It’s that time of year again. If you’re thinking about starting University next year, you’re probably collecting prospectuses and wandering round UCAS conventions like nobody’s business. There’s one giant hurdle between you and the course of your dreams: that damned personal statement.
Fear not, for your fairy godmothers have arrived. Between us, we got 2 unconditionals, 4 conditional unconditionals and 4 offers, so you’re in safe hands.
We both took very different approaches to writing our personal statements, and we’ll explain both methods later, but first we’ll explain basic steps that apply to everyone.
The best piece of advice that we can give you is to just get it over with. We watched so many people agonise over just starting their personal statements, all the way into December, having already received all of our offers by November. While it seems scary, writing a first, if awful, draft is the first battle. Once you have one version, it’s just a case of getting someone to help you edit.
First of all, read your course description. Most (if not all) universities will detail the kind of student they’re looking for right there. Not that you should copy it word for word, just take note of some key qualities that you may want to mention. Even if you don’t know which of your courses is your favourite, subject areas are likely to be looking for the same qualities.
Another important consideration is why you want to study the course. Which bits of the topic interest you? Why are you suited to studying it? These are the overall questions that you want your personal statement to answer.
Also, what have you read/experienced? While you may not have considered reading up on your subject outside of lessons, this will help you greatly with your personal statement. Universities want people who take initiative, who dedicate their spare time to their subject. If you have some extra reading under your belt, this is a good thing to discuss.
And, above all, remember to tell the truth. While not all universities have interviews, yours might, and they’ll most likely start asking you about your personal statement. If you tell them that you’ve read every single work of Shakespeare, they’ll want you to back that up. Not to mention that any obvious lies will be picked up on by admissions.
Starting my personal statement was the worst. I was told to write about what I liked best about English Language and realised that there wasn’t one particular thing that stood out for me, ‘all of it’ was the answer. It was only in my last draft that I figured out how to write a concise and academic introduction, by analysing a specific example outside my classwork and complimenting the tone of the prospectus.
Next, I made a big deal of my subjects paragraph. Unlike other students, I didn’t have a job so had more room for writing about school. I began looking at English Language, talking about classwork that smoothly flowed on from my introduction and then into my English Literature work. This created an overall theme on language and power so the paragraphs didn’t appear disjointed.
I was quite lucky that my subjects fit neatly together, with English Language and English Literature making an obvious pairing. What was more difficult was attaching something relevant about Religious Studies. Eventually, I settled on two sentences indicating my knowledge on ethical theories and the importance of a writer’s beliefs when attempting to understand a text.
Three paragraphs in was work experience, which I’d done at a school. When writing about this I had to be careful I wasn’t over-explaining. At first, I broke down a bunch of jargon schools use before realising university is basically a school and they’ll know it already. So, instead, it was back to giving specific relevant examples and trying my best to explain it clearly without eating up the character limit.
After my hobbies came a concluding sentence. Barely a line long, I was trying really hard to link the theme of the statement into what I’d do in the future. Once I was happy with that, I also edited some sentences in every paragraph to stop my hopeful future from seeming like an unexpected twist.
One of the hardest things was keeping to the character limit. The UCAS character count said my personal statement was too long, despite it seeming fine on Google Docs. Make sure to check it on UCAS as you go along. In editing, you might find it’s better to delete a whole sentence than make your point less clear by deleting individual words. Lastly, make sure to cut down anything long and winding, then you’re good to go.
G’s Less Traditional Approach
Overall, my personal statement followed the same basic structure as Lydia’s, but with different ratios. I charged headlong into writing it, having finished my first draft the day after we were told to write one. While Lydia applied for a language and linguistics degree, mine is Creative Writing, and so more arts based. Because of this, I made use of artistic licence a little more, and pumped up the paragraphs which showed my suitability more.
The theme running throughout my statement was writing as a means of expressing emotions. In my opening, I used the Hemingway quote “write hard and clear about what hurts”, presenting it as what I believed to be the overwhelming purpose of writing in any form.
From here, I continued with the traditional structure, moving to talk about school work. Since my subjects were French, Spanish and English Language, it was easier to steer each section to talk about the importance of communication and the way we speak.
However, this is where I kind of ignored instructions. I have been coming up with stories since before I could actually write, and so I wanted to capture this in my third paragraph. The advantages of having already finished a first draft of a book and working on this blog were that I could include them in depth, explaining how this meant that there was no other logical path for me.
In the finished draft, it was about a 50/50 split between my subjects and my other work. My conclusion was only a sentence, as this was all I really had room for.
While not a part of your personal statement, if your university has exams, make sure that you sign up for them in time. Not all universities require you to take them, but some universities have optional scholarship exams. I won £500 for each year of my course, which could be doubled based on A level results. It pays to do your research!
So, there you go. You are now armed to take on the challenge of the personal statement. Wherever you want to go, whatever you want to study, good luck out there.