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How to write a personal statement

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The aim of your personal statement is to demonstrate to that you are a good fit for the course and the university community.

Let's take a look at how to write a personal statement that demonstrates the abilities and determination that Admissions Tutors are looking for...

What is the purpose of a personal statement?

The personal statement is where you make your case for being a great candidate for the course. You are trying to answer the question ‘Why should we give you a place on the course?’, so don’t just write about yourself, make it all relate back to the course you want to do. You’ve got 4000 characters, that’s about 600 words, to do it; so make them count!

Here are some things you can do to demonstrate that you are a great candidate for the course:

  • Use the course description to help you. What modules interest you most? What skills and qualities do the university value?
  • Demonstrate how the last few years have developed you into the kind of candidate they want; and your answer can span education, family life, hobbies, work and more.
  • Look to the future. How will university contribute to your career plans? Explain why the course is a good fit for where you want to go.

What is the ABC method for personal statements?

The ABC method is a great technique for taking the things you’ve done and demonstrating how they link to the course you want to study. A stands for activity, B for benefit and C for course.

Siobhan Robbins, Our Schools and Colleges Liaison Officer, explains it like this:

“State what you have done, that’s your activity. Then set out the skills and experience you gained from doing it, that’s your benefit. Then you explain how this makes you a good candidate for the course.”

It works like this:

Activity - I play piano in a jazz band.

Benefit - I get to be creative because we do jazz improvisation, and it's boosted my confidence by playing at gigs. Plus it's a real team effort so I’ve improved my teamworking skills too.

Course - This is relevant to the Musical Theatre course because I’m an experienced performer, I know I thrive on live events and my performance skills have been enhanced by interaction with a live audience.

Things to include in your personal statement

Keep it simple. Write in paragraphs and systemically go through your suitability. Think of it as a concise one-page essay. You should cover:

  • Why you want to study that course
  • Your academic suitability – your interests, motivation and strengths
  • Appropriate experience and skills that you would bring as a candidate

Write out what you’ve got, then take a break from it and come back afresh for ruthless editing. Rewrite it so that you’re saying the same thing only shorter, then rewrite it again. This way you’ll ultimately be able to pack in is as much as possible about why you are great for the course.

Things to avoid in your personal statement

To make the best impression avoid the following common mistakes:

  • Think carefully before quoting other people, does that really tell the reader anything about you?
  • Check for spelling and grammar mistakes – then ask someone else to double check.
  • Not explaining things – it may not be enough to say what you did, you need to get into how and why you did it too so the reader starts to understand what makes you tick.

How to structure a personal statement

This is a structure suggested by UCAS:

  • Paragraph 1: What do you want to study? Why? What aspects of the study interest you? What has inspired you? What wider reading have you done? Future career?
  • Paragraph 2: Your academic attributes and experience. What have you done related to the subject so far?
  • Paragraph 3 and 4: Work experience placements and relevant activities at school. Clubs or societies you belong to. Employment or volunteering. Higher Education taster courses.
  • Paragraph 5: Your interests outside of school, demonstrating that you are responsible and reliable.
  • Paragraph 6: Your goals for the future, why you want to go to university, memorable closing comment.

But I have nothing to say about myself!

You do. Write down your interests, hobbies or work experience. Write down anything you’ve helped with at school. Have you looked after younger siblings or other family members?

What do you care about? Why does the subject interest you? Was there a certain experience or lesson that inspired you to want to study this at university? Why does the career interest you?

A great way to get all your ideas down is to take five minutes to write a mind map. Write down everything that you might include in your personal statement. You can always remove things later, so don’t worry about writing something that might not be relevant enough.

Admissions Tutors want to know not just what you did, but how and why you did it and how you feel about it now. Aim to give them a sense of who you are and what matters to you. They will be looking out for hot topics like self-awareness, good numeracy and literacy, independent study, essay writing, research, time management, motivation and commitment.

How to get started on your personal statement

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Keep it simple and build up from ideas - go from bullet points to sentences.
  • Be positive!
  • Don’t worry about getting the right wording straight away. Get it written down and edit it from there.
  • Know it will take several drafts.
  • If you are at school or colleague stick to internal deadlines to get it finished on time.
  • Read it aloud, does that sound true to you? Is that the tone you were going for?
  • Ask for help – don’t be embarrassed to ask others to proof read it.
  • Check out the personal statement guide on the UCAS website.

Go for it. You’ve got this!