September 3, 2012
A personal statement is a sales pitch for a university place. The clues are; `sales’ = sell yourself and `pitch’ = set your stall at their door. Remember, you’ll be up against thousands of others who are also pitching their case to the universities, so whatever you write needs to be good.
Before you begin the pitch, there are a few basics to bear in mind:
A personal statement should be no more than 4,000 characters long:
• It should be typed with 1.5 line spaces
• Always start with a `wow’ sentence to draw in the reader
• Divide the content into four main sections
• Why you want to study the chosen course
• What you’ve done to date that’s relevant to the course
• What key skills have you picked up through work experience
• What other activities make you a more rounded person
• Mention what inspired you to choose the course
• Write from the heart
• Ensure it’s free from grammatical errors
• Be 100% honest and genuine
• Make it attention grabbing
• Show it to as many people as possible, including parents and teachers
• Sell yourself!
You’ve got the line spacing set to 1.5 and an intimidating blank screen in front of you; it’s time to draw attention to your case.
The opening sentence is arguably the most important one you’ll write. It will set the tone for the rest of your pitch and draw the reader in. Around 40% of the Personal Statement should be devoted to why you want to study the chosen course, so make sure the opening sentence introduces your reasons and is backed up by the inspirations behind them.
A good example of opening sentences might be “Since working in a nursery for my Silver DofE award my interest in Child Psychology has really grown” or “Reading Professor Stephen Hawking’s `A brief history of time’ first awakened my interest in natural sciences, and in particular, physics”.
Ensure you write from the heart and are credible and attention grabbing, sit down and really work out why you have chosen this degree. As yourself, did you read a book or see a TV programme that inspired you? Did you read about a particularly inspirational person who works in the same field? Have you always been interested in this degree? Then present your reasons clearly and concisely, personalise what you say and relate your reasons to your experiences and your source of inspiration.
Definitely avoid making statements such as `Because my dad’s a doctor’, or `It was the one thing I could think of that interested me’.
As you write, show a good understanding of the course and make sure what you write supports your decision to study it.
The next section of the Personal Statement, around 30%, should inform the reader what you have done to date that is relevant to the course. If you’ve no interest in animals and their welfare, you probably shouldn’t be applying to become a vet. If you dislike loud music or wearing headphones, then music technology may not be the right course for you. So if you get to this part of the statement and start questioning what what’s led you to this course, then maybe it’s time to stop writing and go back to the drawing board.
But if you’ve got this far and are still enthusing about your choice of course, then note down what aspects of your studies, your work and your 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, mucking out stables is relevant to being a vet and producing a student newsletter is relevant to being a journalist, so extract which aspects of those experiences are directly relevant and explain them.
Section three draws in non-specific work experience and other academic achievements, such as DofE. However briefly you worked or trained to acquire a relevant skill, note it down and 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.
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 not. 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 organizational 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 4,000 characters in the first place.
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