Some tips and hints on Writing a good personal statement
The Universities & Colleges Admission Services (UCAS) is the body that centrally manages all the applications for higher education within the UK. During university application through UCAS, one of the important steps is writing Personal Statement (PS). Based on my experience, I have tried to give some guidelines about writing a good PS. A good personal statement can help differentiate you from the ‘crowd’ and could be the difference between an offer and a rejection. Since it is an important part of your application to university, it is definitely worth investing your time into making it the best reflection of who you are. It is essential to remember that it is an excellent opportunity to market yourself. There are three primary aspects which require our attention, viz. structure, content and editing. It is also imperative that you remember that there is a limit of either 4000 characters or 47 lines whichever is more restrictive.
Structure & Content
I decided on a 5 paragraph approach to my personal statement which clearly divided the sections and meant that I could easily weight the characters to things that mattered. It also did not waste them on irrelevant information. Below is a guideline of a personal statement and feel free to tailor it to your specific needs, make it your own so that it portrays your personality in a positive manner!
You should keep this paragraph fairly brief and a few lines should do the trick. The main idea is to catch the reader’s interest. Some insist on beginning with a quote although I find this is a waste of precious characters and detracts from the focus which is you. It would be a good place to say why you are interested in the course you are applying for. It is important to convey your interest and enthusiasm for the subject from the offset. This is more difficult if applying for multiple courses and try to be more general in this case and not state any specifics to one course in particular.
Every applicant will have said that they are interested and enthusiastic about the subject but what makes you stand out is the evidence you have that shows your interest. For most people, this is talking about work experience that they have completed. It shows that you have taken a concrete interest in the field and also that you have researched and thought about what you want to do carefully. You can also include other jobs and work experience which is not directly related but where you have developed tools which should stand you in good stead as you complete your degree. It is important not to just list where you have been and for how long. Talk about what you learnt and what skills you have gained from the experience. If you haven’t completed any work experience then consider applying for a placement which could be mentioned or extend paragraph 3 (given below) that shows your interest in the subject.
3.Evidence of interest
This is a very important paragraph; it substantiates what you have said about, how enthusiastic and eager about the subject. This can be from articles you write for the local paper to the latest science project you’re busying yourself with. Include mostly academic activities which relate to the degree that show that you are interested beyond just the given syllabus and you’re exploring the field in your own time. Stuff you have done which has developed your skills can also be included in this paragraph. For example, organising a charity fund raiser shows good organisational skills and time management. Other examples may be the Duke of Edinburgh award or a position of importance you have held at school such as head boy/ girl or prefect etc. All of this information helps to build a picture of you, one which hopefully is exactly what they are looking for in a prospective student.
This is where you can talk about all of the wonderful things you have done outside of school such as playing for the village cricket team or learning piano to a grade 5 level and such things. This helps to show that you are more than a robotic working machine. Including extra-curricular activities shows that you have a rounded character and are going to make best use of your time at university and not just learn what’s going on in lectures. It also shows that you possess good time management skills and team working or leadership ability which will stand you in good stead.
This is the point to sum up all of the points you have made briefly. You should focus on why you are a suitable candidate for the course and why you have the potential to excel in the university environment. Attempt to leave them convinced of your enthusiasm and commitment for the subject after all they are going to pick students who want to learn.
Good structure and coherent content make up the backbone of a good personal statement but it can be let down by bad grammar or spelling. It is important not to commit this cardinal sin as it can be very off-putting when reading and make it look like you haven’t put time and effort into it. So it is well worth spending time going over what you have written to make sure there aren’t any grammatical or spelling errors. It can also be very helpful to have your work proof read by someone whose command of the English language is better, maybe an English teacher or a friend.
Make sure that what you are writing makes sense; this can only be done by rereading it with fresh eyes. It should also flow; this is hard to explain but the end of each paragraph should lead onto the beginning of the next as this makes it far more pleasant to read.
While writing my personal statement I found there are a number of pitfalls that you can fall into. The first was using big words usually technical instead of simple language. Although this seems appealing as it makes you look intelligent. You have to think and ask yourself whether you know exactly what it means and can you explain it clearly. If not, then do not include these words as it can trip you up at interview. It may also have been used in the wrong context, which would make you look a bit foolish.
A big mistake which can be made is to lie about things that you haven’t done to make yourself more impressive than you really are. Most people are careful not to do this, but almost everyone is tempted to exaggerate their achievements in an attempt to sell yourself. It would definitely lead to a slippery slope and can be easy to be caught out in interviews. So it is a good idea to stick to the facts and not to blow your accomplishments out of proportion.
So while doing research for writing, you happen to stumble upon a personal statement adorned with beautiful expressions, so what’s the harm with placing it in yours? Well, it can lead to disqualification by UCAS as they possess sophisticated software which matches similar phrases and patterns. So it would be wise to steer clear of using other people’s personal statements.
Some applicants need to make minor changes to their personal statements to strengthen their applications. I have given here some points but this list is by no means exhaustive.
Oxbridge candidates must make sure that the bulk of the characters are used in the second and third paragraph and minimise the emphasis on extracurricular activities. Also write more about activities you have undertaken which have strengthened your academic prowess.
Gap year students need to devote space to say out what you plan to do in your gap year, why you are taking it and also why it makes you a better candidate. Remember you will be competing against students of the next year. Don’t just say you plan to take a yearlong holiday in the Bahamas that will lead in most cases to a straight rejection. Write about any charity work you’re doing or work placements you’ve secured.
- Medical students need a high level of emphasis on the work placements as medicine is not a subject studied in school (also true for Engineering). Work placement show enthusiasm and also that you are aware of what a career in medicine entails. While it is vital to show that you can handle the science and that you are interested in this aspect of medicine you should also aim to show why you want to help people and how you have seen medicine having an impact around you. This shows that you possess a compassionate side which is required for most people who work in this field especially with patient contact.
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