5 Dos and Don’ts for a Successful Personal Statement

A go-to guide for pitfalls and top tips for writing your personal statement.

Writing a personal statement is a rite of passage. In order to apply for most universities – or a whole tranche of them at a time through UCAS – you need to outline the person behind the application in the form of a personal statement or letter of intent. But how can you tell if yours is going to grab the attention of your intended institution for the right or wrong reasons?

 

Here are 5 handy tips to help you make sure you are a surefire acceptance at the University of your dreams…

 

1) DON’T simply Google ‘University Personal Statement’ and then follow the proforma word for word.

Yes, the advent of the internet has meant a huge resource is available to students all around the world. And absolutely, you should draw on lots of examples to gain inspiration for your own foray into the world of writing about yourself. But simply following the top result on the world’s most used search engine is not going to gain you kudos with University admissions advisors.

Instead, do some subject or even institution specific research. Then, use that as a framework for your first draft. Do your first choice university have a key phrase used in advertising? Try to paraphrase it. Does your intended course require ingenuity, creativity or a drive for data? Incorporate that into your writing. DON’T simply Google it – if you put more time and effort into the crafting of your work it will show. Who knows? Maybe one day you could be the result when another budding student searches for ‘template personal statement’.

2) DO ask family and friends what they would say are your top qualities.

Many people – students or otherwise – find it incredibly difficult to honestly appraise their strengths and weaknesses. Either modesty or self-esteem prevent us from being able to confidently declare ‘I’m really good at x, y or z!’ So ask someone who knows you really well, and then reflect on their observations. Maybe you do have an eye for finer details that could be described as an ‘interest in the minutiae’, rather than just being ‘fussy’. Perhaps your passion for a particular sport or team could be construed as ‘vigour for life’ rather than fanaticism. Sell yourself, but be honest – and throw modesty to the side in order to ensure you present your best self to your chosen university.

3) DON’T use a thesaurus for every single word in your application.

Learn from the infamous Joey Tribbiani (a f.r.i.e.n.d.s reference that should translate to a modern generation due to the Netflix resurgence of the classic series in recent months). You do not need to replace ‘heart’ with ‘large aortic valve’. Neither do you need to list seven different adjectives to communicate that you are a hard worker.

What you should try to do instead is think of examples of scenarios that prove you have the qualities you are trying to exemplify. A great example would be avoiding the phrase ‘I love reading and going to the theatre’ for an application to study Literature. What would be better is to express that passion through an example of your particular interest in a performance you recently attended as part of your A-Level study. E.g. “The creative license employed by x in the recent adaptation of the ‘Woman In Black’ prompted me to re-read the original; I found the new perspective enlightening.” This not only shows you have a broader interest in story-telling as well as Literature more specifically, it also shows that you have critical reflection skills key to a good candidate for degree level study.

4) DO get someone with good literacy and grammar skills to proof read your personal statement.

If having to choose between there/their/they’re gives you cold shivers, or your/you’re not sure which form of a homophone to use – CHECK! A critical friend is a good friend, and when submitting as crucial a document as your personal statement you will want someone to cast an eye over it first.

You’re going to need to write several drafts before you ‘get it right’, so don’t be afraid to ask people to check it over. Any student going through the application process will be able to empathise, and your teachers know how stressful this can be for you. Asking for the help is the only way to be sure you get it.

5) DO plan ahead.

If you rush your personal statement, it will be obvious. The development of ideas will be patchy and the vocabulary is bound to be repetitive and – dare I say it? – boring. Give yourself plenty of time to plan, canvass for ideas, procrastinate, panic. Once you’ve done all that, write at least two or three drafts before you’re satisfied. For many students, the personal statement is their only opportunity to engage directly with the departments and universities they are applying to. The same level of commitment and attention to detail should be applied to the application itself as to choosing the institutions. Make sure you have planned ahead, and that way you can be sure you have your best foot forward.

So remember…

These hints and tips are a springboard to a successful personal statement. In summary:

    • Make sure you sell yourself well – take this opportunity to shine.
    • Make it personal – universities appreciate applications with a bit of personality rather than generic formulas and cliches.
    • Make it count – you have one shot.