Giving feedback on a Personal Statement can be frustrating: the process is often shared by multiple teachers, and then parents also like to give their views. Here are 10 tips on how to keep the process straightforward and make your feedback as useful as possible.
Before you give feedback make sure that you understand what universities want to see from a Personal Statement. To get you started, on the Personal Statements tool Unifrog offers some examples and advice.
Tip: the university course website will usually list the specific skills that Admissions Tutors are looking for in their candidates. Encourage students to keep referring back to this site to ensure they cover each competency in their Personal Statement.
A common mistake is to favour sweeping statements made about the student’s personality, and edit down the more academic details. Recent research by the Sutton Trust, however, found universities prefer Personal Statements written in a more focused and analytical style.
For example, instead of listing all the books they’ve read, students should draw links between them or mention something from one of them that they found particularly interesting. Admissions tutors will be impressed by students who are able to interpret information and form their own opinions.
Instead of: “I am passionate about Geography, and I have a very strong work ethic. I really enjoy discovering about how human and physical Geography are linked.”
Try: “I am particularly interested in the effect of natural disasters on a country’s economy. During a trip to Reykjavík in Iceland, a city shaped distinctively by its earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, I noticed how fundamental tourism and investment in geothermal energy have resulted in economic growth.”
Breaking up the Statement into bitesize chunks will make the writing process easier for your students, and the feedback process easier for you. The Unifrog Personal Statement tool can help with this, as it allows you to divide the essay into three distinct sections without losing sight of the fact that it also needs to work well as a whole.
You may want to give your students specific deadlines for completing the first, second, and third boxes. You will be able to monitor their progress from your Unifrog homepage.
4. Word count
When giving initial feedback on Personal Statements, don’t put too much emphasis on how long it is. By commenting on this at an early stage, you may discourage your students from developing new ideas to their full potential.
The Unifrog Personal Statement tool gives students a guideline of how many characters to write in each box, so that they have a rough idea of what to aim for.
The Unifrog Personal Statement editing tool allows teachers to make changes to the text directly. This is particularly helpful when correcting small errors in wording, spelling and grammar.
Don’t worry about making changes that may have to be reverted, as Unifrog saves every version of the Personal Statement, so you will never lose any work.
6. Commenting and notes
For more significant suggestions, teachers should use the commenting box at the bottom of each section on Unifrog’s Personal Statement tool.
This is a helpful feature for more drastic proposals, as it allows students to think about the problem and alter it themselves. Don’t be tempted to make these bigger changes yourself through the editing tool, as the Statement should be written in the student’s own words.
For comments that need to be tied closely to particular words or passages within a section, use the ‘Add note’ function.
7. Look at other comments
Take into account the comments that other teachers have made on the Statement. With Unifrog, it is easy for multiple people to edit a Statement at once - you can always see what feedback has been given, by whom, and when.
Be sure not to contradict other teachers in your own suggestions, as this will confuse the student. If you disagree with another teacher’s comment, you will be able to see who has written it, and can contact them directly.
8. Be positive
Always include some positive words in your comments on a Personal Statement, no matter how much improvement it may need.
Instead of: “I think you need to rethink the entire structure here; there is no direction or purpose to your writing.”
Try: “I really like what you have written about your love of literature, and your extracurricular section is great. I think it would be beneficial to think about how the structure might be improved to give your writing more direction.”
Nevertheless, don’t be afraid to be honest if drastic changes are needed. Personal Statements must often undergo serious structural change before they are complete. Remind students that Unifrog saves every version of their work, so that they can go back at any time if they change their minds.
9. Face to face
The Unifrog editing tools should be used in conjunction with regular face to face meetings. Students are likely to respond better to feedback if they are given personal guidance along the way. If they need more information about a particular comment or correction, they should speak to the teacher directly.
10. Second opinions
If you are unsure about an aspect of a Statement yourself, ask for second opinion. You may not have an in depth knowledge of the subject the student is applying for, and other teachers will be able to help.
Indeed, Personal Statements should be read by several trusted people. Thanks to the Unifrog tool, it is easy to email the entire Personal Statement at the click of a button to anyone whose opinion may be of value.