University Entrance – the dreaded personal statement

The personal statement is a crucial part of university applications in the UK. It’s your chance to show what makes you unique, besides your birth name and UCAS ID. In just 4,000 characters you have to convince your chosen university that you are the best applicant, and that they should make you an offer immediately. These 4,000 characters are your only chance, so your personal statement needs to be good. Really good. Here are some tips on how to write a truly outstanding piece. At the end you should have said why you want to study this course, what led you to this decision and your achievements to date that evidence you as an achiever, team player and above all completer. (Remember the universities in the UK only get all their Government funding on your place if you actually complete the course and graduate). So where do you start?

1. Make a draft without a character counter.

Write freely, do not worry about the character counter, you are doing a draft and you will delete a lot of words and ideas on the second draft.

2. Take your time.

Do not rush it. A superb personal statement will not be ready in a couple of hours. Or even a couple of days. It took is likely to take more than a month to complete the best version. Sometimes it’s worth taking a break for a few days, then coming back to it afresh.

3. Find the perfect words and expressions.

It sounds more professional and elegant if you use ‘accomplish’ rather than ‘do’, or ‘presume’ rather than ‘think’, but try not to use too many fancy words as this could make your statement sound overdone and it will be difficult to read.

4. Concentrate on your strengths.

In these 4,000 characters you are trying to sell yourself to the university. A perfect product proposer is all about how great that thing is, and it’s the same with your personal statement. You should write about your experiences, your knowledge and your future plans. You should NOT write, “I wanted to learn Spanish but I gave it up after a week” or “I am not very good at maths, but I think this is understandable since I hate it so much.”

5. Find the perfect opening sentence.

Try starting with something interesting, unusual or surprising as will give a good first impression and make the admissions team want to read more as well as make it stand out. Just make sure it is relevant. You may be an award winner in some discipline and that is great, it might not be relevant to your course, but it will still show that you commit and work hard.

6. Make it your own work, voice and ideas.

Try not to read any other personal statements before writing the first few drafts of yours. It will simply give you a false idea. You are most definitely unique, and it is worthless to follow some set rules or patterns, or someone else’s ideas. After all, this is about you, not somebody else.

7. Be honest.

Do not write that you are fluent in Spanish if you can only say “I love you” in Spanish. Do not write that you are good at problem-solving if your sole example is a trick of carrying five bottles in one hand. If you are good, you are good the way you are. There is no need to create a false image, and indeed the truth will always come out sooner or later.

8. Get someone to proofread your statement.

Your parents, your teachers, your friends, your enemies… The more people you show it to, the more feedback you will get, and the better the final version will be. Of course, some advice will be better and some less so, but it is easier to ask many people first, and differentiate later.

9. Read it out loud many times.

It helped me a lot when I read my personal statement out to my family and friends. When you are writing it sentence by sentence, you might not realize that there is no cohesion between your paragraphs. But when you read it out, all the vague parts will magically appear, so you can correct them.

10. Once you submit your university application, stop reading it!

Waiting to hear from universities is the worst part of the whole process (even worse than completing the application form…). After you get the offer you wanted (which you will surely get!), you will know that your application was just perfect the way you sent it.

To sum up, be yourself and write honestly about your experiences. Use your own voice, because that is who you are, and the universities you are interested in. Most schools and many independent organisations will help you.

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