How to write your UCAS Personal Statement
As an Oxbridge graduate and an A level tutor, one of the most common questions I am asked by students is “How do I write my personal statement (or section 10)?”
With an increase in universities making students offers without meeting them for interviews, the importance of the personal statement has become absolutely paramount as it is often now the only opportunity an applicant has to give a sense of themselves and their personality to admissions tutors. Yet many students remain confused about the intended content of the personal statement, asking “What should my personal statement include”.
As there is so little formal guidance, I would like to share my own ideas for what makes a top Personal Statement. Of course there are many different approaches and this is by no means a magic formula, but it worked for me and has been extremely successful too for the students I have coached towards Oxbridge applications.
Your Personal Statement: The Basics
First and foremost it is essential to really understand the function of the personal statement. Due to the use of the word ‘personal’, many students mistakenly think this is the place to tell all about their interests and hobbies and give a sense of what sort of person they are, and forget all about academics.
Think about it this way. The personal statement will be read by the supervisors and tutors who specialise in your subject at the university you are applying to and who would be teaching you for the duration of your course if you are awarded a place. They want to know what kind of student you would be, whether you have the right attitude and academic approach to the subject, and whether they feel they would be able to teach you successfully.
So yes, it is about academia. Although it is still a good idea to include some evidence of extra-curricular activities towards the end (I usually suggest roughly a 60% - 40% split of academic to personal information), the essential thing to remember is that you should still be focussing on academic information, and the subject you are applying for, in your personal statement.
What to include in a Personal Statement: Academics
This is your opportunity to explain why you are passionate about the subject you are applying for, and what it is about your academic career that has attracted you to this course. So you should certainly talk in depth about your A level subjects, explaining what each one has taught you about the subject, what you have particularly enjoyed or been intrigued by, how your ideas about the subject have been shaped and changed.
It is a really good idea to mention specific topics, writers, modules or experiments that have really stood out for you in shaping your attitude towards the subject as this gives specificity to your statement and provides a great springboard for discussion during an interview if you should have one (so this is especially important for Oxbridge candidates.)
For goodness sake make sure the topics and writers you refer to directly are ones you are extremely familiar with and confident talking and debating about, as there is nothing worse than a student who claims to have loved a particular critic or author in their personal statement but flounders hopelessly when the topic is brought up at interview.
TOP TIP: For this reason it is always very advisable to read through your personal statement in the weeks leading up to your interview, to remind yourself of what you said and prepare to discuss it thoroughly. This gives you the chance to look back over any topics or articles that you may not remember fully as it is often several months later when you finally go for your interview.
Referring to the course in your Personal Statement
It is very important to use the personal statement to show how excited you are about your prospective university course. If you have a top choice university then angle your statement particularly towards them, even mentioning specific aspects of the course that you are particularly passionate about and looking forward to.
Admissions staff want to see a genuine enthusiasm for what their university specifically has to offer and it immediately sets you out from the crowd if you have clearly researched the subject fully.
Another important thing to remember is that the tutors are looking to see who would successfully be able to tackle the course, so it looks really good if you mention different skills and techniques you have learned from your A level studies that you feel have prepared you or stand you in particularly good stead for the university level of study.
For example, if you are studying English, you may want to mention that having to perform in a public debate over the contrasting opinions of different critics has really taught you how to summarise different critical arguments and compare their pertinent points in reference to a specific work of literature.
Putting the ‘personal’ in your Personal Statement
It is important to add in some personal information, as the final function of your personal statement is to show what sort of an individual you are, predominantly to show whether you would be a valuable and contributing member of the university society at large.
TOP TIP: The absolute most important thing about this section is to remember to explain how and why each of your extra-curricular activities has shaped you as a person and is going to be relevant to your university experience.
For example, saying in your statement that you played for the school football team, took grade 8 flute and were a prefect gives some information about you, but it is information that thousands of other candidates will have on their CV.
To really stand out, it is absolutely essential to frame this information so that you emphasise that playing for the school football team has impressed on you the importance of leadership and helped you learn fully how to cooperate and work successfully as a team with your peers. That taking grade 8 flute has been time-consuming and so has been invaluable in improving your time-management skills and your self-discipline, which you feel will be a huge strength when you get to university and are in charge of managing your own time to a much greater extent than you were at school. That being a school prefect has not only helped you learn how to communicate with and help younger pupils with problems, but given you a great sense of responsibility and played an important part in your process of maturation and readiness for the step to higher education.
Finally, it is a great idea to try to make your statement stand out in some way, but trying to be too funny or clever doesn’t go down well. Sometimes a simple personal anecdote about a passion for the subject from a young age, or a pertinent quote is a great way to open.
Just keep it simple and clear, really let a sense of your passion for the subject and your excitement and enthusiasm to learn and make the leap to higher education shine through and you will find yourself standing far ahead of the field.
HAVE YOU HAD A GOOD OR BAD EXPERIENCE OF APPLYING TO UNIVERSITY? DO YOU HAVE OTHER IDEAS FOR WRITING THE PERFECT PERSONAL STATEMENT? PLEASE SHARE THEM WITH ME AND OTHER USERS USING THE COMMENT BOX BELOW, I'D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!