Writing Personal Statements

Writing personal statements and choosing the right degree.

Choosing a degree and subsequently writing a personal statement are extremely daunting tasks, and when the time came for me to apply to university, I was utterly intimidated by the application process. Originally, I decided that I wanted to apply to read History, and so I spent many hours slaving away to write the best personal statement that I believed that I could. I ticked all the boxes; I read hundreds of sample statements, took notes, brain stormed, read all of the university advice pages on what they wanted to be included, read books with fancy names that I knew I could sneakily name drop in my statement – you name it, I did it! I spent weeks and weeks on this 4000 character document which supposedly summed me up academically as a potential student for the five universities I applied for. I was very pleased with my final result, and both my teachers and some tutors from my potential universities expressed how impressive the statement and my experience was.

But there was something missing, and deep down I knew it, but I kept suppressing it. Yes, my statement contained all the ‘right’ content, but I knew, within myself, that what lacked was a true desire to study History. I loved, and still do love, History, but it wasn’t my true ‘passion’ (for want of a better word!) I enjoyed it at school, but I didn’t dedicate much of my free time to it, and I didn’t go very far beyond the curriculum. If I am honest, I mainly chose History because it was a subject I knew I excelled in. Of course, being good at your chosen degree subject is a critical factor, but what I firmly believe to be imperative, is to choose a subject that you adore and which stimulates you. After all, you will be dedicating at least three years of your life studying it!

So, in the summer after I finished my A-Levels, I was in a kind of limbo situation, becoming less and less convinced that History was what I wanted to apply myself to. I had already decided to take a gap year as I wanted to work in Spain as a private tutor and au pair for four months, complete my TEFL qualification and save enough money to travel Colombia and Ecuador for four months. My gap year had also bought me some time to work out what I wanted to do with my life, because there’s no denying that choice of degree and university is a life changing decision. In many respects, my degree would narrow down what career I would pursue upon graduation, so I understood how important it was for me to choose the right course.

It seemed obvious to all my friends and family that I should choose to study Spanish and French, as my spare time was often filled with me watching French films or reading Spanish articles online, but it took me a lot longer to realise for myself. Languages have always been a huge part of my life, having learnt Italian as a child so I could understand and communicate with my Sicilian family. I began studying Spanish and French at secondary school and immediately loved both languages, finding that learning the two at the same time enriched my learning experience in both. I have always enjoyed travelling, learning about new cultures and speaking to people in their mother tongue. Looking back now, it was such a natural choice to pursue a life and career in languages, but for so long I was of the opinion that it was more of a hobby, and in a sense, that I enjoyed it too much for it to be something to study – crazy mentality, I know! However, luckily it suddenly dawned on me that a BA in languages would be the perfect course for me.

Writing my personal statement the second time round was a lot less forced, and I did not feel like I was lying to myself or pretending to be somebody I wasn’t. My love for languages was, and is, real, and so I wrote a statement which conveyed this as best as possible. I don’t believe that there is a carbon-copy or a specific method for writing the ‘perfect’ personal statement. The main thing is to ensure that your interest for your chosen subject is explored and exhibited in various ways. For example, I began my statement outlining why I enjoyed languages, what they meant to me and how much joy I feel when I can communicate with others in a foreign language. Then I proceeded to compose different paragraphs on specific aspects of Spanish and French history and culture which appealed to me, such as the treatment of French Jews during the German Occupation of France in WW2. After speaking about these different areas which interested me, I demonstrated how I went beyond my curriculum by putting my learning into action; visiting the places I had learnt about, reading extra material that went beyond the course, not because I wanted to name-drop in my statement, but because I was generally interested in knowing more. I expressed how inspired I was by the my favourite Spanish poets, and how their poems enlightened me about another side of Spanish history that I had never found in textbooks. The finished statement was one which I was much more content with, and it was a document that best expressed how in love I am with languages and the culture that accompanies them.

Today, I am happily studying Spanish and French at UCL, and I am excited about pursuing a future in languages. Overall, I would just say that the most important thing about choosing a course and writing a good statement is having a genuine interest and enthusiasm for your chosen subject. Choose what is right for you!

Additional resources:

Writing Your Personal Statement
Writing a Successful Personal Statement
Writing a Personal Statement: Is it Really that Difficult?

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