This article is intended to provide advice and suggestions for students who are applying for Music courses in the U.K. and who are about to start, or have already started, writing their personal statements. It should be noted that this advice is aimed at those applying for straight Music courses at either a university or conservatoire, where the course content is primarily or solely classical. Students who are applying for Joint Honours courses, or derivatives of a Music course (e.g. Music Tech or Popular Music courses) are welcome to use the advice given here but should change bits as necessary. Writing a personal statement for Music isn't an easy task. Many potential Music students may find that their schools have little or no experience of helping Music applicants (particularly in the case of conservatoires) and are subsequently less able or less willing to advise such students. Often, Music applicants may find that advice given to their class is negligible for them, or that it conflicts with the very nature of the subject (e.g. "We don't want to read about your extra-curricular activities"). Sometimes, Music applicants can find it difficult to communicate why they wish to study the course to a higher level.
Writing a Music Personal statement for UCAS/CUKAS
Many people have different ideas about how to write and structure a personal statement. Some of this advice, as has been noted above, doesn't really work in a Music personal statement! Things that should go into a Music personal statement include:
- instruments and standard on these instruments. You may have already put this in the "Other Qualifications" for your practical exam grades but don't assume that all admissions tutors will read this section properly! In particular, applicants should make sure that somewhere in their personal statement, their level of keyboard playing is clearly mentioned, since many universities have a compulsory "Keyboard Skills" course.
- How you came to be interested in music/how you came to play your principal study/how you came to compose or to conduct.
- Your musical interests. Are you a performer, composer, conductor or budding academic? What styles interest you?
- Extra-curricular activities and achievements. Many Music applicants will have lots and for this reason, it is essential to only list the most important things. The most important things will be competition wins and big ensembles, or things which you have organised or had a leading role in.
- Non-musical things. Whilst obviously it's important to show what a good musician you are and why you'd be a good uni student, it's great if you can show that you have multiple interests and/or talents!
Things not to mention or do in a Music personal statement:
- Avoid the word "always". You didn't emerge from your mother's womb loving Mahler or wanting to compose! Also avoid words such as "love", "passion", etc.
- Don't give your life story. Anything mentioned, whether it's practical exam grades or competition wins, should be within the last few years. Certainly don't stretch before Year 10.
- Don't exaggerate your performing capabilities, particular regarding the piano. You may come to regret it later on!
- Try to avoid talking about things in a list form. It's better to talk about a few things and have a sentence or two about why this interested you, how you developed from this competition win, etc.
- Don't put module marks, exam result marks, etc. in your personal statement. You're wasting space by doing so! Ask your teacher to put it in his/her reference.
Whilst you can use the same statement for both UCAS and CUKAS, it is sometimes better to write two slightly different statements. Conservatoires will want more detail about performing activities and
competition wins, whilst universities will want to get a sense of a rounded character (so non-musical interests, other A Level subjects etc.)
Based on the advice above, a template structure Music applicants may wish to use would be the following:
- Introduction. (How your interest in Music arose)
- Musical performance (instruments, ensembles, summer schools, etc.)
- Academic music interests (specific areas of interests, academic books, work experience etc.)
- Non-musical interests (sports, charity work, etc.) and other A Level subjects
- Conclusion (reminding them why they should pick you, but in a subtle way. Future career plans if already known)
This is by no means an absolutely rigid structure. "Musical performance" and "Academic music interests" are interchangeable within the structure and the length of these will depend on the nature of the course one is applying for. If you lack work experience, non-musical ECs, etc. do not panic! It's not the end of the world and is unlikely to create a negative impact.
Writing a Music PS for Oxford or Cambridge
Writing a Music PS for either institution is not significantly different from writing one for another university. There are two things applicants must bear in mind though:
- These two courses are academic Music courses. Whilst there is little point mentioning books or specific authors read if you haven't got a particular academic musical interest in a certain topic, if one mentions a book it's important to have subsequent comments to make about it! There is little point saying "I read X by Y" and leaving it at that: tutors will want to see that you can think critically about academic music literature if you've already read some.
- Both unis interview and may well ask you about things you have written in your PS. If you mention a book, make sure you read it before the interview! If possible, try and re-read it too! Don't write anything you cannot expand upon, explain or defend in an interview. You must be prepared to discuss anything that you've written.
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