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How to write the perfect personal statement in 2013/14
Just like a sales pitch, a student’s personal statement is one of the main contributing factors of getting into your desired university.
Remember, you will be one of thousands of prospective university students all pitching their own case for getting into University. Therefore, whatever you end up writing needs to be great.
Instead of sitting down and slogging out page after page of nothingness, here are a few basic tips to keep in mind before you start:
1. A personal statement should be no longer than 4,000 characters in length
2. Always start with a bang. Write a ‘wow’ sentence draw in the reader’s interest
3. Use consistent, professional and neat formatting, and don’t exceed 47 lines (make sure you double check this when uploading your statement on to the UCAS website)
4. Divide the overall content into four main sections:
– Why you want to study the chosen course at that particular University
– What you’ve done to date (or in the near future) that’s relevant to the course
– Your work experience and the key skills you’ve picked up
– All other activities that could make you stand out as well rounded person
5. Write with passion and interest. Writing a personal statement isn’t just something you ‘have’ to do. It’s your chance to really get across why you want to go into further education.
6. Make sure the whole statement is100% free of grammatical errors.
7. Listen to the advice from your teachers and parents – they’ve all done it before!
8. Be 100% honest and genuine. Even the smallest of white lies could prevent you from gaining a placement if found to be untrue!
9. Write it from the heart. Show the reader how much you really want this. (But don’t be cheesy)
10. This is your one chance to really sell yourself!
Writing your personal statement
Word document open, line spacing set to 1.5, easy to read Sans Serif font and intimidating blank screen in front of you; it’s time to draw attention to your case with a ‘wow’ opening sentence.
Along with the conclusion, your opening sentence is arguably the most important one you’ll write. It should set the tone for the rest of your personal statement and draw the reader’s interest in. A division of around 40% of the personal statement should be devoted to why you want to study the chosen course. Ensure that your opening sentence / paragraph introduces your reasons and is suitably backed up by the inspirations behind them.
A good example of an opening sentence may be; “Reading Professor Stephen Hawking’s `A brief history of time’ first awakened my interest in natural sciences, and in particular, physics”.
Try to avoid writing generic sentences and phrases such as ‘I am passionate about leaning’ and ‘I am very hard working’. In truth these types of statements really mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, they can sound cheesy and most importantly, they waste precious words!
Always write from the heart and be credible. If it’s not obvious, you need to sit down and really work out why you have chosen this degree. Did you read a book, see a TV programme or do some work experience? Maybe you’ve always been interested in this degree and it’s been a lifelong passion? Once you’ve got to grips with why you want to spend 3 – 4 years studying your degree, present your reasons concisely, personalise what you say and relate your reasons to your past experiences.
You should always avoid making throwaway comments like ‘Because my dad’s a doctor’, or ‘it was the one thing I could think of that interested me’. As you write, demonstrate that you have a good understanding of the course and make sure what you write supports your decision to study it.
Previous Academic Experience
This section of your personal statement should inform the reader what you have been doing with your life to date that’s relevant to your chosen course. If you don’t like reading vast chunks of text then a law degree probably isn’t for you.
Similarly if you can’t cope well under pressure then medicine or journalism may not be your bag after all. If you get to this part of your personal statement and find yourself questioning why you even chose your course in the first place, it might be worthwhile to stop writing and go back to the drawing board.
But let’s assume you’ve got this far and are still enthusing about your chosen course; note down what aspects of your life including your studies, hobbies, work and leisure experiences are relevant to the course. For example, if you’re applying for Economics, mention the positives of taking Mathematics as an additional A level. Mention work experience that is relevant, such as shadowing an accountant, working in a corporate environment.
Similarly, producing a student newsletter is relevant to being a journalist, so extract which aspects of those experiences are directly relevant and explain them.
The important thing here is to really get a grasp on what’s impressive and relevant to your course, and then make sure you include it. Modesty will get you nowhere when writing a personal statement – sell yourself!
Extra Curricular Experience
In this section, you’ll have to draw in non-specific work experience and all other academic achievements such as DoE qualifications and instrument grades. It doesn’t matter how long ago or how briefly you worked or trained to get that skill, what’s important is how you bring it into the statement.
For example, if you didn’t complete the DofE award but you achieved parts of it, then mention it. There no need to lie, but don’t overlook the team-building skills of a weekend yomping the dales, or the commercial skills of working pricing goods and operating the tills in a charity shop.
Final Section – Conclusion
The last section is where you bring in other aspects of your personality to create a picture of a well-rounded, interesting person; (even if you’re rough round the edges and/or boring!).
Rack your brains and note down the times you were in the school play, or performed on stage, or played a sport for the year or the school. If your achievements transcend this, for example, you played hockey for the county, then best to upgrade that to paragraph three.
Make sure you give examples of hobbies that make you a more interesting person than the guy who plays on his PlayStation 3 all day, and then relate them back to your university aspirations. Playing football in a team develops team building, helping organise the social side of a sports club demonstrates organisational and social skills.
Finally, think the closing sentence is the second most important one to the opening sentence. Draw together the experiences, skills and knowledge you’ve presented with a concluding statement, such as “I’m a well rounded and motivated person, who will thrive in a university environment.”
Then check, check and re-check that what you say is relevant, well presented, grammatically correct and is delivered with passion and enthusiasm. Editing and re-editing is even more important than drafting those 2,000 characters in the first place.