Top tips on writing your personal statement

During September and October, I went to different schools in the North West delivering personal statement presentations and one-on-one drop-in sessions. My first chance to read personal statements and provide feedback to students was at the UMASS session back in September and I have read many personal statements since then!

Many of them have had similar issues. As a result, I decided to write a blog post on the most frequent advice I have given. So, without further ado, here are my top 6 tips for writing a good personal statement…

1 – Remember who is reading your statement

Your personal statement will be read by a member of staff in the department or university you are applying to. They will be very familiar with your subject area and your course. For this reason, I often advise prospective students to not over explain/define what their subject is. For example: ‘Law is a system of rules that are enforced through social institutions to govern behaviour.’ Statements like this don’t tell the reader much about your personality and interests and use up your precious characters. Furthermore, the person who is reading already knows this.

As you’re writing, you can ask yourself: “Why am I saying this?” “Why do they need to know it?” “What does it say about me?”.

2 – It’s personal

The clue is in the name…it is a personal statement. We are all unique. It is the sum of our experiences that makes us who we are and influences what we want to study. This is your chance to tell the admissions staff why you’re interested in that subject enough to make you want to study it for three years. It also gives you the opportunity to explain how these experiences, both academic and non-academic, will help you complete the course.

I’m not against including quotes or referring to books/articles that you have read but I would suggest you only include these if they mean something to you – if they express your passion for the subject. Essentially, if you have a personal connection, a story to tell, then by all means use it.

3 – It doesn’t matter what you have done, it’s what you have learnt that’s important

As well as providing the opportunity to show your passion for the subject, the personal statement serves to demonstrate that you know what the course entails and what skills you need in order to complete it. Universities are not looking for students who are just interested in the subject but they are also looking for students who already have the necessary transferable skills. Before you panic, I should tell you that you already have many of these, such as essay writing skills, communication skills, time management, leadership skills and analytical skills.

It is your job to find out what skills are needed for your degree. You should research the course you want to do at all the universities you are considering applying to. Some might focus on group work and presentations so you want to highlight that you have team-working and communication skills; other courses may expect you to do a lot of independent researching or lab work so you might say you can self-motivate and that you have research skills. By finding out what you are expected to do, you will be able to talk about the your relevant skills, thus demonstrating that you understand the course structure.

We recommend the ABC method when talking about your academic, work and extra-curricular activities in relation to transferrable skills. You should identify the Activity then say how it Benefited you and if possible relate it back to the Course (for more information, you can listen to the podcast on the UMASS website). The activity doesn’t really matter as long as you can talk about its benefits. For example, you could say that you were the captain of the football team which allowed you to develop leadership and communication skills. You should always ensure that the skills you are talking about are clearly related to the activity – don’t try to shoe-horn a skill into an activity – and that they relate to the course you’re applying to.

4 – Have an honest introduction

You might have been told that the introduction is very important because it is the first impression admissions staff will have of you. Although this is true, focussing to much on this could lead you to try too hard to make it interesting or to make it stand out. The best introductions I have read have been very personal and have made it very clear why that person is interested in the subject and why they want to study it.

There is no rule on how to make an introduction memorable. I always advise students to think exactly why they are interested in that subject and to be completely honest. For some people the passion grew after reading an article or a book, after meeting a professional doctor/police officer/architect/musician or from something they saw on TV. All of these are equally valid and can be equally interesting.

Ask yourself why do you want to study the course? What interests you about the subject area? What aspirations do you have? When you have your honest, truthful answers, then you’ll be able to write a good introduction. Finally, remember that although the introduction is important, the content of the rest of the personal statement is what matters.

5 – Clear structure

This  is very important as it makes it much easier for the reader to get the information they need from your personal statement. Remember that admissions staff will read a lot of applications and yours might be number 50 that day. You want to make it easy for them to digest the information.

We recommend that after the introduction, you talk about your academic achievements (not necessarily what grades you got but more what skills and knowledge  you have or developed). Then you can mention any work experience you have along with your extra-curricular activities. The paragraph on academic achievements should be the longest one as you are applying for a degree. The other two should showcase the fact that you are a well-rounded individual – universities don’t want people who are only academically driven, they want students that will engage in all aspects of student life.

Finally, write the conclusion. It should include a brief summary of what you said and why you should be offered a place. Leave the admissions staff with a good impression.

6 – Proofread

Once you have finished writing, read your personal statement out loud many times – it will help you with punctuation, grammar and spelling. Equally useful, have others read it. The more the better!

I hope you have found these tips useful. Best of luck with your application!