Writing a Strong Personal Statement
A perfect personal statement
So it's that time of year - the deadline for university applications is looming and suddenly it's your turn to write the dreaded personal statement. Anyone who has already been through this themselves knows how stressful the whole university admissions process can be. Everybody panics about what they're putting in or leaving out and whoever you ask will give you different advice. The truth is, there should be nothing to fear. In fact, anyone who follows some simple guidelines can tackle their personal statement with confidence.
Remember who your personal statement is for
This is the number one thing to keep in mind. Your personal statement will be read by university admissions tutors who are most likely crammed into tiny offices, surrounded by stacks and stacks of other personal statements. In fact, if you asked, most of them would probably try to claim that it's a much harder job reading all those personal statements than it is to write them. But the important thing to remember is when an admissions tutor looks at your personal statement, he or she will be asking two golden questions:
1) Do I want this person on my course?
2) Is this person going to add something to my university?
They will not be in the mood to dig around for the answers. That's why every time you write a paragraph of your personal statement you might want to pause, take a break, and then read it through again five minutes later with those two questions in mind. Your job is to tell the admissions tutors, as clearly as possible, why you should have that university place.
The essentials of your university application
So how do you give those golden questions some golden answers? Here are the essential pieces of information to include in your personal statement, preferably in the following order:
1) What do you want to study and why?
This is a great way to open. Tell the admissions tutors how you became interested in your subject and why you are looking forward to it at university. You could mention career plans too if you have them. Many people find it tricky putting this into words, so it might be an idea to make a list of everything you like about the course you're applying for and use it to help you.
2) What relevant experience do you have?
This could be A Levels you've studied, pass work experience or places you have visited. Tie things back to your subject if you can or explain how your background has given you insights and skills that will be useful on your course.
3) What else do you do with your life?
Admissions tutors don't like to think of you sitting in your room all day, refusing to add anything to the university community. Talk about sports, hobbies or volunteering work. Probably best not to mention socialising though. Thousands of students include this every year and it always smacks of desperation.
4) Do you have any gap year plans?
If you're taking a gap year, you should explain what you'll be up to. Make it sound interesting and beneficial.
Sign off in style!
Even if it's just an extra line or two, it's a good idea to finish with something that ties you back to your subject again. Say how excited you are about having the chance to know your subject in detail or whatever else comes to you naturally. No need to be too smug though. A university application that features phrases like “I can't wait to show you how great I am next year” or “I'm looking forward to receiving my offer” may not impress admissions tutors!
Striking the right note in your personal statement
You need to sound excited about your course in your personal statement but beware of becoming a little too sickening. The honest, simple approach wins every day over cheesy lines and obviously-fake anecdotes (“I've dreamed of becoming a doctor since the age of two when I saved my sister's life...”)
Since you don't have that many words, and you want to reel that university admissions tutor in as quickly as you can, it's also a great tactic to think punchy and direct for your university application. Enormous, rambling paragraphs are things to avoid. Every paragraph should make a clear point.
Making the most of your resources for university admissions
The bottom line is that the personal statement is not your own private burden. Like all good burdens it should be shared around. Swap your personal statement with friends and ask family members or teachers to have a read through - it might sound silly but it's amazing how easy it is to make simple mistakes, that only get picked up by a second pair of eyes.
If you still feel you need help you can always try taking a look at example personal statements. Do remember to look at these critically though. Other people's university applications can be a lesson in what not to do more than anything else.
It might be worth remembering that no matter how great you think someone else's personal statement looks on paper, nothing is a substitute for letting your personality shine through. A personal statement is exactly what it says it is: personal. Trying to sound flashy and impressive can actually undermine everything you write and leave admissions tutors feeling that you are probably fake. If you keep things simple and are true to yourself, there's no reason why your personal statement should worry you. As a matter of fact, you can go away right now and ace it!