How to write a personal statement to study abroad

How to write a personal statement to study abroad University acceptance letter by Carlie K Photography

This article was written by Susie Pritchard, published on 9th December 2010 and has been read 110499 times.

With so many students deciding to study abroad, either within Europe or further afield, being an undergrad in the UK is sometimes not enough - foreign universities want good grades, good personalities and good personal statements. How does one go about penning their thoughts and ideas about the upcoming year abroad, to make it as enticing as possible for universities abroad? 

You can have a look at our article for a quick refresh session about the actual ins and outs of a personal statement, but this is just a starting block - after two years (or more) of studying your degree, you need to really show your potential host university you’ve got what it takes to be their ideal student...

1. Do your research
There’s no point in you writing to various universities in the vague hope of securing a place through your own steam or thanks to Erasmus - make sure you know as much about the university as the Dean himself. Look at league tables, find forums, ask around, check the credentials and their requirements, basically geek yourself up - sorry gear yourself up, though both expressions work! You need to make sure this is going to be the place you want to be for the next semester, six months or year... You never know, you might even choose to study your postgrad abroad, so make sure you pick somewhere that you’ll like and will help you in the future.

2. Speak to 4th Years about where they went
Your home university should have a database enabling you to see where others have trod before you - try and find them on Facebook, or why not post something here, to have students from other universities answer your questions... Hearing it straight from the (student) horse’s mouth will put your doubts at rest, as well as help you get a more honest idea of what the university is like. You can also ask other students where they applied to, what they studied and what the interview/application process was like. Some universities choose to interview in person or on the phone, others are content with a well-written application form. You’ll also want to know just how long you’ll have to wait to hear back from them - it might be a few days or a couple of months. By gathering how long it will take for you to get an answer, you can make alternative plans, in case you’re not chosen to be on the course.

3. Writing the deed
Now you’ve done your research, you’ve asked around, made sure you like the university (from what you’ve heard and seen), as well as the course, and heck, the country, you’re going to have to put pen to paper....and jot down some ideas. Some universities ask particular questions (what have you studied, why are you interested in University of Foreign, what caught your attention about the course, why should we pick you etc...), whilst others expect you to just write an incredible essay with your application form. If it’s the latter, don’t go all a-quiver in your boots; you’ve written essays and personal statements before, it’s just a question of getting back in the swing of things. Writing a personal statement for a foreign university is pretty much like writing a one of these, except you’ll also have to include these points:

- Why are you interested in studying at that particular university? Here, you need to focus on the actual department, on the university, on their ethos and how it fits in with your home university as well as your personal way of thinking. You need to speak of their reputation, but don’t sugar-coat it too much - admissions tutors, foreign included, can see straight through this, so make sure you stay truthful and to the point.
If you’re not a linguist and you’re planning on going to a non-English speaking university, try and find common links between your interests, your course back home and going abroad - saying you’re dying for some hot weather isn’t really what they’re looking for here.

- Why have you decided on the course? Finding a similar course to yours might make this task a bit easier, as you’ll know what to write; if you choose to study something a little more different, or some modules outside of your field of expertise, you’ll need to think this through. Why have you chosen this/these? What can it/they offer you? How can the course contribute and complement your course back home? These are just a few ideas, but you should note down some key words, to help you write about it.

- Why should the university chose you? Bit of a toughie, it has to be said. Sometimes, one of the hardest things to do is sell yourself, especially in a foreign language to foreign people. Don’t think it’s an insurmountable task though - after all, you’ve got two years of university under your belt. Think of your attributes. Back home, how do you contribute to your course? What have you taken from it so far? Write about what you plan on achieving in the future and how this specific course will help. You need to focus on what makes you the ideal candidate - hard-working, studious, a great team-player, keen to learn, outspoken... whatever your skills, you need to write them here, and make sure they fit in with the university's course profile. There’s no point waxing lyrical about how great you are in a team, if the course is more tailored to one-to-ones. 

4. Getting feedback
Check your spelling. Check it again with a dictionary. Check your expressions, if you’re writing in French, Spanish etc. are they up to standard? Do you sound well-read or colloquial? Tone is really important here, so get your work checked over by the foreign language assistants, course tutors and Erasmus students. You need to make sure it reads honestly, concisely and well, either in English or in another language.

5. Honesty is the best policy
There’s no point in resorting to fancy language, parabolic descriptions or just plain lies in your application form. The chances are your course tutor will have to write a statement to go with yours, so you wouldn’t want theirs to throw a spanner in the works, just because you saw that the course was really competitive to get onto. Make sure you justify each point you make with an example. 

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