Aside from actually hitting the challenging grades required, writing a personal statement is usually the next hardest (and frustrating) process when pitching your perfect university application.
This will be your first (and possibly only) chance at making a great personal impression on them. For many higher institutions, they’re actually the deciding factor on whom to offer a place to. There are even some universities (and I really do stress the word some) that may even use your statement to decide whether their proposed offer to you will be conditional or unconditional (I was one of the lucky ones here).
I know how daunting that sounds! But it’s really not as bad as you may anticipate. Have a read through the tips and guidance I followed which ultimately helped land me my unconditional offer, and you’ll soon be ready to pitch the very best version of yourself too!
Hit Them With An Original Opening
You wouldn’t continue reading a book that started with the childish generic ‘Once upon a time…‘ that then proceeded to robotically describe the exact eye and hair colour of the protagonist. So why should an admission tutor be excited about the same mechanical opening that they’ve already encountered 300 times that very morning?
To give you an idea of the starters to avoid, UCAS has published the most overused (and overly dull) opening sentences:
“From a young age, I have always been interested in…”
“I am applying for this course because…”
“For as long as I can remember I have…”
The clue is in the name. It needs to be personal.
Of course, they know you’re interested in the subject – why else would you be committing 3-4 years of your life to it? The real question is why are you interested? What exactly is it that sparks your attention?
Universities want you to be specific. What particular books or studies related to the subject have grabbed your attention? Have you been involved in any research projects that really sparked your interest? What specific area of the course is really exciting for you?
Not only does focusing on personal and solid examples steer you away from vague and generic openings, but it also provides evidence that you’ve already invested genuine thought and time into your chosen subject.
Just as old English lessons would have drilled into you; you need to show, not tell.
Tailor Your Academic Studies To Fulfil Desirable Skills And Qualities For Your Chosen Course
After you’ve addressed why you’re interested in the subject, you’ll need to state why you’re suitable. This will usually consist of talking about your A-Level studies and how they have developed the multiple skills and qualities that will be vital for your university life.
Although, make sure these skills are relevant to your chosen course.
For example, if you’ve applied to study Mathematics, there really isn’t much use or merit in discussing how Sociology has given you excellent essay writing skills. Handling statistics and assessing the validity of various data, on the other hand, is far more valuable!
If you’re really struggling to link certain subject skills to your specific course, think about alternate qualities that universities, as a whole, may favour. Certain examples may include research skills, independent learning and thinking outside the box.
If you’re already studying your chosen subject at A-Level (which a lot of you will be), go into further detail about what has already interested you. Perhaps a particular module or a research project you undertook? Maybe you’ve even extended your knowledge on it independently, and if so, how?
Discuss Any Relevant Achievements, Extra-Curricular Hobbies Or Work Experience
University isn’t just about academia. It wants students that have skills and interests ranging outside of the classroom, too!
That being said, choose your external activities wisely.
Focus on hobbies and experience that will further sell you to your particular course. If you’re an English or Drama applicant, now is the time to discuss your participation in local theatre and book groups. If you’re a Politics or Law applicant, perhaps you’ve attended a debate or open court in your free time?
What about work experience? Have you spent any time exploring possible career pathways post-university? Having another serious motive besides being passionate about the subject also works to your advantage. Maybe your decision to study Science was inspired by your desire to become a Science teacher, therefore work experience in a school would go down swimmingly! Or perhaps your time shadowing a Newspaper Editor encouraged you to study English as your first step towards a career in Publishing.
Part-time work is also perfectly valid here. It demonstrates that you can successfully balance work and study – a prospect many students will have to consider during their time at university. Many jobs and work experience also provide essential life and common-sense skills that can be disregarded in the classroom but will suddenly become vital in dealing with independent life away from home.
Leave A Lasting Impression On Your Reader
What kind of endings ensure you never forget a book or film? The neatly tied, everyone-is-happy-and-holding-hands kind, or the sudden twist of a cliffhanger?
Okay, suddenly revealing that you work for the Mafia won’t achieve the same effect in this context as it would in an exciting plot twist. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Endings can either make or break something: your endnote will determine the admission tutor’s last impression of you – and you want it to be a memorable one.
So you’ve done all you can to convince your universities that you are the perfect candidate for their course. Interest – check, skills – check, external experience – check.
Now is the time to reveal the other exciting and unique aspects there are to you. Finally, you can let loose that your life is actually, in fact, enriched with many things outside of the one subject you’ve so far appeared to dedicate your whole existence to.
Maybe you’re a competitive ice hockey player, or you’ve selflessly devoted time to a charity that has a special place in your heart. Perhaps you’ve achieved something unique, or have an unusual interest in a subject completely different to the one you’re applying for.
The person reading your personal statement will likely have read thousands of others and of course, they’re all for the same course. While many applicants may have done a brilliant job of making the statement original and personal to them, everyone is still ultimately pitching similar skills and interests. So far at least. This is the part where each applicant truly becomes an individual. You might be surprised by how much they value that!
(Although, it may be wise to leave out the gaming all-nighters and ability to down half a bottle of vodka without throwing up. Just trust me on this one).