Personal Statements

It must be one of the hardest things to convincingly sell yourself to other people. A great degree of scepticism no doubt hangs over many admissions offices of many universities during mid October to May of each academic year. Students are tasked with giving the admissions tutors a good impression of themselves, how fun, engaging, intelligent and interested they are in their subject of choice. Yet, what teachers will tell you over and over again seems also to be true: given how many ‘you’s there are applying for each subject, how do you make yourself appear the real deal where others might come up short? In this regard there are several key points to take into consideration.

First of all, honesty. That might seem unexpected, but sticking with what you know, instead of attempting to beef up a lie, will really come across. When you show enthusiasm for something in which you are genuinely interested, that will always show itself in your writing. No good telling the tutors that you find Keates interesting having only read one of his poems, or that Biology is your true calling when you have never picked up a copy of the New Scientist. You, of course, may elaborate. That is a different thing entirely. However it is worth reading back over those elaborations or enhancements of the truth and thinking ‘Would I, as an Admissions Tutor, really believe what I am reading?’ Genuine interest in, and ability to talk about what you love, in subjects or personal interest, is always going to be most engaging.

Secondly, structure. This may seem obvious as well, but it is a common mistake to start writing a personal statement without planning it first. For one, having a clear separation between your different sections helps that bored administrator engage with your words more than anyone else’s. How you structure the statement is up to you, but it should include (in the order I would recommend): brief personal history and character description, reasons why you want to study the subject of your choice, what particular elements you like about that subject (some pieces of research you find interesting, or critics and authors you like to read), what you have done to show engagement with the subject. After that, the game is yours. You can choose to talk about what else you like to do in your spare time (but focus on one or two things and elaborate on those). You can be broader than that, and talk about experiences you have had in your life (an amazing safari holiday which made you reflect on your love of zoology). Basically, something which lets the people reading the statement get a flavour of the real you, not just the part of you that really, really, wants to get into their first choice university.

Finally, be meticulously careful with your spelling, grammar and all elements of the presentation of your statement. Do not repeat yourself in ten different ways while explaining that the Corn Laws mean you love History. This will cause the reader to disconnect with what you are saying. Be punchy at points where you want to be emphatic, but at all times make sure that your grammar is up to scratch. Nothing puts you into the discard pile quicker than a misplaced apostrophe or using the wrong form of ‘your/you’re’.

These are just guidelines, but I hope you find them of some use when tackling that beast of burden. I guarantee that the Personal Statements are not quite as intimidating with these simples rules in place.

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