|Personal Statements are a very important part of the UCAS application service, and may often be a deciding factor. They are especially important when applying for very competitive courses, where there will be little difference between you and your fellow applicants. The following guide will hopefully help you get the most out of this key element of a university application.|
|Most people find starting their statement to be the most difficult, and a blank piece of paper or computer screen can be horribly intimidating. Most people won’t be able to just start writing the statement off the top of their head, so it’s a good idea to jot down a few notes first. The main things to think about are:
- What do I want to study? (if you can't answer this, you should probably concentrate on working this out, rather than writing a PS)
- Why do I want to study it?
- What personal qualities, interests and experience do I have which show I am suited to study this subject at university?
- What are my other interests and skills?
These are the main things to start with. If this still doesn’t help, you can look at a few more detailed starting points. Many people have trouble writing about themselves and their personal qualities, so if you’re having trouble with this step, pop down to a library or bookstore and get a book out on writing CVs, which will go into this process in much more depth.
Something that has helped others is to put these headings down on a piece of paper, in a rough table, and to carry that piece of paper around. Everytime you think of something, you can write it down before you forget about it. I always found that inspiration struck me as I was walking to sixth form. Unfortunately, by the time I was able to write it down, I'd forgotten it! Carry paper with you wherever you go!
|By this point, you've hopefully worked out what it is you want to study, and you've made some basic notes on what you want to include. Hopefully, it should get progressively easier from this point onwards. When writing a personal statement, there are certain things you want to include/leave out, and lots of important things to think about.
Things to consider
- You've got 47 lines and 4000 characters (including spaces). If you leave lines between paragraphs - which you should - then 3500 characters is a more realistic limit.
- Get your personal statement typed up on a word-processor, for example Microsoft Word. Then copy and paste it onto your form on the UCAS website - this allows you to run spell check easily. (Please note, though, that Word adds "curly" quotation marks and other characters (like é or ü) that won't show up on your UCAS form, so do proofread it on UCAS before submitting it to ensure it is how you typed it.)
- Have a backup of the file containing your personal statement in a different place from your original statement file, for example on a disc.
- Bear in mind that extra spaces (e.g. at the beginnings of paragraphs as indentation) are removed on UCAS.
What should you include?
A basic list, which is by no means conclusive is:
- Interest in the course: Why do you want to do it.
- Relevant work experience
- Skills and qualities required
- Interest in your current studies
- Career Aspirations
- Enthusiasm for the subject
- Any other interest/hobbies/experiences you wish to mention
- Plans for gap year if deferring entry.
What’s the most important part?
From my days of GCSE English, I would say either the beginning or the end. A good first sentence will get the reader interested and ensure they actually read your statement rather than skim it. A good ending will ensure the reader remembers your statement – it probably also helps to have a good middle as well(!). The first line is probably the thing to work on – most people put their reasons for studying the subject at the top, and this is generally regarded to be the most important bit of the statement.
Should I talk about what I want to do after university?
You could, but only if you have a good idea of what you want to do. If you sound sure about what you want to do after uni it gives the impression that you’ve thought carefully about your course and what you want to do with it. It's also a nice way to round off your statement, rather than finishing on less important stuff like extra curricular activities. If you don’t have any future plans, then leave them out – you don’t want to be asked about them at interviews.
What sort of structure should I use?
Most people write their personal statement in an essay style, starting off with the course, and why they want to do it, then talking about their relevant work experience and skills and finishing off with extra curricular activities – though you can use any style which fits you. As a guide, spend around 60% of the space talking about your course and how you’re suited to it, and 30% on your work experience and other activities that are relevent to your subject and 10% or less on hobbies and activities that can't be related back to your subject. Exactly how you write your statement depends on your subject - generally people write more about work experience for vocational subjects like medicine and law than they would for subjects like maths or English where work experience is less important. Remember that it should be about why you want to study your chosen subject. It should not simply be an essay about that subject.
Do not write your personal statement in the form of a letter. Lines such as "Dear sir/madam" or "Thank you for reading" should always be avoided. Similarly, if you are applying to more than one course, do not write in a way that sounds like you are addressing a specific person, as this sounds insincere.
Should I talk about my qualifications?
Yes and No.
There’s already a section on the UCAS form for this, so don’t waste the space on your personal statement listing your A level topics or UMS scores. If you have something important which doesn’t go in the qualifications section, ask your referee to put it down in your reference – it will sound better if it comes from them than from you. This goes for module marks as well.
If, however, you've done a major piece of coursework on something relevent to your degree subject, you're currently studying the subject at A level that you hope to take at university or have studied topics related to your proposed degree subject then do mention these things. Explain in detail which part of your current studies you enjoy, what you've learnt, how it has increased your enthusiasm for the subject.
How do I write it for two different courses
There’s no easy way to write a personal statement for two totally unrelated courses. If the courses are similar (i.e. business studies and economics) you may find you can write a statement relevant to both, without mentioning either subject by name. If the courses are completely unrelated, it may be impossible to write for both subjects without your personal statement sounding vague and unfocused. Instead you will need to concentrate on just one subject and ignore the other – it sometimes works!
How do I prioritise my ideas?
A simplistic approach is to include anything about the course towards the beginning of the statement, and anything that’s less relevant towards the end.
A very simple structure might be:
- Introduction: Why do you want to do the course, how did you make your decision, show your enthusiasm for the subject.
- Relevant work experience [for vocational degrees only - for non vocational courses relevant work experience isn't necessary so can be left out of a PS if you haven't done any] and subject relevant extra curriculars : Anything that you’ve done which is relevant to the subject can go here. Also mention career aspirations.
- Enthusiasm for current studies and specific examples of current work that your enjoyed.
- Skills and qualities: What skills and qualities have you demonstrated that will you need to do this course. Do NOT just list skills though, give examples of circumstances when you've displayed or used those skills - in fact you don't even have to mention the "skill" at all.
- Anything else: This paragraph usually contains hobbies/interests/sports/music/voluntary work. Try to link it with the course or at the least link it to how you manage to stay sane while studying. If you're deferring entry, an explanation of your gap year plans can go here.
- Conclusion: Sum up why the university should take you.
- Remember that your personal statement is your personal statement, not an article written about your prospective field of study - it should tell us about you, not about the subject.
- Discuss your personal statement with your tutor and other teachers.
- Only put in things you are prepared to talk about at interview.
- Show your personal statement to as many people as possible. Ask them what you've left out, what you could have put in a better light, and what you've over done. Be careful of plagiarism though - only share your PS with people who aren't applying this year.
- Give convincing reasons for why you want to study the course - more than just "enjoying the subject" (this should be a given).
- For very competitive courses, find out as much as you can about the nature of the course and try to make your personal statement relevant to this.
- If you have (realistic) long term career plans, make a link between these and the course you've chosen to study.
- Mention positions of responsibility with some examples of duties they involved.
- Talk briefly about what you do outside school if this is important to you.
- Be reflective. If you make a point like 'I like reading', 'I travelled abroad', say what you got from it.
- Be afraid of details - if you want your PS to be personal to you that means explaining exactly which bits or work or topics or activities you've taken part in/enjoyed. It's much more compelling to read about one or two detailed examples than paragraph that brushes over 5 or 6.
- Just list what you're doing now. You should pull out the experiences that are relevant to the courses for which you're applying.
- Mention skills and activities without giving examples of when they have been demonstrated or what you learnt from them. Anyone can write "I have great leadership skills" in a PS, actually using a sentence to explain when you demonstrated good leadership skills is much rarer and more valuable.
- Refer to experiences that took place before your GCSEs (or equivalent) except as anecdotes or if absolutely necessary.
- Mention interests without being more specific - for reading mention authors or genres, likewise with music or art - mention particular artists.
- Apply for too many different courses, making it difficult to write a convincing personal statement which supports the application.
- Write a statement specific to just one institution, unless you're only applying to that one choice.
- Copy and paste the statement from somewhere else! This means do not plagiarise. All statements are automatically checked for plagiarism by UCAS, those that are highlighted by the computer system are checked manually by UCAS staff. If you are found to have plagiarised parts of your statement, the universities you apply to will be informed and it could jeopardise your applications.
- Listen to Hemingway and cut back ruthlessly. Building up is the easy part.
- Don't lecture the admissions tutor on their subject.
- Introductions are best kept short
- No flowery language. Keep it simple.
- Avoid all fire-related metaphors (sparked, ignited, etc.)
- A sense of quiet confidence is the key. No modesty and no arrogance.
- Try to make it flow. The first and last sentences of each paragraph can help link it up.
- Extra-curriculars aren't the main thing. Write about your subject.
- Always say exactly what you mean.
|Remember that those universities that are commonly ranked highly tend to be research universities. The staff you encounter will be focused on their research and work and not too interested in teaching you. Show that you are highly independent and capable of self-study. Explore the research themes of the departments in which your courses are situated as this may give you something to write about (if you are also interested in it) but will at the very least give you an inside view to the culture within that department.|
- Check it once more yourself.
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of checking your PS, especially when it comes to spelling, punctuation and grammar. No matter how good the content of your PS, if it reads like it was written by a 10-year old, it won't reflect very well on your ability to cope with a degree.
It's also important to check the balance of your personal statement. A common mistake is to write too much about your extra curricular activities or about your current subjects and not to explain clearly what you like about the subject you plan to study for the next 3+ years of your life.
Compare what you've produced against your notes and/or plan (you did do these, didn't you?). If it's deviated significantly, is this for the better, or has it made your statement worse than it could have been? Did you miss anything out that you wanted to include?
If you can't find a willing victim to proofread your statement, don't forget that TSR offers the PS Help service where you can post your statement for confidential checking and advice.
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