Economics Personal Statement Help, Tips & Advice
I remember when I first wrote my economics personal statement way back in 2009 and was struggling to get started and was pretty daunted being a 17 year old facing possibly the most important 47 lines of my life. I just didn't know where to begin, so this is I why want to draft this little account to act like: a five step action plan for anyone (and what my past self would have wanted) looking to create a 'competitive' personal statement for straight economics.
Note: are you studying a joint course? E.g. economics and maths, economics and politics, economics with finance etc. if so, please see the bottom for advice first and if not, please continue.
Step One: 'Personal Statement' Research
You are nowhere near towards writing the statement as of yet, this stage is all about the planning. Understand that you need to put yourself in the 'shoes' of the university applications assessor and think what would they look for in a good economics personal statement.
Structure: usually behind any good personal statement you will see that pretty much each paragraph has a designated task & has a certain flow to it.
The first section (introductory paragraph) usually resounds around an original/unique story as to how you started to get interested in Economics and then (usually second sentence) why you want to study it at university. The more specific and personal you are with this, the better it comes across.
I personally found this be the most difficult section of the lot and left it for last (and as you will see sort of tied into my second section), but found I came of quite cheesy half the time, probably another contributor as to why I struggled to start it in the first place. I did come up with some half decent ideas in the end though (which you will see in Step two).
The second section mostly acts as evidence to the fact that you are interested in economics as a subject & consider yourself somewhat of a prospective economist. So independent outside curriculum reading, journals, developments of your economic theory & knowledge. What I thought was a good idea at the time was to show a path of an evolving interest.
Don't quote me but I believe the source of my interest stemmed from the international economic inequalities among countries after a school charity visit to Kenya and so then I eventually read up on Development Economics (as my outside reading) and came across the Great Divergence (between China and Europe) then that finally worked its way on to foreign aid & country economic development where I came across books from Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion, Jeffery Sachs (the guy who helps Bono), The End of Poverty and William Easterly, The White Man's Burden - all having their distinct opinions on foreign aid & its use. Really interesting stuff if you ever get the chance to read into it actually.
Then obviously the more you read and understand the concepts, the more economic terminology you can effectively use in your personal statement and the more likely you will come across as a competent prospective economist (bordering on the grounds of Spence's signalling theory coming into play there, which is sort of ironic as it is why most of us apply for an Economics degree in the first place).
The third section this is basically how all your economics related extra curricular activities come into play. The boasting section with work experience (this is always a difficult one with regards to economics though), further academic achievements, economics societies at your school (econsoc), extra economic courses you have undertaken (e.g. LSE lectures and so on).
The fourth section on how you are as a person, the sports you are interested in, basically what you get up to. Trying to convince the assessor that you have the necessary social skills to work well within a university environment. That being said, this section really shouldn't be too much more than a few lines in my opinion. Focus mainly on the central body of the personal statement.
Be sure to read and research more around the structure and what should be going into an economics personal statement there are some great guides online (specifically check out what the top universities recommend that they want to see in your personal statements too e.g. LSE, Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol, Durham etc.) out there and videos.
Step Two: Ideas Going into the Economics Personal Statement
This is the brainstorming stage. Now you should have a clear understanding as to what should be going into each section of the statement, you should feel like everything is coming together a bit more. For instance, I'd have something like the following laid out in either bullet points or a mind map of sorts:
Section 1- Showing why I am interested in Economics & why it is the next natural academic step for you.
- Curious as to impacts of inequalities across countries as well as a micro scale after a personal experience (e.g. my trip to Kenya to do some volunteering).
- The other one I was considering was in Geography GCSE or AS Level we come across the Malthusian theory proposed by Thomas Malthus and his Essay on the Principle of Population and see if it ever holds true or will.
Section 2 - Demonstrating that I am budding Economist. Here, I want to show I have done research, understood basic economic theory, developed on conclusions made, basically showing a path of economic interest I have been on.
- Mention the readings I have conducted: Easterly, Sachs, Collier and what I personally infer from all of them collectively -- perhaps I am in concurrence with another journal article that I had read that discusses all three theories on foreign aid for economic international development.
Section 3 - An economic skill set that I have developed from additional extra curricular activities.
- Attended LSE lecture, workshop, seminar
- Undertook an Oxford Short Online course or Open University one
- Academic competitions entered (not necessarily won)
- Work experience (although this tends to be an iffy matter, unless you actually shadowed an economist)
- Won award for Economist of the Year
Section 4 - Showing you are a normal human being.
- Wrote for the school newspaper with a comedy column.
- Run a website/blog.
- Captain of the Football Team etc.
- Strong work ethic.
- Volunteering and so on.
The more ideas, the more points you have under each section the better, ultimately though you want one/two going into the next. Like, I said you could do it in a list format or you could do it as a mind map. From there you should start draw up some nice little strategies too as to how everything links together, section to section.
For instance, I started with going on a trip to Kenya which sparked my curiosity in international economic inequality and growth, this led into readings surrounding the issues, attended an LSE lecture on the matter and undertook a Macroeconomics course from the University of Oxford to gain an even greater understanding. Then wrote up an EPQ about it and in turn achieved my Economist of the Year award and continue to keep up to track with current on-goings with my Economics blog.
This was just an example, but you can see that there is an overall narrative that I have portrayed and haven't just listed it out. Each one ties into the other and back to another and so on -- all trying to natural flow from one statement to the next.
You can really start to cut out the fluff on certain aspects & get down to the meat. You have a limited amount of words to work with so you have to be "punchy", every word and concept you put down in your Economics personal statement has to truly earn its place.
Step Three: Look at Successful Economics Personal Statement Examples
The majority of examples can be found on studential.com and thestudentroom.co.uk (they also have a free personal statement review service that I thoroughly recommend just read the rules before submitting though) as well as in dedicated personal statement books (they are good but you have to pay for them, if you do though, get used ones). You can also find some of them popping about as well with a quick google search.
However, the point of these is to get an 'idea' of what a successful one looks like (i.e what to do) and what unsuccessful ones look like (i.e what not to do). It is not to copy them in anyway or form, the UCAS plagiarism checker is highly sensitive and if you have been caught copying even half a sentence then your personal statement may get flagged.
You can extract ideas from them though, that you will feel will enhance your statement further such as certain economic vocabulary they use to demonstrate knowledge on an aspect -- should spark you to think that you should read around that to get a deeper understanding. Also, you will see that a lot of them are absent of cliches such as reading "The Economist", reading "Freakanomics" or Adam Smith is their favourite Economist and so on.
Remember you're not an economist yet and that are you wanting to become one, your personal statement should reflect this.
Step Four: Time to Start Writing
There's no getting around this part, it is hard. Granted it is only 4000 characters, however formulating ideas and concepts you have written out is still difficult. That being said, imagine how much worse it would be without a clear structure in place from which to resonate from.
With regards to the writing style, it is not about trying to sound clever, it is about clearly getting across ideas & concepts that you have undertaken as your economic idea (that being the 'foreign aid to develop less economically developed countries in the example above). However, usually the best way (if not the only way) is to use Economic terminology & vocabulary appropriately and this is what will separate you as an Economist from a layman.
Personally I wouldn't write fluffy metaphorical language comparing Economics to a puzzle or forest (I don't know), just be direct. There's no space for lacklustre adjectives or ambiguity you need factual terms and statements, something that means something. There's a good guide from Paulwhy on the studentroom you should have a look at the thread is called "Any Questions on how to do a good Economics personal statement?" it is old but every word still holds true.
Step Five: Re-Write, Re-Draft, Review
Chances are you will have overwritten, that's good. Time to cut down on unnecessary words, sentences and non-specifics which don't add to the personal statement.
Get teachers to review it, not asking if it is any good, but more on what aspects and areas can be improved.
Good luck on those applying for Economics, it really is a great subject to be studying. Hopefully some of this advice has been helpful to you. Moreover, if you have any questions I am more than happy to help, just make them in the comments below and I will be sure to get back to you.
Joint Economics Personal Statements
When undertaking a joint course with Economics your personal statement structure is going to be a little different you're going need to take the same general concept above and relate it to the two, which isn't easy by any means. But you will need to show interest & offer evidence that you wish to study both subjects as usually you will have both departments reviewing your application. E.g. for Economics and Management you'd have Economics and Management departments (although the University of Oxford could be an exception to this).