How to write a great personal statement: tips from students
This article was written by Karl Langton, published on 7th December 2010 and has been read 41006 times.
Writing a personal statement can be time-consuming, frustrating and slightly overwhelming. In so many words, you’re expected to tell the university why they should pick you personally for your chosen course, and at that said university. Thus, you need to prepare and make sure you write towards these specific goals, whilst also being true to yourself, and your interests. Here are a few pointers as to how to go about writing a personal statement:
1. What you want to study and why
Jot down what interests you about the course, with specifics. There’s no point in saying you really like it or you think it’s for you if you don’t mention and highlight specific aspects of the course. You can then link, in bullet points, what work you’ve previously carried out that relates to this course, be it coursework, presentations, extra-curricular activities and such. You might even have had a part time job, or taken up voluntary work, that has some form of relation to the course, so don’t forget to mention it here.
2. Personal experience
Here, you can write down what work you’ve done outside of school, if you’ve helped out at school open days, if you’ve got a business idea, etc. These bullet points aim to show you are a reliable, hardworking individual, who can take initiative.
3. Hobbies, interests and skills
This part aims to focus on you as a person. Note down sports you enjoy, teams you’re part of, subjects you may be studying that are not marked, musical instruments you may play and languages that you speak. You could also mention here any prizes you have obtained over your scholastic life.
4. Gap years
If you’re planning on taking a gap year, write down your reasons why and where you’re planning on travelling to. You should also think about how this can relate to your course. If you’re not planning on taking a gap year, leave it out!
5. Things to remember
If you don’t have much in one section, don’t worry - this is just a starting point to get a better idea about what you can include and omit in your personal statement. Great grades aren’t necessarily the be all and end all of university acceptance letters - saying why you’ve chosen to study your course is perhaps the most important part of your application form, and most definitely of your personal statement. Think of various reasons, not just one, and try and put yourself in the admissions’ tutor’s shoes - don’t go with the clichéed or the too-exotic, be truthful and relevant. If you’re planning on studying for a joint degree, speak of both courses and don’t just focus on your favourite one. If you’re applying for different courses, make sure you focus on the skills required for each of them and try and tailor it to what the highest-ranking universities have asked for. If you’re applying for, say Chemistry and Business Studies, precision and memory are going to be two skills you need. If you’re sending your application to, say, 4 universities which are asking for higher grades than the others, tweak your personal statement to fit in with requisites - universities that offer places for lower grades are not as harsh when it comes to critiquing your personal statement.
6. Compare your ideas with others'
Read other personal statements, from students at your school or here for an idea of how to write one most effectively and convincingly.
7. Getting your goals across
The other thing to remember when writing your personal statement is to get your personal goals across - you may have seen some great statements, and some you didn’t like so much. Write down what parts you did and didn’t, and try and work from there. Don’t try to hard in your personal statement; you don’t want to sound arrogant or pretentious, and on the other hand create interest. Starting and ending your sentences with something of relevance and interest is also key. Don’t include anecdotes which are not related to your course, or the university - there’s no point in talking about the hockey team if you’re planning on studying Astrophysics. You should also avoid using words you wouldn’t normally use, as it sounds pompous. Another thing to remember is to not plagiarise - don’t cut and copy from websites, other statements or quotes from books - if your admissions tutor sees this, he/she might disqualify your application. The point of a personal statement is, in effect, personal.
8. Writing your personal statement
Choosing adequate language and expressions, that fit in with your course, is of utmost importance. Read and highlight key words and requisites from the course page and description of your prospectuses. Next, organise your thoughts and ideas. You can write your personal statement as though it were an essay, though most students choose to divide up into paragraphs - it’s up to you! The first part of your personal statement should speak of the course and your interest in it and the second part should focus on you as an individual, with your interests and hobbies, as well as extra-curricular activities highlighting why you should be picked to be on the course. This is just a guideline, but here are some notes as to how you could divide your personal statement:
Paragraph 1: Introduction to the subject you’ve chosen, mentioning which parts you’re interested in and why
Paragraph 2: What have you achieved that is related to your subject and that isn’t already mentioned on your application form
Paragraphs 3 and 4: Work experience and activities you’ve done at school
Paragraph 5: What you’ve done outside of school
Paragraph 6: Your goal of going to university and your closing comment
9. Get help
Once you’ve typed up a rough copy, don’t forget to save it and then show it round your friends, family and careers advisor at school. You can then get an idea of what to change, reformat and look into. Compare and contrast these thoughts and opinions with your original draft. It’s not uncommon for students to re-write their personal statement more than 10 times, though some need more drafts and others less. Remember to keep it truthful and to the point.
10. And finally
Give yourself enough time, leave it for a couple of days and go back to it. You should have, thanks to this advice, a great personal statement thanks to preparation and revision.