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How To Write A Personal Statement

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Basically, a personal statement allows you to set out your reasons for applying for a particular university course, and convince the admissions tutors to offer you a place. In 4000 words you need to stand out from the thousands of would-be students vying for places, sometimes at a ratio of 20:1. Richard Cairns, Headmaster of Brighton College, writing in the Daily Telegraph’s Education section, describes it as a vital part of the university application process, and points out that although your academic grades will catch an admission tutor’s eye, it will be a well constructed personal statement that ‘convinces them of your motivation, potential and ability for further study’.
This will be your only opportunity to demonstrate a genuine interest in and a passion for your chosen subject but avoid using terms like ‘passion’ and ‘life-changing experiences’. Avoid clichéd statements and don’t pepper the text with superlatives that merely sound contrived.
Aim to explain three key ideas: why you want to study a particular course; why you will excel at that course; and how your other interests support and complement your studies.
For practical courses such as medicine, veterinary, physics, engineering, etc., you need to convince tutors that you fully understand what your chosen career entails in practice as well as theory.
For the less practical courses, Richard Cairns advises that the emphasis must be on proving that your intellectual curiosity extends beyond the A-level syllabus by discussing ‘which scientific breakthroughs or seminal contributions to a particular field have intrigued and challenged you’.
If applying for a joint course of two separate disciplines (i.e. modern languages and philosophy), you will need to explain why you wish to study both subjects and how they relate to each other.
Before beginning to write your personal statement, set out a clear structure and make a list of important bullet points that will need to be included. For example: begin with a strong opening statement or ‘hook’ explaining why you wish to study a particular course. This should be followed by 2-3 paragraphs providing evidence of your aptitude and enthusiasm for study. The last sections should be used briefly for extra-curricular interests - and finally a concise ‘summary of your motivation and potential’.
Back up your claims with precise examples of books or articles you have read, and details of any relevant work experience. And make sure you have actually done everything mentioned in the personal statement or you might come unstuck if you are called in for an interview.
Don’t try to copy other people’s ideas when structuring your first draft. There are hundreds of books and websites offering examples/templates for a personal statement, but this will only make yours one of a thousand similar versions. A natural, personal approach will be far more effective than a standardised statement.
Don’t leave this to the last minute and be prepared to spend plenty of time, writing, re-writing, re-thinking and, if necessary rewriting. Ask your teachers for advice and, since they will have to write a reference supporting your application, they will be able to pick up on any glaring errors.
Check spelling, grammar and punctuation by getting someone responsible to read through the document for continuity or omissions.
As Richard Cairns points out, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of writing a clear and convincing personal statement. More than 99% of the 55,000 courses available in UK universities no longer require would-be students to take an aptitude test, or attend for an interview, and the personal statement is the only application the admissions tutor will see in order to make a decision. Be inventive, be original.
Although extra-curricular activities are of interest keep the information to a minimum.
See Durham University’s check-list for the criteria it uses for assessing applications.
Keep within the strict limit of 4000 words.
Resist the urge to be whimsical or amusing
UCAS runs all applications through anti-plagiarism software and if yours is discovered to be a copy, the application will be voided.


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