if sometimes hard to swallow: If you’ve written a scene and you reckon it’s the best scene you’ve ever written, and perfect in every single way with no alteration whatsoever necessary, it probably needs to be cut – not necessarily because it’s bad, but because your attachment is likely to blind you to potential improvements.

The same principle can be applied to personal statements. Is there anything in your statement that you’re inordinately pleased with, that you’re really reluctant to change? Don’t go straight for the kill, of course, but perhaps That One Sentence is weighing down the rest of the text, and, if that’s the case, perhaps it has to go.

Make sure it’s relevant

It’s very tempting to throw in every little bit of extracurricular activity you’ve done, but, at the end of the day, you’re trying to represent your aptitude for and interest in a particular subject. Again, your space is tightly restricted, so you can’t necessarily afford to throw a line about your time on the chess team, for instance, into a personal statement aimed at a liberal arts place.

Remember, you get an opportunity to list general extracurricular experience elsewhere on UCAS, so the only things you should really focus on are those with a tangible connection to your academic aims. If you wrote for the school newsletter, for instance, that definitely has a place on that liberal arts application!

Take a break

Yes, we know, you’ve checked and checked plenty of times already, but have you really checked? Remember, you’ve probably spent a hell of a lot of time staring at this document, and even a hardened proofreader’s eyes can start to glaze over after the fifth or sixth repetition. Spend a day or two away from your statement without reading it again, so that you can look back at it with fresh eyes. You may well spot a few slip-ups or bits of awkward phrasing that you missed the first time.