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How to write a personal statement

Your personal statement is possibly the most important (and most time-consuming!) part of your university application. As places become more competitive, it’s vital you take full advantage of this opportunity to really sell yourself to your university of choice and tell them why they should give you a place.

Here are some tips you may find helpful when writing your personal statement.

Don’t fall at the first hurdle – be organised

It may seem pretty obvious but organisation is key to your personal statement. Before writing the main body of text, get some rough ideas down on paper first using bullet points, mind maps or whatever you find helps. Think about what the admissions and subject tutors will be looking for and try your best you to present them with it.

The Studential website has put together a handy list of questions universities want to see answered in your personal statement:

  • Are you suited to the course that you are applying for?
  • Do you have the necessary qualifications and qualities for the course?
  • Are you conscientious, hardworking and unlikely to drop out?
  • Will you do your best and cope with the demands of the course?
  • Can you work under pressure?
  • Will you be able to adjust to your new environment at university?
  • What are your communication skills like?
  • Are you dedicated to this course and have you researched it well?
  • Do you have a genuine interest in the subject and a desire to learn more about it?

It may be helpful to try and answer these questions (elaborating beyond ‘yes’ or ‘no’!) before embarking on your actual statement.

Approach your introduction with caution

Nearly 700, 000 students applied for university last year, so originality isn’t going to be easy. According to the UCAS Guide to Getting into University, the most overused opening line was “From a young age, I have always been interested in… [insert subject]” followed by the almost identical line of “From an early age, I have always been interested in…”. As nice as these opening sentences are, it’s hard to deny they look very formulaic. It’s easy to spend ages stuck at the first hurdle so try writing the body of your Personal Statement and come back to the introduction later. If this tactic works for essays, then it will also work for your personal statement.

Grammar, grammar, grammar

Grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes can make any piece of writing look terrible so imagine how they look on an application into higher education. It is difficult to focus on the small things when writing something as important as your Personal Statement so get someone else to read through it for you before sending it off. Also, don’t try to impress the admissions officer with long words that you aren’t confident using – it will result in your losing focus and even worse, missing your point altogether.

Putting the personal into Personal Statement

Do ask your teachers for advice on what you should write but remember that the university want to find out about you – try to get across who you are and what your interests and strengths are as best you can. Don’t just write that you want to study your subject because you simply find it interesting– tell them why you find it interesting. Is there a book or play that inspired you to study English Literature? Did a role model influence you to pursue your studies in maths? You will stand out amongst the other applicants if the university can see exactly why you are so passionate. 

Extra-curricular activity

Write beyond your academic life but make sure it’s relevant. Any part-time jobs, hobbies, voluntary work or even a gap year will have a positive impact on your application and will give the admissions office an impression of a well-rounded individual. Do remember that you are using these extra-curricular activities in context – did you have to work under pressure in your part-time job? Did you have to adjust to new environments during your gap year? If you can apply these skills to studying at university, then you are well on your way!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

You should have a teacher at school allocated to help you with your personal statement so do take full advantage of this. Friends and family can also offer a wealth of information but if you find you need that extra bit of help, we have some excellent tutors here at Osborne Cawkwell, particularly skilled at offering advice about the university admissions process – please don’t hesitate to call us.

Good luck!

Photo: Jessica Mullen

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