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Personal Statements: 101

We really can empathise with the agony associated with starting your personal statement; that fine line between a catchy opening statement and a cliché, the decision between appropriate abbreviations and just utter nonsense to save on character count – we have been there!

With the summer holidays in full swing, now is a fantastic time to start looking at composing your personal statements and potentially - deep breath- finalising them.

We are all too familiar with the intimidation of a blank word document and understand that the prospect of summarising your suitability for a course in 4000 characters is daunting to say the least. That is why we have devised 6 tips and tricks to help you structure and compose an eye-catching Personal Statement:

1) PLAN – now I know planning is not necessarily everyone’s favourite past time but I cannot emphasise enough how useful this will be. Loosely choose a few subheadings of categories you would like to include in your personal statement and start bullet pointing ideas underneath each. Some examples of these subheadings could be ‘Course and why’, ‘Work experience’, ‘Relevant Literature’, ‘Education’, ‘Extracurricular activities’ etc. Now you can see these are not ground breaking subtilties however, by narrowing down the individual points you would like to include within these categories you will start to form a loose structure without even realising it.

Whilst creating your bullet points you may realise that some ideas you would like to include in your personal statement might not necessarily fall under one of your categories. Now this isn’t to say it is not relevant, you may later decide that actually is the case, but instead reflect on this idea as it could be a unique aspect or quality you have which could work as an excellent opening or closing statement …

2) OPENING SENTENCE - You want to start off with an engaging and unique opening sentence to capture the admission officer’s attention. As you can imagine, they read thousands of applications so the more memorable your opening sentences the more likely it is that your name and application will be remembered. The first sentence is crucial as it will define your statement and ultimately yourself as a potential student.

Here are some ideas you could base your opening sentence on:

· A title or phrase from a book that truly inspired you to study this field (you could even look for key researchers and mention them). To this point I would like to add that I am not encouraging you to use a famous quote or one you have just googled. By doing this you are missing the point of it being meaningful and it can seem cliché.

· A vivid description of a scene from your work experience that really solidified why this was the avenue you wanted to pursue.

· A particular area of interest within the field you have come across and would like to understand further (e.g. suspension bridges for potential engineering students or a particular law you felt was unjust or a historic event that is shrouded in mystery)

· A particular moment in time where you applied knowledge you already had to a critical situation and how it has inspired you to want to learn more

These are just a few examples but think of a format that would be appropriate to the degree you would like to study and how you can show the reader you are passionate without having to tell them.

3) CHARACTER COUNT – the 4000-character limit may seem random however it has been carefully calculated to this value for a reason. After a few attempts at reducing your first draft you will realise that keeping within the limit is quite a challenge. The temptation here is to try to abbreviate and summarise so that you can maximise the content you can include. Now in some cases re-reading your draft and finding ways to summarise sentences into smaller phrases can be incredibly useful. However, the main reason behind the necessity of the character count is so that universities can see the information you feel is important to prioritise. The point of your statement is not to ‘pack in’ as much information as possible but instead it is to prioritise defining aspects of yourself and help them to realise that you are the ideal student for this course. Not everyone will agree with me on this point but personally, I feel this could be a case where you show or hint at particular qualities but do not necessarily provide every little detail.

Some university courses will require an interview, if this is the case for your course then the interview is the perfect opportunity for you to expand and give more detail on points you have mentioned in your personal statement. If, however, you have already exhausted your points in the statement it doesn’t leave you with much to expand on.

4) PERSONALITY – On reflection of the above points it seems as though writing your personal statement is a very serious affair, yes it needs to be formal however you also need the admissions officer to see elements of your personality shine through. If you feel a light-hearted comment or anecdote will add to your statement then include it. On the contrary however, avoid being outwardly humorous, not everyone has the same sense of humour and we want to minimise the possibility of this back firing!

5) PHRASING - Further to this, try to show enthusiasm and passion for your course without using the phrases ‘enthusiastic’ or ‘passionate’. This can seem tricky but it is much more powerful to show that you feel this way rather than just writing the phrase. For example, show enthusiasm by describing the pleasure you had reading a certain book, listening to a podcast or researching a particular topic. Show passion and initiative by describing the online courses you have taken in your particular subject and what you have learnt from them.

6) UNIQUE – Sadly, it can sometimes be the case that your unique qualities can get forgotten when you are focusing on the academic content of your personal statement. You want to show what an ideal student you would be by more than just your grades. Universities want to invest in individuals and its tricky to get to know the individual when you are only handed a list of their achievements. It is incredibly important for you to remember that your individuality and distinctiveness is exactly what they want! Ask yourself, from thousands of applications what is going to make yours stand out? If they only knew one thing about you what would you want that to be? Have you tried an unusual sport, competed in a significant sports tournament, volunteered during a particularly challenging event? The answers to these questions are your unique qualities that, as long as they are relevant, should not be overlooked.

Don’t be intimidated by the idea of your personal statement, you will change and adapt what you have written multiple times between now and the final UCAS submission so please do not expect your first copy to be perfect. Just start by noting down a few ideas into the subheadings mentioned above and get the ball rolling. Even if these are not perfect and you end up discarding lots of them, it will give you a loose structure to flow from. Take time in-between writing your statement. Leave it for a few days, and come back to the draft with a fresh mind. Your final copy might be a far cry from the original or it may just need a few tweaks here and there – remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day so be patient.


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