Personal Statement Help is a private forum of TSR, dedicated to helping university applicants with their UCAS personal statements. It can be hard to know what to put in a PS and for many people this may be the first time that they have had to write an important piece of prose about themselves.
There are many myths and misconceptions about writing a statement and there is some disparity in the support offered at schools and colleges. Personal Statement Help offers applicants the opportunity to submit their statement confidentially in the forum, where it may be reviewed by the PS Helpers. The PS Helpers are a collection of volunteer university students, graduates and teachers, most of which have been through the application process themselves and can in many cases offer subject specific experience. Frequently a second pair of eyes can give a different perspective or offer new insight.
Personal Statement Help is an entirely free service, unlike many comparable sites on the internet, and is run by volunteers who give up their free time to help others with their applications. Most of us have no formal training in reviewing personal statements, but many have a great deal of experience both through our own applications and our experiences of reviewing other statements in PS Help.
PS Help is a private forum which is viewable only to a select group of people (the PS Helpers), who had all been able to demonstrate that they are at or have graduated from university. These measures are put in place to protect the personal statements submitted to the forum from plagiarism by other applicants, or the copying of content by other websites. This forms the cornerstone of PS Help since it allows us to offer confidentiality and security to anyone who chooses to submit their personal statement for review. A user who submits a statement in the forum can see only their own thread and none of the thousands of other statements submitted by other applicants. The PS Helpers and moderators are the only people who can see all the threads and can provide reviews and feedback as they choose.
We are a private forum and so it is sometimes hard to know what to expect from a review. There are examples of the type of reviews that we offer in the TSR Personal Statement Library.
The second unusual aspect of the Personal Statement Help forum is the use of "tags" to identify to the helpers which statements require looking at. The tags are the bold coloured text next to the thread title on the forum page and are updated by the moderators depending on the status of the Personal Statement. For example, if it is still to be looked at then it will be given the tag “Needs Attention” and if it has been reviewed then it will be tagged as “Answered”. A full list of tags and their meaning can be found here.
The Personal Statement Help forum was created in late 2005 following an idea by Lord Huntroyd and has always been a private forum viewable only to the PS Helpers and moderators.
The forum was originally created as a single forum, but as the forum became more popular, the number of statements submitted became too big for a single forum. Four subject discipline sub-forums were created in 2006 to allow helpers to concentrate on those statements in which they had experience. These sub-forums had the same privacy controls as the main forum and consisted of:
Humanities and the Arts
Maths, Computing and Physical Sciences
Medical, Health and Life/Biosciences
Social Sciences and Law
Following some long awaited technical development work in September 2012, these sub forums were removed and all personal statements now enter into the same single forum. PS helpers have the ability to filter this forum to only show their specialist subject area(s) rather than all of the applications awaiting review.
Rewards for PS Helping
Riches were first introduced as an incentive in 2006 from the site administrators. Riches were the TSR form of currency and were used to buy subscriptions to the site. Subscriptions give users additional site functionality such as coloured usernames and access to special subscriber forums.
In 2011-2013 the site owners rewarded PS Helpers with vouchers in recognition of their hard work and contribution to TSR, however Personal Statement Help remained a free service to applicants as all helpers were still volunteers.
Moderation and Quality Control
No significant moderation changes occurred in PS Help until July 2008, when a dedicated minimod to PS help was appointed in the form of F1 fanatic. Due to the intensive administration required for the forums, a new form of moderator, the "forum assistant", was created specifically for PS Help to help tag statements and deal with any issues. In April 2010, the growth of PS help led to the appointment of a second PS help moderator: secretmessages. Following a meet between the FAs and admins from TSR in early 2010, it was decided that the current PS help FAs would be made moderators to allow them access to moderator only tools to allow them to do their jobs more efficiently, and 2 further forum assistants would be appointed for each sub forum to aid with the day to day management and responding to applicant queries. In mid 2012, additional forum assistants were appointed bringing their total to 12.
As of July 2013, the PS Help Mods are:
An additional forum called “Ask A PS Help Mod” is visible only to the thread starter and the PS help moderators. The purpose of this forum is for administrative issues, questions and PS help applications and is not for the posting or reviewing of personal statements.
PS Help has always had strict controls on who can be a PS Helper by insisting proof of being at university or a graduate. PS Helpers who reapply to university or apply for postgraduate courses in medicine, dentistry, law or teaching are required to leave the PS help user group whilst making their application. In 2008, a mentoring scheme to support new helpers in finding their feet was set up to ensure the quality of the reviews. Helpers are provided detailed guidance on their first few reviews and graduate from the mentoring scheme after their mentor is satisfied with the quality of their reviews.
However, we remain a voluntary contributing service and we will never be in a position to offer professional advice. A personal statement is just that and it is always down to the discretion of the applicant whether or not they choose to agree with or follow our advice. All we ask is that we are shown courtesy for giving up our time to write reviews.
Ever Increasing Popularity
Personal Statement Help has grown in size very quickly and it has been a challenge to meet the ever increasing level of demand for reviews. We are still a relatively small group of helpers with many demands on our time in the real world with both work and social commitments. We are always looking to increase our number to help meet demand for PS reviews. During the 2008-9 cycle we saw over 2400 statements submitted to PS help and this number has increased each year with over 4700 submitted in the 2012-13 application cycle.
Who can be a PS Helper?
The PS Helpers can be identified by the “PS Helper” icon underneath their username. The PS Helper usergroup is strictly controlled by the moderation team and any member wishing to be a PS Helper must prove that they have attended university through an IP check or by sending an email from their university .ac.uk email account. This ensures that each of the helpers can gain no personal benefit from the personal statements that they have access to. Further information on how to become a helper can be found here.
There are around 200 PS Helpers who make varying contributions to the forum. Some of our most experienced reviewers have carried out hundreds of reviews over seven years, while there are also those who are new to the team or who may only have the time to carry out a few reviews per year.
A PS Helper's perspective
"Speaking from my own perspective, I have been a PS Helper since early 2006, during which time I have carried out over 180 reviews. I graduated with a degree in Physics in 2008 and so the vast majority of my contributions are made in the Maths and Physical Sciences forum where I can offer advice based on my own experiences of applying to a Science related discipline. Like the majority of the PS Helpers, I have no formal or professional training of reviewing personal statements. However, having studied at university and spent a great deal of time with admissions tutors, I feel reasonably confident that I have a fair ideas of what a tutor is looking for in a personal statement.
Being from a science discipline, I am not a walking book of grammar, but I do hope that I can offer a different and more subject specific perspective than some other forms of help from teachers or friends. Every form of help has its own advantages and disadvantages and it is always beneficial to get another perspective, so long as the applicant considers with care the advice they are offered and make their own judgements as to its validity. A personal statement is personal to the individual applicant and this judgement is important wherever they may seek advice and however much experience that source may seem to have.
All of the helpers lead busy lives and contribute to the forum in their own free time. I fit Personal Statement Help around a full-time job and many of the helpers are extremely busy with their own university studies, or may even be parents themselves with a full-time job and a family. All of this means that the Personal Statement Help forum works at a slower pace than other forums and it can be several days before the helpers have time to write a detailed review. Reviews are very time-consuming and it can take up to an hour to provide a comprehensive review for a single applicant. Our numbers are relatively small and so for unusual or less popular subjects we may not be able to provide specialist help from within the discipline and responses may take longer.
Most helpers, myself included, are just regular members of TSR who have decided at some point in the past that they would like to help applicants with Personal Statements through the PS Help forum. For the vast majority, if not all helpers, the motivation to help is purely for the "feel-good factor" of providing help and advice during a time which we all remember to be very stressful. I received extensive help with my own university application when I applied and wanted to provide similar support to other applicants in addition to other university admissions help while at university. Several of our helpers wished to give something back to TSR, having benefited from the PS Help forum themselves. It’s always a good feeling to see an applicant use our advice to improve their statement and ultimately to hear of their successes in their university applications. However critical we may be of your statement, we only have your best interests at heart and want to help you to be successful in your application."
--F1 fanatic 22:53, 15 April 2009 (BST)
Comments in the Media
As we have grown in size, we have begun to attract the attention of the media as a result of the free service that we offer to applicants. For example PS Help was given particular mention by “The Times” in its University guide pull-out in August 2008:
- “Perhaps the most useful and well-organised feature of the site is its personal statement section. When tackled with little experience and no knowledge of what admissions tutors are actually looking for, these statements often end up either dull or cringe-makingly misguided.
- Many applicants still seem to have the idea, perhaps reinforced by pushy parents or misinformed schools, that extra-curricular activities are of vital importance, leading to largely pointless lists of Duke of Edinburgh awards and victories in obscure regional karate championships.
- TSR's “PS helper forum”, where applicants can post their first drafts, differs from the rest of the site in that its posts are visible only to accredited “PS helpers”. This layer of secrecy effectively prevents plagiarism by other applicants while simultaneously opening each statement up to critique by different student volunteers.”
Selective comments from previous applicants
Some comments from applicants who have used Personal Statement Help in the past:
- "When I first started writing my PS, I had absolutely no idea what was expected of me and I was very insecure about what I had written. My PS helper was very kind and reassuring and she helped me a great deal, especially with word choice and the structure of individual sentences. Moreover, it was great to be able to show my PS to an objective person."
- "It was extremely useful to have someone actually say "this is wrong, do this and it will fix it", instead of teachers umming and ahhing and only caring about spelling mistakes."
- "My PS helper went above and beyond what I could have ever expected! He helped with me several drafts, all in detail and really got me on track. I was very confused before as my school was particularly unhelpful, but my helper told me everything I need to know. Without his help, my statement would have been absolutely awful and I really do think it's helped a lot in getting the offers I have so far!"
- "Advice was straight to the point and alterations that were advised to me were unique to my personal statement and benefited in a way that no other free website could. Excellent."
- "The TSR PS help forum was really helpful and they really checked the PS word by word, which you can not necessarily say when a teacher checks it, the teacher only skim reads it and checks for spelling and grammar errors, they may also not have the relevant knowledge for your chosen degree, which TSR PS helpers do as they study it and know exactly what is needed."
- "The fact that it's private unlike the other ones make you feel more confident knowing your Personal Statement is in safe hands."
- "It put my mind at ease knowing that my statement was alright and was checked by someone already at university studying what I plan to."
- "There's no competition to the PS Help forum in this regard, absolutely the best there is."