Writing a personal statement - helping your students
11th April 2016
Writing a personal statement is a task all students must complete when applying to university. These 4000 characters could be the student’s only chance to ‘speak’ directly to the admissions tutor for their chosen course – so students need to make every character count!
The Statement’s fundamental aim is to demonstrate that the student will be an excellent participant on the courses they are applying to. It is primarily an academic statement, and it should be targeted at the subject they are most interested in, giving convincing reasons why they want to study the course. It is not enough to simply describe how great the course is.
Many will argue that the hardest part of writing a personal statement is actually getting started. Rather than staring at a blank piece of paper and waiting for inspiration to come, it could be worth breaking down the statement into smaller, more manageable sections. First and foremost, students should think about:
‘Why do they want to study this subject?’ They should include their knowledge of the subject area and why the subject interests them. If they have (realistic) long term career plans, they should make a link between these and the course they've chosen to study.
Then, the bulk of their statement should cover, ‘What have they done in the past that makes them particularly suitable to study the subject?’ This should focus on their academic studies related to this subject, and any relevant project work they have done. They can add things they have learnt outside of their studies, and discuss their hobbies and interests including any relevant work/voluntary experiences. Asking themselves ‘So what?’ for each point they make will help them in deciding whether something is relevant or not. In addition, adding any relevant extracurricular study such as a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course – check out www.futurelearn.com) will really add value to their statement by showing that they have a genuine interest in that subject area and that they can evidence that they can work independently.
Lastly, it is worth them covering ‘What else have they done that would contribute to the university community?’ Mentioning any significant responsibilities they hold and special achievements they have recently accomplished is a good idea.
These three questions are a good place to start, but with admissions tutors seeing the same mistakes each year, students need to ensure that their statement stands out. Here are some things for students to think about:
Don’t be afraid of details, it’s more compelling to read about one or two detailed examples than five or six brief ones.
Don’t refer to experiences that took place before GCSE level (or equivalent).
If you mention a skill, use a sentence to explain how you demonstrated it.
Be reflective! Try not to write about things you have done without saying what you got from it.
Lastly, the big DO NOTs. Universities do not want to read other people’s quotes or read over-used clichés such as ‘Since I was a child…’. Definitely do not waste space by writing a list and avoid bigging yourself up with unproven claims.
The simple stuff seems so obvious but it is always worth reminding your students. For example, they must check their spelling. UCAS say that poor grammar and missing words are a real problem and students can employ many eyes (parents, advisors and teachers) to pass over their statement to make sure there are no errors. And of course it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), DO NOT copy anyone else! Universities can spot plagiarism a mile off and it could ruin their chances of getting accepted.
The most important thing when it comes to personal statement writing is for students to make time to write it! Some of the best statements will have been written and rewritten many times, students need to write in an enthusiastic, concise and natural style and the words will start to flow. The admissions selectors will only see their final version so why not just get started!
The personal statement 4000 character limit includes spaces and should be no more than 47 lines. (PS: this article is 3988 characters)
To find out more about Unifrog and our university application management tools including personal statements and teacher references please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org