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Tips on how to write your personal statement

It’s come to that time of year where many of you who are applying to university later this year will be thinking about your personal statement.  The personal statement is an opportunity to show your passion and suitability for your chosen course.  Some of you may only recently have decided on a course choice, whereas others may already have an early draft of the personal statement in full. 

Whatever stage you’re at in terms of drafting, here are some tips from us about how to write it whilst minimising the stress and hassle:

  • The maximum number of characters allowed through UCAS is 4,000, which might sound like a lot, but it really isn’t; it’s about one side of A4. Once you start to write about why you want to study your chosen course, you’ll probably find that the hardest part is editing it down to fit the character count.  It’s a good idea for a first draft to forget the character count, and write all that you’d like to.  The chances are that, if you do that, you’ll have a very genuine and honest statement.  Then you can think about how to write the same points succinctly.

  • Many students feel that the hardest part of the personal statement is the opening few sentences. If you feel that that is the case, leave the first paragraph until last, when you know the thrust of the main paragraphs.  This should make the introduction easier to write.

  • An important thing to bear in mind that the focus of the personal statement should be about why you want to pursue your chosen degree and the areas of academic interest you are developing that are relevant to your chosen courses. Many students, especially international students, can confuse U.K. personal statements with the tone required for US colleges- generally speaking, US colleges take more of a holistic approach, whereas in the U.K. especially if you are opting for a competitive and academically rigorous degree, they are far more interested in your academic side, and much less so regarding any extra-curricular activities or your familial/cultural background (unless it pertains to mitigating circumstances).  Initially, it’s a good idea to read each paragraph individually, and ask yourself whether the content expands upon why you would be suited to the degree course.  If it’s not clear, perhaps you should think about rephrasing or restructuring it.

  • Include books and articles that you have read, but make sure that you have actually read them, and that you understand what you have included. Reading around your subject does show that you are genuinely interested and motivated, but imagine how awkward it would be if you attended an interview, and it became apparent that you had not done the work you had outlined in your personal statement!  It could raise questions about your application more generally, and your suitability for the course.

  • Work experience, if it is relevant to your degree, looks good, but in the majority of cases, it is not a deal-breaker. For certain subjects, like Medicine, it is important to show that you have had regular work experience, even if it’s just volunteering for a local charity for a couple of hours a week.  It shows that you’re reliable, consistent, and dedicated.  You could also develop some skills which could make you a better doctor in one way or another.  For some other subjects, like Classics, work experience is less important, but instead you may have pursued other activities which are relevant to the degree, whether it’s attending summer schools, or going to museums or key sites.

  • If you’re particularly proud of any achievements, such as taking any GCSEs or A-Levels early, or you have won/performed well in any subject based competitions, make sure that you include that in your personal statement. Remember that, for many degree courses, there are going to be at least four applicants per place, so excelling in your subject can help you to stand out.  It’s important not to come across as arrogant, but you also want to show the Admissions Tutors how well you have performed to date.

  • No U.K. university wants their applicants to be all work and no play. You might like to include a few sentences about your extra-curricular activities and what you enjoy doing in your free time.  It gives the universities more of an idea about you as a person, and what you might bring to them in addition to your academic performance.

Finally, don’t worry about writing a number of drafts before you’re happy with your personal statement.  It’s extremely rare for students to compose only one or two versions before they have finalised everything; the vast majority will write eight, nine, even ten drafts before they feel as though they are submitting everything they want to include.  If you start thinking about how to draft your statement now, you’re giving yourself a lot of time to think about its contents, and any edits you would like to make.  It’s common to write a draft and then leave it for a few days or a week, before returning to read it again with “fresh eyes”.  As with everything, the more time you give yourself, the less rushed it will feel, and the less stressful it will be.

If you’re in the process of writing your personal statement and have any tips or advice you would like to share, please get in touch with us, and we will share it with our readers.  Alternatively, if you’re struggling to write yours, let us know, and we will see how we can help.

In the meantime, good luck and happy writing from everyone at Scholasta!

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