Personal statements. Whilst essential for applying to university, they can be tricky, confusing and sometimes even downright stressful. After drafts and drafts (and drafts!) I finally completed mine last week and in the process I learnt some useful tips that I am going to share with you today, in the form of ‘dos and don’ts’, to make the whole process just that little bit easier (and hopefully a whole lot less stressful)!
1) 1) DO BE AWARE OF THE WORD LIMIT
I cannot stress this enough! Unfortunately we do not have control over the length of our personal statements; UCAS limits us to 4000 characters or 47 lines. Ensure that you try and stick to exactly that, trust me, it will save you buckets of time and the very stressful process of agonising over “what on earth you could possibly cut out”. Confusingly, this character/line limit is not recreated identically between Word (which is what you’re probably writing with) and UCAS itself. Because of the differences between spacing and fonts etc Microsoft Word tends to show a smaller character/line count, for example, despite Word saying your statement is 47 lines, on UCAS it may say 49 lines. So… the handy tip here is to either write your statement directly into UCAS (simply type it straight into the box and press ‘preview’) or if you continue to write with Word, constantly paste your statement into UCAS – it’s really handy (and quite essential) to know exactly where you are in relation to the character/line limit.
You may be thinking character/line limit? Well which one is it? The golden rule here is to always go with the line limit – a statement can be 4000 characters and yet 50 lines, depending on the length of the words used. You’ll probably find that when finished your personal statement is in fact under 4000 characters – don’t worry; this is normal and is often the case due to the strict 47-line regulation.
Other useful things to remember in relation to the character/line limit: changing font or making your font size smaller on Word will have no effect whatsoever, everyone’s personal statement is converted into the same font when pasted into UCAS. Also, if you do have to cut it down, try and rephrase things instead of deleting them completely, think, “could I have explained that point in fewer words?” Also, don’t gush on and on – remember quality is often valued over quantity.
2) DO SHOW GOOD PRESENTATION
This really is a key factor to take in when writing your personal statement – in life you want to present yourself positively and properly, in a job interview, for example, you wouldn’t present yourself poorly nor would you speak in slang – so don’t do so in your personal statement!
Always use standard, English – for example don’t say “I wish to study maths cos” instead use “because”. In addition, try to avoid abbreviations, use “I am” instead of “I’m” – it just sounds more formal – which is exactly what a personal statement needs to be.
Spacing – don’t present your personal statement as just one big block of text, you should have around 4 or 5 paragraphs separated by spaces.
This makes your statement easier to read, and as admissions staff have to read literally hundreds of them, you want to make their task as easy as possible – cue spacing!
Finally do use spell check – correct grammar and spelling is essential to any statement, not just a personal statement that is geared towards an English degree, every applicant should want to appear articulate. A word of caution – sometimes spellings will come up as incorrect when they are in fact correct. This is due to the Americanised spell checking system that is installed on most versions of Word (and even on UCAS itself). Always use the English spelling – it is what’s expected when applying to English Universities.
WHAT TO ACTUALLY WRITE?
Ah, the dreaded opening paragraph can be so hard to write… no, wait, the whole statement can be so hard to write. I’m not going to lie, it took me hours and hours just to get started… at first, selling yourself to a university in 47 lines can be a challenge. Luckily, I have collected some useful tips to help you write away at ease.
– Your statement should be geared to answering these key questions:
1) Why do you want to study the course that you are applying for?
2) What makes you suitable?
3) What experience and skills do you have that would aid you at university?
4) What are your personal achievements and qualities?
– Don’t be modest, but equally, don’t be arrogant!
Sell yourself – don’t under describe your positive achievements or accomplishments, but at the same time avoid sounding arrogant and boastful.
– DO BE RELEVANT
Don’t just state things for the sake of it, for example “I was head of a football team” – how did that impact on you as a person? What skills did you gain from your experiences? Teamwork? Communication skills? Confidence? Always try to expand upon simple statements, what did you learn, what did you gain etc…
– DON’T EXAGGERATE
The worst thing to do is over exaggerate something, it just looks strange and will sound fake to an admissions tutor. For example “I have loved science since the day I was born” – really? Since you were born? I didn’t think so. Instead, perhaps explain where your love or passion for the subject started. For example “My fascination of history was initiated whist investigating…at…” See? Sounds much more realistic.
– DON’T LIE
Saying you’ve researched or read _______ when in you in fact haven’t done any such thing is a definite don’t when writing a personal statement. Not only could you get asked about that certain book (that you never even laid eyes upon) in an interview (imagine how embarrassing that would be!) you would also not be reflected accurately– and your personal statement is all about who? Yep, that’s right you!
– DON’T COPY OTHERS
Whilst it is useful to see exemplar personal statements (some schools even provide them) do not under any circumstances copy another persons work. As mentioned above your statement is about you not ‘Joe Bloggs’ from the Internet! Furthermore, UCAS uses a specialist software that detects plagiarism and if any is found your application could be cancelled which is taken very seriously – so just don’t do it.
– DO SEEK HELP
Yes your personal statement is about you and yes it needs to be written by you, but that does not mean that you are on your own! Teachers are there to help and guide you through the process, they’ve done it for hundreds of students before – they’re practically experts. So, seek their advice and opinions and get as many people to read through your statement as possible. Just remember to make sure that these are people that you trust, such as family, teachers and friends that have been through the application process before, as unfortunately some people will be looking to copy your statement – which is why you never post it online.
Well, there are my main dos and don’ts for writing a personal statement. I hope that they will make achieving that perfect statement a heck of a lot easier. Just remember – it’s not going to happen instantly – it will take time, patience and a lot of redrafting. So, get typing, even if it is just a rough first draft –practice makes perfect!