It is that time of year again when the UCAS deadlines begin to loom, and students turn their attention towards that all important five hundred words. Universities place a great deal of importance on their personal statement, and that is why it is vital that students get it right. As a former sixth form tutor, I have read countless statements and helped students draft and redraft until it is perfect. Here are some tips to help students with the drafting of their statement, in order to make sure they truly shine!
Do the research
Before beginning a personal statement, students should be very clear on what it is they are applying for. They need to look at the course they wish to study and what will be involved. It can help to think from the perspective of the admissions tutors – what skills do students on this course need to have? What would they be looking for in potential students? The main point of a personal statement is to show the tutors that you are the perfect person for the course, so you should start by working out what constitutes “the perfect fit” in their eyes. The university prospectus is a useful starting point, but you can also check out the department website (there is sometimes a separate site for prospective students) and of course going to Open Days where you can meet the tutors is also a valuable experience.
You will need to consider the entrance requirements carefully to ensure that your predicted grades indicate your will be able to meet these. However, it can also help to look at any list of student attributes there might be, and use these to help you plan and structure your statement.
Why this Subject?
Normally, admissions tutors will want to see first and foremost that you have a deep interest in the subject. Studying a course at university is intense, and they need to ensure that students will not get bored and decide they no longer wish to pursue the course. Plus, you will need to be highly motivated to work independently on your studies, and this will be harder to do if you do not really care about the subject.
This means that they will want to see evidence of this interest. What reading have you done? Have you attended any courses related to the subject? Or undertaken any work experience? What is it about the subject that drives your passion and motivation? You only have five hundred words, so you do not want to produce an essay, but you do need to highlight the elements of the subject that particularly inspire you. For example, if you are applying for English Literature, are you particularly interested in studying black women writers? Or do you have an interest in Irish writing? They want to see that you will be an active participant on the course, and someone who is going to contribute to studies in that field.
Relevance of A Levels
The tutors will want you to write about your A Level studies, but you need to do this with a view to explaining how the skills and knowledge you have developed will be relevant to the course. This might be tricky if you are applying for French and you are doing A Level Maths, but there probably will be links and connections you have not thought of (both are all about a form of decoding and finding patterns after all!) Identify specific topics/units that have stood out to you in your studies and explain why you have found them inspiring, and how they lead you to a decision about what you want to study at university level.
Remember as well that they will want to see that you have gone beyond the texts/topics on your A Level courses. What wider reading have you done? Has it inspired you to carry out any further independent research?
This can be a bit of a controversial one and needs balance when discussing these in your personal statement. Tutors do want to see that you are an interesting individual who will contribute to the wider life of the university. At the same time though, they want to make sure you are not someone who overcommits themselves, and may find they do not have enough time for their studies. So when you mention your extracurricular activities, think about what you have actually gained from these, and if possible, try to link it to your course and the skills they are looking for.
This will work better with some extracurricular activities than others, for example if you are on a debating team, this will have obvious benefits if you are applying for law. You do not need to rush out and find new hobbies suddenly, but do have a think about which ones are going to be most helpful in terms of supporting your application.
Keep it real!
On a side note, make sure you do not make any claims you will not be able to support later on. This is especially important if you are applying for a course where you may be interviewed later on. The personal statement will form a key basis of your interview, and you do not want to face the embarrassment of being quizzed on a book you have not actually read, or asked about a hobby you were planning to start, but never actually got around to.
Make sure you use paragraphs in your statement, and that each of them has a key focus, for example A Levels or extracurricular activities. If you change the topic, start a new paragraph. Furthermore, with your sentences, be wary of falling into the trap of starting every sentence with “I”. This is very easy to do when you are writing about yourself, but it can make your writing feel clunky and uninspiring – definitely a response you do not want from the tutor!
Pay close attention to your opening and ending. Some students like to begin with a quotation or an anecdote to draw the reader in and make their statement stand out from the rest. Similarly, make sure you have a clear conclusion that reinforces why you are the perfect candidate for their course.
If you or your child is struggling with their personal statement, why not book a power hour with a qualified English teacher? To find out more, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.