Start writing your personal statement early as many people will get through a huge number of drafts before they are happy with their PS. This is the general format for a PS and some good advice (you don't have to use this format, just make sure you include all the sections).
If you know where you want to apply, make sure you have a look on the websites for any specific advice on what they want to see in your personal statement as different universities may have different things they want you to include. For example, most places want the time spend at each placement mentioned somewhere in the personal statement although this is by no means set in stone as most places ask for the volume of work experience during the work experience stage. Remember, everything you put in your personal statement can be asked about at interviews. So the surgery name you wrote that looks fancy may actually be the main topic at one of your interviews so make sure you know your personal statement inside out and back to front and able to talk about it to a frenzy. A good starting point I found was to underline every part of my personal statement that could be expanded on in interview and then finding everything out I could about that topic within reason that I could understand with having no previous degree training.
Your introduction needs to be interesting to the reader. Don't overuse words such as passion, and other clichés. The admissions department want to know why vet med interests you, and why no other career would do. Although you can state that this is a long-held ambition, remember that you have not 'always wanted to be a Vet' - no-one emerges from the womb shouting 'I want to be a Vet!'. You must explain early on, and very clearly, why you want to be a Vet. It might sound obvious, but many people don't do this as they assume that the fact they are applying for this degree course is enough proof - it isn't. Do not get 'clever' and try to make this part 'grab' the reader. The admissions tutors will have read plenty of personal statements that say the same thing. This isn't an entertaining short-story, its an explanation for why you are applying for Vet Med and why you want this as a career. Keep it straightforward and factual.
Work experience paragraph
This section should be around 70% of your whole personal statement. It is vital that you get this bit right as it can be a deciding factor in whether to interview you or not
The most important thing here is not to waste space listing names of places you've been to. It wastes valuable word space! So instead of 'I went to The Mill Equine Veterinary Centre', say 'I went to an equine veterinary centre'.
Don't mention an operation or treatment you observed, without explaining why you are mentioning it! Throughout this section, you should be commenting on how this has helped you reflect on life as a vet, the reality of farming and animal rescue work etc. So don't just list what you saw or did!
Explain clearly what you learnt or anything you realised about yourself - 'Whilst spending a week lambing, I realised I work well under pressure in a fast paced environment and despite being tired and cold can still make good decisions'.
Your work experience should include a mix of veterinary/clinical work, farm work, RSPCA/cattery, equine, kennels, abattoirs/food production and any others you can think off. Make sure you get a good mix of vet experience, ie. not just farming/big animal or not just companion animals. You MUST get experience in more that one Vet's practice and this MUST be longer than 4 weeks in total, with at least another 4 weeks of 'other experience'. If you live in a big city and getting big animal/rural experience is difficult mention this, but take full advantage of other opportunities you have like Zoos, pet shops etc.
Voluntary work paragraph
Whilst being a Head Boy etc might sound good, its pointless mentioning this unless you explain what you did and why this is relevant. It doesn't have to be a 'named job' btw. If you help out with the Year 7s, run parent tours at Open Days or sing solos in the school choir, mention it. You should also be able to talk about any voluntary stuff you do outside school - church, helping out at Brownies, working in an Oxfam shop, doing Race for Life etc. If you play sport regularly, are a member of a team of any sort, have won any academic or social prizes (preferably outside school) mention it. Being good at science is not enough - all rounders make better vets.
In this section you need to tell the admissions department what you do in your spare time. Remember it has to relate to your application. You may enjoy going to the cinema but what does that actually bring to your personal statement? This paragraph is very important. It shows the reader that you can balance an academic life with extracurricular activities. If you mention a hobby that doesn't relate to veterinary medicine, don't try to relate it. It'll be obvious to the reader your clutching at straws. Its up to you if you want to relate everything to vet medicine. Some things will have an obvious link so your wasting words explaining everything.
Gap Year Plans
If you have any gap years plans, mention them and what you hope to learn from them. Whilst some structure is preferable, it doesn't have to be 'all about animals'. It is fine to say 'I'm taking a year out to travel to Australia in order to gain some independence and get some experience life beyond school' etc. The more 'I organised' the better - if it looks like something you bought off the shelf (exotic volunteering etc) then it won't teach you much at all.
Sum up your application up in a sentence. Again try to avoid clichés. Don't introduce anything new. Don't tell the Admissions Tutor you will make an excellent student.
Don't add 'padding'. Only mentions things that are relevant. If you did an EPQ and it relates to Vet work or science in general, explain it briefly. If there are any important details about your family life or a medical condition that have affected your grades, again mention this very briefly. If you are from overseas, why do you want to study in Britain? If you are a mature applicant, what else have you done with your life?
Advice from an Admissions Tutor
- Starting your PS with any reference to a family pet, anything that happened to said pet when you were 6 and/or your admiration for the vet that saved its life. In fact, don't mention this anywhere in your PS if you want to be taken seriously. You are no longer 6. Your desire to be a vet must be based on something far more profound than this.
- Avoid anything that sounds like 'I have always loved animals' or 'I want to combine my love for animals with my interest in science'.
- Don't use silly words/phrases like 'zeal', 'plethora', 'I relish' and 'it piqued my interest'. If your best friend would laugh at you using the word or phrase to their face, don't put in your PS.
- Do not list experiences at your Vet work experience without explaining what it made you think/feel/realise. ie. 'I watched a c-section, dissected a cow's testicle and intubated a cat' is meaningless on its own. Far better is pick one event/moment that made you step back and think about what had just happened and why you felt differently about being vet because of it. Explain your reflection/realisation not just the event.
- Don't show off. 'I spent 3 weeks working on a turtle conservation project in Belize'. Do not kid yourself that this is 'relevant work experience'. This is an exotic holiday with 1 day of 'pretending to be a volunteer'. We would be far more impressed if you'd spent 2 weeks lambing in a freezing shed with no sleep.
- Do not mention James Herriot, Steve Irwin or David Attenborough.
- Do not tell us that your mother is a doctor or your big sister is a vet. They aren't applying for University - you are.
- Make the precise number of weeks you have spent on work experience crystal clear, and differentiate clearly between Vet/clinical experience and 'other' animal experience. Make it clear how many Vets you've worked in and how many 'other situations'.
- Explain clearly WHY you want to be a Vet. Just loving animals is NOT enough. Nor is 'wanting to make them better'.You must show that you are thinking about this as an adult not a child. Think bigger than this. How would a VET explain this?
- Include what else you do with your time apart from animals! Universities are interested in people with a sense of civic and social responsibility. We want to see long-term voluntary work, team sport, personal achievements etc. PS. DoE is very boring - so is World Challenge. PLEASE find something that the school did NOT organise for you!
- Check your spelling, punctuation and grammar carefully. It matters.