If you are a stressed student, use this wonderful picture of a lake to soothe you.
With A level results day three weeks behind us, and the start of the new academic year staring at many of us in the face, it seems crazy to think that the great UCAS cycle has started spinning again. Yes, it is that wonderful time of year when young people throughout the nation begin to fill in that ridiculously long application form, visit every corner of the country for open days, and consider what it is exactly that they want to do with their lives! An envious time indeed, and one I most certainly remember with warm nostalgic feelings…
Part of this process is, of course, the mythical personal statement, the notorious 4,000 character length (what even is that for a word count/character count?!?) that says why you are irrevocably passionate about the course that you want to study (except at my sixth form, you weren’t allowed to say passionate) and why you are smarter/ more hardworking/ more exceptional than any other student applying? Or is it just that other thing you have to do, but admissions officers won’t even read?
You’ll hear a lot of advice about personal statements, and sadly, there probably is truth in both of those previous definitions. Nevertheless, it is a fundamental part of the application, and the best thing you can do is to try your hardest to present yourself through it. So without further waffle, here is my sage, academia hardened advice on how to write it…
1) Firstly, one of my biggest lightbulb moments when I was writing mine was when a teacher pointed out that the personal statement is just the candidate proving "they won’t drop out of the course, so they will pay all the fees." This might sound a little blunt, but it certainly resonated with me. GCSE and predicted grades, as well as other qualifications and teacher references will show how "smart" you are so you don’t need to prove you are "Nobel Prize worthy" in 4,000 characters. Instead, see it as a way to show that you are committed to studying this course, deal with setbacks when you don’t do so well and are willing to work hard and improve; this shows that you will indeed survive the duration of the course, and the university (which is a business) will get their money.
2) Leading me too: use the personal statement to show that you like the course, and how you personally manifest that. I understand that planning the actual content is tricky, especially when there are rumours flying around that "this university hates you mentioning extracurricular activities" or "this university wants you to mention at least five books." I personally really like reading, and given my course is literature heavy, I spoke about the books I had read in my A-levels and in my personal time, why I liked them, and what general topics they have inspired me to continue studying.
However, if you haven’t read a book, don’t mention it. There are different ways to manifest your interest in a subject (films, talks, lectures, museums, trips, a particular teacher, podcasts, documentaries etc) and universities recognise this and want to hear about them. Equally, if you have volunteered somewhere, or you practice a sport regularly, recognise the qualities these activities will have taught you, and mention them: resourcefulness, dedication, organisation, teamwork, leadership and diligence.
3) Leading me further to: be original. This is hard, because if you are like me, and you aren’t particularly creative, then the prospect of trying to create a dynamic, out-of-the-box personal statement is headache-inducing. There are no right answers, but the biggest advice would be to avoid cliches. Maybe try and include a slightly less known book, and avoid ridiculous phrases such as "ever since I was a child" or starting with a quote (they know what Jane Austen has said, they want to know what you have to say). Also, remember it doesn’t have to be crazy. An admissions advisor who I spoke to told me that one personal statement he had read for English literature was written in verse- sadly, she didn’t get an offer. So: no poetry, and just try and be a little different; admissions advisers read hundreds of these, and hearing every economics candidate discuss Freakonomics can be draining.
4) Final mentions:
– No swearing or risky business. Keep it PG and formal, this is for a university place.
– Don’t try and be funny. Or, keep it relaxed humour. People have different tastes, and whilst making an admissions officer smile can be a good way to be remembered, if it backfires, it wouldn’t be good. This is a personal taste one, so just avoid being controversial and maybe get a couple of second opinions if you do want to make a joke.
– Make sure the spelling and grammar are correct; I know it sounds obvious, but you look terrible if there is a mistake.
– No quotes. No "passionate." No "fuelled my desire to learn." They sound fake and just take up the word count. Be genuine, you do actually like this subject- don’t you?
– Make sure everything you mention, you check with the phrase "so what?" Why does this make you a good candidate for this course?
-No plagiarism, lying or exaggerations. Sure, once you get a place, the personal statement will probably be forgotten, however, you never know if you will be asked for an interview, so honesty is always the best policy.
So there you go, so pointers to try and help you write a personal statement. It is called a personal statement for a reason, so make it reflective of yourself and your own interests. Finally, remember that there is more to your application that just that, so don’t stress too much about it, and just get it done. As always, if you have any questions, add a comment or message me directly on here, I am glad to help as I remember how fun this time was…
Best of luck,