Writing a personal statement: Is it really that difficult?

So you’ve just clicked apply to a really great course that has you tingling with excitement at the mere thought of doing. You then fill out all the necessary easy stuff e.g. name, age etc. Then comes the big scary thing called (Drum roll please)…THE PERSONAL STATEMENT!  You think you have to get everything right because it could be the difference between getting an interview and not. Little advice, calm down just a tad because once you realise how easy it is you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

Firstly, remember that you know absolutely everything you’re already going to write you just haven’t realised it yet. Start off by making some brief notes to questions like, why choose you? (i.e. what qualities you have and how you can demonstrate them), what can you offer? What are your key achievements or awards? What experience do you have? And what you do in your spare time? I would suggest getting some paper and going to town (not literally, you can do that after) and jotting down everything; words, phases or prompts.

Secondly, probably the hardest thing will be how to start it. What do you say to get the reader’s attention right from the get go? Well, you could go for the old classic ‘’I am applying to study X, Y and Z here are my reasons’’ job done. However, this is unlikely to grab any attention. Try to make it a bit different. For example, if I was applying for a science degree, I would start it something like ‘’In the last few decades It has never been more evident that science is the amongst the most rapidly advancing sectors…’’ and give examples or facts of how you know this e.g. Dolly the sheep, new cancer therapies, statistics and facts etc. Science news is readily available on BBC health and science website or in newspapers and journals. The point is to make it sound like you have a natural attraction to this area and are so interested in it that they need to give you a place.

The next paragraph should detail what experience you have and/or what interests you about the subject. In my gap year I worked in an aquatic shop looking after marine fish and corals and was applying for my undergraduate degree in Biomedical science. You might be saying to yourself ‘’so what?’’. Well I said that I monitored water parameters by testing calcium, phosphate, ammonia and salinity levels and interpreted the results to indicate how the water quality could be improved. I then linked it to how it prepared me for the degree. My master’s is in biochemical engineering and so in that instance I said I was interested in how scientific discoveries are developed into large scale production. All you’ve got to remember is no matter how little experience you have, make it matter.

I would then think about moving onto your extracurricular activities and what you do in your spare time. If you’re good at anything or have won any awards then say it. Show how good you are. Even if you have never won an award or are not the best, say what the experience has taught you. A good thing to know here is that modesty can go a long way. Saying you are the bees knees might make you feel great, but cockiness is seldom well received. If you have done any charity work then add this in too. Admissions want someone who is well rounded. If all you are doing is hitting the books and have nothing extra to give. That shows personal imbalance (FYI I’ve been guilty of this before).

Finally I would wrap the whole thing up with a big shiny bow saying what your long term goals are i.e. how completing the course would benefit you. Here are a few final key points I’d like to make in regards to the statement as a whole:

  • Never waffle! Be concise. Whatever you’re trying to say will probably have more of an impact by saying it well. Remember the saying ‘’more is less’’.
  • A well written piece should have flow. Check this and check it again
  • I would highly recommend writing a draft, then editing it, then leaving it for a day or two. Don’t touch or even think about it. Then come back to it and see if you’re as impressed with it as you were. This is called getting some distance since you often can’t see what’s right in front of you.
  • Be careful how many times you use an online thesaurus, too much superfluous language can be a bad thing
  • Finally, don’t rely on spell or grammar check. Always get a human perspective on it! You can even try and get multiple people to read it for you.

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Additional resources:

5 Tips for Writing your Oxbridge Personal Statement
Personal Statements
How to Write the Perfect Personal Statement

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