Life After Sixth Form

Helping you get that university place or career


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Personal Statement Paragraphing

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.
Alix Delany (Assistant Head of Admissions, University of East Anglia)

See: it’s not just me!

 


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Yet more personal statement guidance

This is brilliant, from Altrincham Girls’ Grammar School. I wish I’d done it:

Writing a personal statement

And here’s a guide from Essex University which, among other things, includes some example statements with comments on strengths and weaknesses:

Stop Thinking, Start Writing

Don’t forget there’s lots of other useful guidance elsewhere on this blog. Click ‘Personal Statement’ under ‘Categories’ in the sidebar.

 


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Transferable skills and the Nobel Peace Prize

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.


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Extending your digital footprint

A while ago, I was asked for advice by a student interested in journalism.  I reproduce the advice I offered below, but much of it can be adapted to any subject or career area. In today’s world, online networking is an important way of gaining knowledge and contacts in your area of interest. As a teacher, most of my new knowledge of teaching methods and resources comes from contacts on Twitter and in the blogosphere, and increasingly I see people gaining employment opportunities in this way. Only recently I was contacted by the Times Educational Supplement English resources editor and invited to take part in developing materials for a new project, the DocAcademy, resulting in an expenses paid trip to London for a planning meeting, and a tidy little sum for producing a four-lesson resource pack for the website. It was very handy holiday spending money, but more importantly it gave me an opportunity to extend my own skills, and to share them with colleagues, and all because I’d made a network of contacts through using social media for my professional development.

So, if you get online and start asking questions and sharing links and resources about the subject area or career you want to pursue, perhaps you’ll find that when your university or job application crosses the desk of an employer or admissions tutor, your name may already be familiar as someone with a proven interest in the subject and a track record of showing initiative.

Anyhow, here is the advice I offered my inquirer:

One thing you want to do is to establish your online presence in as many potentially useful places as possible. Get yourself a username that is distinctive but professional, and isn’t already taken, that can be used consistently across social networking sites and the like. You can use  http://namechk.com/  to check if a chosen username is available across a range of sites.
I have to own up and say that I’m better at mucking about with stuff than using it purposefully, so I’ve got half abandoned projects scattered around the web, but it’s a good idea to have some kind of page where you can direct people (perhaps having it as your email signature) that will have links to everything you want in the public domain. I’m rather proud of my resolutely lo-fi homepage at antheald.com, but to be honest you probably want something a bit more like this:  http://about.me/antheald  which is dead easy to set up, and you can find links to most of my half-baked bits & pieces there.
With regards to blogging, there are all sorts of directions you can take it. You can go for a general blog that you use as a kind of portfolio of any writing that takes your fancy. Or you could do a topic specific blog on a hobby or interest of some kind. For instance here is a music blog set up by a former McAuley student, Ruth Offord while she was still at school. Ruth went on to become a journalist on the Doncaster Free Press for a time. Maybe you could experiment with a university application blog ((or two)or three) while you get used to blogging platforms and their strengths and weaknesses. This is the kind of idea I have in mind.
Read and comment on others’ blogs (including professional journalists). Follow journalists, journalism students and bloggers on twitter, and engage with them regularly. A good plan is to find someone who tweets regularly and seems to engage in interesting discussions with interesting people, and then see who they follow and look at any lists they have curated or that they appear on. If you want to get an idea of where journalism might be headed in our increasingly networked world, I think you could do worse than starting with @documentally and his blog. If you want to connect with someone who’s making it in the world of (slightly) more conventional journalism and started where you are, then try @jbmurdoch – that’s Mr Murdoch’s son – who was in my form before doing geography at Durham, getting involved in student journalism (ask him about it), and is now cutting a swathe at The Guardian.
I look forward to seeing your online presence bloom and to reading what you have to say.
In case you’re wondering whether my advice was heeded, here  is an impressive part of the answer.


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Personal Statement Editing – keeping it brief and clear

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.


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Targeting your Personal Statement

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.


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October Half-Term Opportunity

The National Citizen Service programme was piloted for the first time this summer; one of our students was involved and alerted me to this opportunity.

Places are available for this autumn and will take place around your school commitments. The website gives the following description of the programme:

National Citizen Service is a life changing experience for 16 and 17 year olds in England (it is also open to 15-16 year olds in Northern Ireland) – you do outdoor activities, meet new people and have the chance to put something back. By doing NCS you learn new skills and have a great experience that looks great on CVs, and applications to universities and colleges.

You can find out more and register your interest here: https://nationalcitizenservice.direct.gov.uk/ncs-in-detail