Personal Statement Help Question Thread 2014-15

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Ecosse_14
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The UCAS Personal Statement is an important part of a university application as it is the only opportunity that you have to write at length about why you want to study the course you are applying for and to set yourself apart from other applicants with the skills and experiences you have to offer. For many people this may be the first time they have had to write an important piece about themselves and it can be difficult to know where to start. TSR has a number of good resources to help you with your statement.


Where should I post?

Drafts/content from my personal statement

It is extremely important that you do not post any content from your Personal Statement on the public forums. Whether that is a complete draft of your statement or a single sentence, once you post it on a public forum there is a risk that it may be plagiarised.

General questions about personal statements

General questions about personal statements, what they should include, style and character/line limits should be posted in this thread. However, this first post will attempt to answer many of them so read this before posting.

Subject specific questions

If your query is specific to a particular course or university you are applying to, for example how important books are to a Law Personal Statement, this should go in the appropriate University and University Courses sub-forum. Regular posters in these forums are more likely to be able to answer your specific questions.


So what's the point of a personal statement?


The personal statement is your opportunity to talk directly to the admissions tutors and to tell them why you want to study the subject you are applying for and why you think you are well suited to studying it. Everything in your PS should therefore relate to:

  • Why you are interested in the subject, and why you want to study it further.
  • What relevant experiences you have both academically and socially and how these experiences give you the necessary skills for study at degree level.
  • Your diversity as an individual, demonstrating a wide range of interest and experiences.

In addition to this you hope to demonstrate that you have an appreciation of what is required of the course you are applying for, that you have the ability to write in coherent sentences and can form a compelling and focused argument.


How important is a personal statement?


The personal statement is just one aspect of your UCAS application and will be considered along with your achieved exam results and predicted grades (unless you already hold all of your qualifications), your reference and any interviews that you attend. You are unlikely to be offered a place solely on the basis of your personal statement if you do not meet all of the other requirements but you can certainly lose a place if you write a bad statement. You have much more to lose than to gain when it comes to submitting an inadequate personal statement and so the key is tick the boxes as best you can without trying to be revolutionary.

Many of the popular tales about applicants writing a one word/line statement then being accepted on the merit of it despite not meeting the entry requirements, or applicants who write their statement as a poem or use other "crazy" ways to get noticed often contain very little truth. They are merely fabrications that come out of the woodwork every single year. The traditional, tried and tested method is usually the one which comes out top.


Where do I start?


The first thing to do before you start writing your statement is to think about what it is that the statement requires (see above) and to gain an appreciation of the style/format it should be written in. Many of the resources on the TSR wiki are useful at this early stage:


Once you have familiarised yourself with the general expectation and style of a PS then you can start to plan your statement. Instead of jumping in and trying to write a first draft, brainstorm your experiences and the skills that you gained from these. It is also extremely important to consider why you’re interested in the subject you’re applying for. Having done this you can write a more structured plan to think about what paragraph each experience belongs in.


What is the structure of a personal statement?


There is no set structure for a PS, but the most commonly used structure is something like this:

  • Introduction - This is a general paragraph which should immediately explain and discuss why you want to study the course at university and why you are interested in the subject. You don't need to demonstrate skills or list experiences at this stage.
  • Section 1 - This should discuss your academic experiences. Discuss your relevant subjects and how these have inspired you and what you find interesting about them. Try to give specific examples of things you have enjoyed studying. You don't need to discuss every subject you do and you don't need to list the subjects you’re studying, since these are in the Education section of your application.
  • Section 2 - Continuing with academic interests you should discuss your interest in the subject outside of the classroom, so summer schools or open days you have attended, books you have read or relevant experience to your discipline. Again specific details of what you did and how this makes you a better/more motivated candidate are good. When discussing books try to avoid name dropping and instead discuss aspects of the book you have enjoyed reading or have been inspired by. Ask yourself what particular ideas raised in the book or lecture you attended you found particularly interesting, and why you found them interesting.
  • Section 3 - Discuss any work experiences, relevant or otherwise, with particular focus on how the experiences have enabled you to develop relevant skills for the course. This is an opportunity to show appreciation of what skills the course requires.
  • Section 4 - Include hobbies and extra-curricular activities in a paragraph again with focus on skills. Sport, music and voluntary work are all good examples and help to show that you are a diverse person outside of the classroom. Avoid more mundane hobbies like socialising with friends, watching TV, playing computer games or browsing the internet. This should be quite a short section to make room for the more academic sections.
  • Conclusion - The conclusion should be brief (1-2 sentences) but should summarise and reiterate your interest in the subject and your aptitude and skill for it. This is also a good place to discuss any future career aspirations, but if you don't have any then you don't need to mention it.

This structure is only a guide and will be dependent both on the subject you are applying for and your own experiences. You may have lots of work experience or you may not and so the exact structure is unique to you. Ensure that you fully check the PS requirements for every university as some have very strict requirements. A lot of universities give subject guidance for what they are looking for in the PS somewhere on their website. Ensure you take note and use it.

LSE PS Help: here
UCL PS guidelines: here. Take note of the guidelines for applicants who are studying a language at A Level/Higher. If it is your 2nd/3rd/xth language you MUST say this in your PS.

You should also read the personal statement guidelines written by the University of St Andrews for insight into the world of an admissions tutor. These guidelines were written by the School of Computer Science but their advice can be applied to all subjects. Compare your statement to the examples that the admissions team have given. If you have written anything remotely similar then follow the advice from both TSR and St Andrews: these sorts of comments offer little insight into the applicant, and are thus, in effect, a waste of the limited space made available to you.


How much of my statement should be extra-curricular activities and how much academic?


The rule of thumb is that your statement should be approximately 2/3 academic and 1/3 extra-curricular. Your application is for an academic course and so should focus primarily on your academic abilities and experiences. Extra-curricular activities show diversity and provide a good opportunity to discuss the transferable skills you have developed. However, these should still be discussed with regard to how these pursuits make you well-suited to studying the course. These hobbies should not take up more than 1-2 short paragraphs in your statement. Often, applicants fall into the trap of trying to discuss every activity that they have ever done. This is inadvisable and not necessary - a couple of relevant activities discussed in more detail is much better than a massive list of irrelevant hobbies.


Can I include quotes in my statement?


You can, but use them sparingly. Using a quotation doesn't make you appear intelligent and it's not personal to you. Universities are not interested in what Aristotle/Wittgenstein/Einstein/Luther King said about the world - they want to know what YOU think, so it is often best to use your own words. It's quite possible that many other applicants have used the same quotation and your 'unique' quote is far from individual to you. As a general rule, quotes should only be used where they are used to show your interest in the subject and they should actually be discussed in your PS. Don't just put a quote in at the start of your PS because you like it or because you think it sounds clever. You might like to look at this thread, especially post #15, for more advice on the use of quotes.

You may also be interested to read LSE's opinion on the use of quotations:

I want to impress the Admissions Tutor, should I use long words and quotes?

No. The Admissions Tutor wants to read a personal statement that has been well written in simple English. If you fill your statement with long words and quotations, then the reasons why you want to study the course you have applied for become less clear. The Admissions Tutor also does not want to read lots of quotations from different people. Using quotes means the Tutor cannot get an idea of who you are, and it means you are less likely to be made an offer.

How important is work experience?


The importance of work experience depends on the course you are applying for. If you are applying to a course like medicine, teacher training or another vocational subject then relevant work experience is very important and should be used to highlight the skills you have shown and developed which are important on the course (bedside manner for example in the case of medicine). If work experience is a requirement for the course, the university will highlight this in their admissions information.

For a more theoretical subject like mathematics it is very hard to get relevant work experience and it is not expected. If your work experience isn't relevant to your course then either discuss it in terms of general, transferable skills or omit it entirely. It is much better to discuss your interest in your academic subject further than to waste lines trying to link your work experience in a supermarket to a maths degree course.


Can I mention my module marks in my statement?


There's nothing to stop you mentioning module marks if they are particularly good, however academic aspects like this are actually better going in your reference from your school. You can ask your teacher to mention module grades if you wish. Other things which are better in your reference include:

  • Extenuating circumstances as to why you did badly in a particular module/subject.
  • Reasons why you didn't take particular courses (for example because your school didn't offer it).
  • Background of your school - if your school wasn't the best and you have been surrounded by troublesome classmates.
  • Virtuous qualities - avoid saying things in your PS like "I am a dedicated and committed student who will be an asset to your university." or "I was the best student in my year". These just make you sound arrogant and presumptuous and should be discussed in your reference. When discussing personality traits in your statement ensure that you show rather than state, giving examples of where you have demonstrated these qualities in your life.


How do I write a statement for joint honours or multiple subjects?


It can be hard to write a statement if you are applying for multiple subjects because you need to show dedication to both. This is a lot easier if the two are closely related in which case you can focus on the aspects that they have in common. It's also less of an issue for common joint honours disciplines, as other universities will be more forgiving if you have applied for PPE and then economics elsewhere.

If you are applying to very different subjects because you can't decide which you want to do then you may be better off narrowing down your options before you apply and forcing yourself to make the inevitable decision whilst you can still control the outcome of your application. Spreading yourself thinly across many disciplines can actually harm your application. For example if you apply to veterinary science and history, it will be no surprise if neither the vets nor the historians are particularly impressed by your lack of commitment to their course.

When writing a statement for joint honours courses, make sure to discuss both in turn. It may be likely that you need to impress admissions tutors from two disciplines rather than just one so make sure to discuss both subjects in turn, making connections if possible.


What about personal statements for foreign universities?


These may be different to the UK style of application. American Personal Statements in particular are written in a very different style and you should seek separate advice for these kinds of application. The PS help area of TSR is strictly for UCAS applications only - we cannot help with any international applications.


Refining your personal statement


Having written your first draft, check it over thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors. Get as many people to look over it as you can - parents, teachers, family, friends. You may end up going through many many drafts, but sometimes this is necessary. Sometimes it can also help to take some time away from writing it. You will come back afresh with a new perspective and maybe see things that you didn't before. You may receive lots of advice but at the end of the day it is down to you to decide what to change and what to put in because it is your personal statement.

Remember that no one (including your teachers at school) know 100% what a university wants as often your application will be compared to other candidates before they decide which applicants to accept. It is also worth remembering that helping you with your UCAS application is just one tiny part of your teacher's job. They will often be relying on their own experiences of the UCAS process and hearsay. Information written on an official university website or something mentioned at an open day is much more reliable than anything you have been told at school.


I'm reapplying, can I use the same statement as last year?


In a word, yes. For the purposes of UCAS you cannot self-plagiarise. While it is very likely that in submitting the same PS it will be flagged as a match by the Copycatch anti-plagiarism software, it will be discounted by the investigating member of UCAS staff when they see that the two statements were written by the same individual. The universities will not be informed of the fact it matched and it will not affect your application. However, if you have placed your PS on an insecure internet site such as a blog or in an open forum (i.e.: the main UCAS forum of TSR or the TSR wiki) then UCAS may pick you up for plagiarism, so in this case you cannot use your PS again.

However, you may want to think about changing your statement for other reasons. It is likely your circumstances have changed since you applied the first time and you may have more experiences worth mentioning in your statement.


I want to transfer directly into the second year at a new university, what should I include in my statement?


The focus of your statement needs to be about why you want to do the NEW course. The universities are not interested in why your current course is no longer suitable for you so they do not want to read an essay of excuses. If you are applying for a similar course then you need to show how your current modules have adequately prepared you for study at the new university. It would also be beneficial to highlight the areas of your current course that you have really enjoyed or alternatively, discuss areas of the new course that you feel fit in with your academic interests in your field.

For more information about making a transfer application please see the transfer Q&A thread here.


How does the UCAS plagiarism software work?


UCAS use a piece of software called Copycatch which scans your statement against a library of previously submitted statements and online resources, such as the TSR Wiki. If there is a greater than 10% similarity between your statement and another then it will be flagged for a member of UCAS staff to investigate. They will then decide whether they believe the statement has been plagiarised and if they think it has will notify both you and the universities. If your statement is judged to have been plagiarised then your application will not automatically be voided, but it will be up to the university to decide whether they still wish to consider your application.

The plagiarism software is not something to worry about. If you don't cheat then there is very little chance of your statement being flagged and even less chance that the member of staff will decide to progress it further. Please note that plagiarism and asking for help are not the same thing. UCAS expects and encourages you to seek advice from family, friends and online resources. The key point to remember is that when writing it, it should be your own words and it becomes plagiarism when someone else has written your statement for you.


How long can my personal statement be?


The UCAS form you fill in using UCAS Apply has both a character and a line limit for the Personal Statement section, and your statement must conform to both:

  • Maximum of 4000 characters (including spaces). Generally you probably want to be aiming for 3000-3500 characters to allow room for line breaks and still be within the 47 line limit.
  • Maximum of 47 lines, as measured on the UCAS Apply form. The only way to check this is to try inputting your statement into the form and it will tell you how many lines you are using. In MS Word Times New Roman at 12 point, with 3.17cm left and right margins gives a reasonably close approximation for the line count on the UCAS form.

Generally speaking, the 47 line limit is more important and relevant than the 4000 characters and so it is important to check when writing your draft how many lines you are using in addition to how many characters. You don't want to perfect your statement only to find it doesn't fit!

If you enter/submit a statement which is too long then the remaining lines or characters will simply be chopped off the bottom of your statement, even if that is mid-sentence or mid-word.


Formatting in the UCAS Apply form


The Personal Statement section of the UCAS Apply form will convert any text you enter to a standard format (font size and style). You cannot get around the line limit by writing in a smaller font. You cannot use bold, italic or underline text to emphasise as this will not be retained in the final form.

The form also removes any excess spaces automatically, so if you use tabs or spaces to indent paragraphs this will not be retained in the final form. Similarly double spaces between sentences will become a single space. The only way to separate paragraphs is through a line break (pressing return twice) and this will be retained in the final form. Each line break is included in your line limit, but if space allows it is recommended that you do this as it makes your statement much more readable. Remember an admissions tutor looks at hundreds of statements so you want to make their lives easy otherwise they may not want to properly read your statement if faced with a wall of text.

The formatting is unable to recognise non-conventional characters so you shouldn't use é, á and other accents in your statement. Style also dictates that you should avoid characters like ‘&’ and numbers (1, 2, 3...) should be written in full (one, two, three...). UCAS will also convert any pound signs (£) to GBP. Once you're happy with your statement and have pasted it into your form and previewed it, it is important you read it or print it out before you submit it to check that the formatting is as you expect!

2010-2011 PS help thread: here
2011-2012 PS help thread: here
2012-2013 PS help thread: here
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PQ
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(Original post by Ecosse_14)

How much of my statement should be extra-curricular activities and how much academic?


The rule of thumb is that your statement should be approximately 2/3 academic and 1/3 extra-curricular. Your application is for an academic course and so should focus primarily on your academic abilities and experiences. Extra-curricular activities show diversity and provide a good opportunity to discuss the transferable skills you have developed. However, these should still be discussed with regard to how these pursuits make you well-suited to studying the course. These hobbies should not take up more than 1-2 short paragraphs in your statement. Often, applicants fall into the trap of trying to discuss every activity that they have ever done. This is inadvisable and not necessary - a couple of relevant activities discussed in more detail is much better than a massive list of irrelevant hobbies.
I know many people disagree with this but except for in a very few cases (where the EC activity is your main driving motivation for getting up in the morning) I would say that a PS should contain 0% non subject-specific EC information.

Especially considering that most applicants seem to think that talking about DofE or prefectship is a boost to their application - in almost all cases some more detail about an applicants interests and work in the subject applied for will add FAR more to a PS than any non subject relevant EC.

From reading PSs I also hate when applicants try to link DofE/prefect etc to their course of study by claiming it "gave" them some transferable skill. a) no activity GIVES you skills and b) I'd much rather read a paragraph about an applicants love of festivals or sport or a website as an EC that isn't clumsily linked back to their subject.

As I say I KNOW other people on this website disagree but IMO:
* You should only list subject specific/relevant ECs
* If you DO want to list other ECs then just talk about how much you loved them and what you did/do, don't try to link it back to your course through mentioning skills. If you want to use a paragraph to talk about things you love to do then use the paragraph for THAT - it's much more PERSONAL
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Raffa1
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I don't know if this question is best suited here or elsewhere, but I will ask anyway
At university I'm almost 100% sure I'd like to study English Lit, however I'm not sure I have enough extra-curricular activities to put on my personal statement.

I have done a few things but I'm not sure how relevant they are to my course, like prefecting and graphic design work experience.

Is there something I can do over summer that might flesh out my EC section?

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Aliyaa
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(Original post by Raffa1)
I don't know if this question is best suited here or elsewhere, but I will ask anyway
At university I'm almost 100% sure I'd like to study English Lit, however I'm not sure I have enough extra-curricular activities to put on my personal statement.

I have done a few things but I'm not sure how relevant they are to my course, like prefecting and graphic design work experience.

Is there something I can do over summer that might flesh out my EC section?

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It's just an idea, but maybe you could look at the course outline for English Lit at university and find something that relates to it? You could try looking at reading lists for university and pick one or two out of them? Taster lectures are also a really good thing to talk about imo.
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Raffa1
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(Original post by Aliyaa)
It's just an idea, but maybe you could look at the course outline for English Lit at university and find something that relates to it? You could try looking at reading lists for university and pick one or two out of them? Taster lectures are also a really good thing to talk about imo.
Do taster lectures still go on in the summer, and do I have to apply for them?
I have a huge reading list on me at the moment, so I'm pretty golden on that front.
I've done a lot of research on my course at different universities and I still can't think of anything that will really make me stand out EC-wise...

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Aliyaa
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(Original post by Raffa1)
Do taster lectures still go on in the summer, and do I have to apply for them?
I have a huge reading list on me at the moment, so I'm pretty golden on that front.
I've done a lot of research on my course at different universities and I still can't think of anything that will really make me stand out EC-wise...

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Not really sure tbh :/ The one I attended was actually by luck and took place during an open day at a university I had applied to. I was able to say and learn a lot from it which is probably why I used it in my PS
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Mollylondon
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I'm an international student but studying Alevels in UK and I'm not even staying in a boarding school (rented a flat) so basically I've quite learned a lot of skills that I would need when I start university..Shall I include that in PS ?

Also last summer I went to an english summer school here in UK for 2 months and that's how my desire to study in UK had begun,would it be useless to write that ?

Writing this is sooo hard especially for someone like me who has absolutely no life outside school
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abbymonty
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I'm going to be applying for English Literature at university and I have a job in a cafe and do some voluntary work in a charity shop..
Not sure if it would be any use to mention it in my PS? I can't think if a way that either link to my subject..
Also, I am wondering if it might be useful to mention I have helped out on Open Days/Induction Days in English Literature at my college?
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(Original post by abbymonty)
I'm going to be applying for English Literature at university and I have a job in a cafe and do some voluntary work in a charity shop..
Not sure if it would be any use to mention it in my PS? I can't think if a way that either link to my subject..
Also, I am wondering if it might be useful to mention I have helped out on Open Days/Induction Days in English Literature at my college?
I'd save the space on your PS to talk more about english lit rather than your job/voluntary work.
The open day anecdote could be worth including as it shows you're interested not just in your subject but in sharing your enjoyment with other people.
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ocelot92
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do you have to put the duration of job voluntary work (mine is too short) i am applying for medicine in oxford/kcl/sgul/qmul
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PQ
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(Original post by ocelot92)
do you have to put the duration of job voluntary work (mine is too short) i am applying for medicine in oxford/kcl/sgul/qmul
Have a read of http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki...nal_Statements
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thanks but reading the whole article did not answer my question about whether to put duration of placements down :confused:
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How shall I reference a podcast into my PS, shall I add the title, who produced it, and release date?
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Charlotte-xoxo
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(Original post by simibean)
How shall I reference a podcast into my PS, shall I add the title, who produced it, and release date?
I'd recommend title and creator only. Any more would be wasted space. The rest shouldn't be important. If curious, the admissions person could always ask at interview.
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How different should a personal statement for a transfer to another university into the 2nd year be to a personal statement for applying for a first year?

Should I include anything I did in my first personal statement (which included what I did in GCSE/A-Level) or should it solely be based on my first year?

Also any other tips would be more than welcome. Thanks!
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Ecosse_14
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(Original post by UWS)
How different should a personal statement for a transfer to another university into the 2nd year be to a personal statement for applying for a first year?

Should I include anything I did in my first personal statement (which included what I did in GCSE/A-Level) or should it solely be based on my first year?

Also any other tips would be more than welcome. Thanks!
Read the OP. Focus on the most recent things you've done, so your first year.

I want to transfer directly into the second year at a new university, what should I include in my statement?

The focus of your statement needs to be about why you want to do the NEW course. The universities are not interested in why your current course is no longer suitable for you so they do not want to read an essay of excuses. If you are applying for a similar course then you need to show how your current modules have adequately prepared you for study at the new university. It would also be beneficial to highlight the areas of your current course that you have really enjoyed or alternatively, discuss areas of the new course that you feel fit in with your academic interests in your field.
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(Original post by Ecosse_14)
Read the OP. Focus on the most recent things you've done, so your first year.
Thanks

Would it be plausible to write about how my knowledge of the subject at A-Level has helped me get a better understanding on the modules?

Also, would it be ok to say something along the lines of me not doing well in my A-Levels helped me be more motivated and determined to work harder?
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Ecosse_14
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(Original post by UWS)
Thanks

Would it be plausible to write about how my knowledge of the subject at A-Level has helped me get a better understanding on the modules?

Also, would it be ok to say something along the lines of me not doing well in my A-Levels helped me be more motivated and determined to work harder?
It depends how you say it and what you've got to say really, but I would be inclined to just focus on your first year and discuss that. So talk about what you particularly enjoyed from your first year, etc.

Try and keep everything in your statement positive, you don't want to dwell on the fact you didn't do too well in your A Levels. Your referee could maybe mention that though.
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champignon
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ok so i did my work experience at my former primary school, but it has no relevance whatsoever to the course i want to do at uni. do i still put it down on my personal statement?
need answers ASAP please as i'm currently writing my personal statement
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ilem
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If you feel you have gained skills or experience that would be relevant to the course you're applying, you should mention it. Don't bother if it would only be an empty sentence with nothing to reflect on.
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