• Advice for People Writing their Economics Personal Statements

Advice For People Writing Their Economics Personal Statement
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IntroductionStructureJoint HonoursGeneral Hints/TipsWriting Style

Introduction

Some of the advice here will be mirrored in the general PS writing guidance as well, particularly in the extra curricular section and the style advice.

Start writing your personal statement early as many people go through a huge number of drafts before they are happy with their final 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).

When 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, although all universities are likely to have similar core modules such as macroeconomics, microeconomics, or econometrics. This may differ for BA degrees (with the possible exception of Cambridge where all subjects are BAs), as opposed to a BSc, which is likely to be more maths-based. BA and BSc degrees may differ quite significantly, with BAs being more essay-based. This point is therefore especially relevant you are applying to a mix of BA and BSc courses: Be sure to check the course contents carefully and ensure that you do not talk about content that is not covered on some of the courses.

Before you apply, look at the university requirements. Due to the maths and statistics included in an economics degree, many universities specify a certain minimum grade at GCSE Mathematics and some require A Level Maths. At a small number, Further Maths may be desirable, at least to AS level. A Level Economics is not essential; studying both economics and business studies should, as a rule, be avoided. In some cases, candidates offering three A levels which include Further Maths may be disadvantaged, as this will be expected as a fourth A Level and may not count towards offers. Check the requirements of each university carefully if in doubt.

Remember, very few universities interview for economics degrees (Cambridge does, as well as Oxford, although Oxford offers only Economics and Management, not straight economics), so this is the only chance most people get to impress the admissions tutors and bring in anything to make themselves 'stand out from the crowd'.

Structure

Introductory Paragraph

Starting the personal statement is arguably the hardest part. The start needs to be interesting to draw the reader in immediately. Remember that admissions tutors will see a huge number of statements, and you want yours to stand out. You don't need to waste characters saying "I am applying to study economics" - the admissions tutors know this already, and cliches such as "I have always wanted to study economics" should be avoided. However, it should be clear from the outset exactly what course you are applying for. Starting with a quote, or indeed using any quotes, is generally a bad idea and rarely works well, as it is not something that the applicant has said.


Give background. Show that this is not just a random short term decision, but that doing an economics degree is natural extension of your studies.

Academics

Academic content should take up around 2/3 of your PS. It can be split into two: college academics (A Levels etc) and academic interests/activities outside of your formal education. The latter is obviously more interesting, as it shows more motivation to know more about the subject you are wanting to spend 3+ years (if you include a relevant postgraduate course) studying. However, you may not want to separate them that crudely - for example, covering something at A Level may have enthused you to discover more about that subject, so put it together.

Exam results are important, but they don’t sell your motivation or interest in the subject, only your capability. Lots of other candidates will also have good exam results, so it is important to use your PS to make you stand out. There is no need to state your exam results as these can be seen in other parts of your UCAS form. If you have particularly high UMS marks that you'd like the universities to know about, these should be mentioned in your reference, not your PS.

This is not the place to list your A Levels and what you've done in them. It is also not the place to try and link everything to economics, especially if the link is tenuous. Try and avoid saying 'Studying English literature has improved my essay writing skills and helped me construct concise arguments/Mathematics has helped with my data analysis skills'. These will be pretty self-evident and a waste of characters. Instead, talk about what in your A Levels (related to economics) has interested you and why. If you found it particularly interesting, you may want to briefly talk about any studies that you did during A Level Economics or subjects that particularly interested you. Don't just explain what different areas of economics are about - reflect on them. Admissions tutors will be familiar with the concepts you're talking about. While you want to present yourself as a good economics student, if your PS becomes simply a short essay about economics or a particular theory or concept then it's saying nothing about you as a person.

The second part would be far more interesting. This can come in a variety of forms: reading undergraduate level text books/academic journals (including those aimed at college students), and possibly work experience (see below). As for what things to read, try and avoid the common economics books, such as 'Freakonomics' - a huge number of applicants mention it (along with 'The Armchair Economist' and 'The Undercover Economist') and the relevance to degree-level economics is extremely limited. Also, think about the relevance of any books you've read: classic texts may have little relevance to what you will study at degree level, so are best avoided. Look for what kinds of modules you'll be studying and try to link you're reading and discussion to some of them.

Experience

It's very hard to find particularly relevant work experience for an undergraduate economics degree. Work experience is not essential for this degree, however if you have managed to get some relevant work experience then you can develop this to talk about your interest in the subject. Avoid sounding like you're name-dropping. If you have irrelevant work experience then don't try to make it sound relevant as an excuse to mention it. Working in a shop, for example, does nothing to help sell you as an economist but other skills developed such as organisation or time-management can help to sell you as a student.

Extra curricular

This section is for anything that is not specifically related to your interest in economics. This part should be short, a maximum of 1/3 of your PS. It can include things from school/college as well as in your free time (including a part time job). For school/college, you may want to talk about peer mentoring, prefects. Remember to keep your sentences short and snappy. If they're long, people get bored and stop reading. Cut out all unnecessary words. Don't start your sentences with verbs unless absolutely necessary (e.g. “Being a prefect” is too informal). Say what you did/do, then what you learned from it, and sometimes explain why that is useful, but not at the expense of it being interesting. Don't repeat things you learned - you only need to demonstrate characteristics once each throughout the statement. You don’t need three examples of how you can handle responsibility. Other characteristics you can talk about are team work, communications skills, leadership, confidence, etc. Don’t worry if you don’t include them all. If it is just going to sound fake and boring, it’s better not to bother. You do not need to relate everything to economics - you are allowed to have a break from it, even at university, though if you can link them to the course or why you are suited to it, it will help.

As for your interests outside of roles of responsibility, keep it very brief. Sport and musical interests are generally good ones to include and just briefly say why you enjoy it. Things like 'I enjoy going down the pub with my friends/shopping/going to the cinema' etc should be avoided. As long as you have something written about your extra-curricular activities (if just to show you exist outside of college), it doesn't matter how many. Quality is better than quantity, and you want this section to be brief, so there is no point in listing a load of activities. Think about how they've helped you. No one is going to be impressed by your ECs in themselves, you need to use them as a launching pad to sell skills. "I sing in the church choir" is not good, but you might use your singing experiences to show skills, e.g. That you can co-operate, or learn and interpret source materials.

If you are applying for deferred entry, it would also be useful to include any gap year plans and say why you are doing them.

Conclusion

Your final paragraph should conclude and summarise why you are a good candidate and why you want to study economics. Although you should be confident that you are a good candidate, it is important not to sound arrogant (e.g. 'I am the ideal candidate to study BSc Economics'), as it's very off-putting. You shouldn't include any new information in the conclusion, except possibly career plans. Don't worry if you don't have any, you don't have to mention career plans at all. Don't refer to the university directly ('your university') as this comes across as very insincere considering you're applying to four or five universities.

Joint Honours

Economics is available as a joint honours degree with many other subjects. Note the difference between "Economics with X" and "Economics and X"; the first implies a 67/33 split between economics and the other subject, while the second implies a 50/50 split. The amount of space in your PS spent talking about each subject should be adjusted accordingly. You should if possible avoid mixing choices of straight economics and economics joint honours. Any indication that you are not 100% committed to the course admissions tutors see you applying for can count very strongly against you. The exception to this is Oxford's Economics and Management course, which is the de-facto economics course at Oxford. While a brief mention of management would be beneficial, it is expected that candidates will be applying mostly for other pure economics courses.

General Hints/Tips

When you've written your PS, read and reread it. Read it aloud to see how it sounds. It's surprising how many times you can notice poor grammar/repeated words close together when you hear it, rather than reading it silently! Get other people to read it - teachers, parents, friends, siblings.

Try and keep things up-to-date. Generally things from sixth form only, although a brief mention of things done during GCSE years may also be OK.

Lots of people read The Economist or The Financial Times. If you must mention them, find something specific to talk about, as simply saying that you read them is totally unremarkable. Avoid talking about The Wealth of Nations, it is completely outdated and of little or no relevance to modern economics

Avoid mentioning extenuating circumstances. These belong in the reference, if you mention them in your PS it may sound like you're trying for sympathy or just making excuses.

Writing Style

Keep your sentences varied - don't start all your paragraphs/sentences with the same format (e.g. 'I did X/I did Y' or 'My A Level in...'/'My studies of...'), as it doesn't flow very well and sounds very boring. Also, one sentence (or even two) do not make a paragraph!

Don't have any sentences that put yourself down. Even if you try to turn it round, it's better not to say anything negative to start with.

You are writing formally. “Can’t” should be “cannot”, “Doesn’t” should be “does not”, etc. Do not include digit numbers, write them out unless they're three digits or more. "I did two weeks..." not "I did 2 weeks". Do not include brackets- (...), they are too informal. Be careful not to miss out words like "have", "I", and "that", like most people do in spoken language. It is safer not to use exclamation marks at all. Look up 'how to use commas and semi-colons'. Spelling and grammar can make or break a PS.

Some words and phrases are extremely cliché: Passion, fascination, love, aspiration, intrigued by, broadened my knowledge, enhanced my skill, affirmed/confirmed my decision. Use these words with caution. If you're using alternatives, be careful not to sound like a thesaurus, sound natural and simple. You want to make it easy for the admissions tutors to read, as they will read lots of PSs every day.

Using phrases such as "quenched my thirst for" or "sparked up my interest" also don't read anywhere near as well as you think they do.

There's a tendency to use "also" all the time, when it's not needed. Be concise! Unnecessary linking words like "Furthermore" and "As a result" get used too often. A few of them are OK, but only a few. Remember to use commas after these linking words and phrases.

Don't use complex words in extremely long and convoluted sentences. People lose interest (and it makes you look somewhat pompous). Keep it short and make it flow.

Capital letters: NOT needed for subject names, economist, secondary school, etc. Be careful where you use them.
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