Click the link for some top tips from the people who matter:
Grammar and spelling must be checked and checked again before submitting your UCAS form and your Personal Statement should be written in full paragraphs
Rebecca Lee (undergraduate recruitment and widening participation officer at Manchester University)
It is also always vital that you proof, proof and proof again your statement. It may sound obvious but it is really important. Write your statement as you would an academic essay, using paragraphs, avoiding repetition and thinking about how it might be read. We are looking for you to demonstrate your ability to write longer essays once you come to university.
Dr Abigail Harrison-Moore (admissions tutor for seven years at the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds, where she is now head of school)
Remember to draft and re-draft your personal statement. Watch out for spelling mistakes (spellcheckers are not a guarantee) and missing or repeated words: doing this shows your commitment to the application and attention to detail. An admissions tutor will be impressed by the use of good English; a personal statement needs to be well written, in straightforward English, and laid out carefully. If you try too hard to impress with clever language you’ll normally make your statement harder to read and your reasons for wanting to study a particular programme less clear.
Richard Emborg ( Director of Student Recruitment & Admissions, Durham University)
Universities are reading a lot of personal statements and so I really like the first few lines to clearly outline the intended area of study and the reason why. The end of your personal statement should also reinforce this. Although you are working in a restricted space I find it helpful when students use paragraphs so that the statement flows well and it’s easy to identify key points. If you’re going to be interviewed for a course, the interviewer will read the statement beforehand and may even refer to it during the interview so a well-structured statement is imperative.
This is brilliant, from Altrincham Girls’ Grammar School. I wish I’d done it:
And here’s a guide from Essex University which, among other things, includes some example statements with comments on strengths and weaknesses:
Don’t forget there’s lots of other useful guidance elsewhere on this blog. Click ‘Personal Statement’ under ‘Categories’ in the sidebar.
Still struggling for things to include in that Ucas personal statement? How about: “I showed my teamwork skills by, along with 499,999,999 fellow citizens, winning the Nobel Peace Prize recently.”
Actually, maybe that wouldn’t be such a great idea, but showing that you are up-to-date with recent developments in your proposed area of study, or how it relates to areas in the news, could be impressive. Referring to transferable skills such as teamwork and communication is also often recommended, but too often it feels like an awkward add on, or too far of a stretch from the experience gained to the situation it is related to. “I gained valuable teamwork skills working in McDonald’s which will be valuable as I hope to be involved in international diplomacy after my politics degree” is likely to sound more comic than impressive. On the other hand, a paragraph like the following makes a realistic and thoughtful link between the skills required on the course, and the applicant’s recent experience:
Physiotherapists need to be caring, understanding and tolerant with their patients of all ages with different abilities. I have shown similar skills helping in a maths booster class for year seven pupils who found maths difficult, which also helped me develop my skills of patience, flexibility and a sense of humour.
I strongly suggest you research carefully the ‘entry profiles‘ that many courses list on the UCAS website, and also check for any further descriptions of the skills and qualities that universities are looking for in applicants for individual degree courses that are published in their prospectuses and websites. Tailor your personal statement to address those specific profiles, and submit that information, along with your personal statement, to the person writing your reference. That will help them to confirm the appropriateness of your statement when advising you on how to improve it, and they can also use the information to help ensure the relevance of the reference that is written for you.
Make sure you avoid these:
Archived Q&A session with three university admissions tutors:
Below you will see a Google Document that I put together to show how personal statements can usually be edited down considerably, thereby freeing up space to say more things about yourself, and usually with the happy by-product of making the style crisper and more readable, too.
Most of you will be applying to five universities.
Each of those universities see just the one Personal Statement, and do not have access to information about where else you have applied. So somehow, you need to perform the trick of making your statement seem to each admissions tutor who will read it that it is their specific course and institution you are applying for.
Obviously this is, strictly speaking, impossible. If you are applying to Durham, you have the option of sending a substitute personal statement while Cambridge has the Supplementary Application Questionnaire, but such formalised opportunities to provide additional information are rare.
So, what can you do to get round this problem? well, firstly, for most courses, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. The core content of an undergraduate course is likely to be broadly similar whichever universities you are applying for. However, you need to check all the core modules and options of each course you are applying for and make sure they are right for you, and you for them, and tailor your application accordingly as much as possible.
You should have a clear idea of which course you most want to get onto, so it may be that you wish to slant part of your application in a direction that links with some specialism of that university, in a way that still shows generic skills and interests that would apply to any course. For example, if you want to study English at Newcastle, a look at their website reveals: “we now have strengths in, for instance, creative writing, post-colonial literature, children’s literature, film, as well as in traditional areas such as Renaissance drama and Romantic poetry.” So you may want to make reference to an interest in one or more of those areas in your personal statement: doing so would certainly not be detrimental to applying for courses that didn’t happen to have those particular specialisms.
You will also find that many universities have quite specific guidance on what they look for in a personal statement. For example Durham has some very detailed guidance most of which is relevant to almost all applicants to any institution. Nottingham Trent has a guidance page that is perhaps a little simpler and more structured in approach. Almost all university websites will have reference to the selection criteria and qualities they are looking for from applicants in each subject, often with specific advice for the Personal Statement, so make sure you search thoroughly for such information. It would be helpful when looking at your draft Personal Statement for you to provide links to any information of this type you have used, so that I can see that it is indeed tailored appropriately to your specific choices.
About four years ago I wrote this:
I think it still applies – perhaps more so. But I still haven’t seen anyone in my form do it.
Just imagine how often an admissions tutor reads something like this:
To further my insight into the medical field I participated in a work shadowing week at a GP surgery. I gained a valuable understanding of the workings of the surgery, with opportunities to observe and speak to the doctors regarding a medical career. I arranged another placement week myself at a local hospital, which was a superb opportunity to observe medicine from another point of view. I observed the ward rounds, an MRI scan, a skin biopsy and an endosocpy clinic all which I found interesting. I spent the most time with the haematology team, responsible for patients with diseases such as Chronic Myelogenous Leukaemia (CML), haematology being one of my interests it was captivating that I could see the specialty from a more complex side than the AS biology course. For example I was able to understand how the level of platelets affects blood clotting. Throughout the week I expanded my confidence and communication skills through speaking to patients and doctors. Although I enjoyed the week it was at times extremely heart-rending, I was able to get close to many of the terminally ill patients helping and caring for them where I could, getting them tea or just talking and empathising with them to build their spirits.
Now don’t get me wrong: that is very impressive, but applicants for competitive places have to be impressive, and there will be more very impressive applications than there places available.
So imagine if, in addition to the catalogue of work experience comments, an applicant could add:
You can read more about my work experience, and my interest in medicine at the website I set up for me and my fellow prospective medical school hopefuls at http://www.themedschoolproject.com/p/about-us.html
That is very impressive example, but to be honest I’ve found it a bit difficult to track down good blogs about work-experience, or the learning journey undertaken by people before university. This is good news. It means you have a chance to really stand out. Even a simple blog like this that tracks a prospective vet from struggling to find a placement at the start to dealing with impalas and rhinos in South Africa is a lot better than nothing. I’m sure you could do better than that though. Let me know if you want any advice on setting a blog up, but it really is very straightforward, and it’s yet another way of showing your commitment to whatever you are pursuing in life.