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Top tips on how to create the perfect Personal Statement
‘The art is giving admissions tutors what they want – whilst being personal and demonstrating a passionate interest in your chosen degree subject’

Dr Richard Child, Higher Education Adviser, Barnard Castle School

Few university courses hold interviews as part of the selection process. Consequently, the Personal Statement is the only opportunity for an applicant to express their suitability and enthusiasm for their chosen degree course. This is a daunting thought for many students, which can lead them into spending either an inordinate amount of time on this part of the application or tempt them into taking a short-cut.

Short-cuts include copying material from the internet, books or someone else’s statement. UCAS uses plagiarism-detection software to check every application and alerts universities if similarities are found. Another short-cut is to get a teacher or parent to rewrite a statement. Students should ask another person to check the spelling, punctuation and grammar; but experienced admissions officers can tell when a statement is mostly the work of an adult. The content should focus on the student’s motivation for a particular course, such as career plans, and demonstrate an understanding of what the study of the subject is likely to entail.  Evidence of commitment and reading beyond the curriculum is welcome, but avoid making lists.  Similarly, work experience or other relevant experience should be discussed, rather than just mentioned.

Finally, quirkiness in a Personal Statement is risky. The statement should be personal, but writing it in verse, or using humour or quotations may or may not be appreciated by the selector and negative statements should certainly be avoided.

Jackie Robinson, Head of Sixth Form, Sunderland High School

At least 75% of the statement should cover the following areas: reasons for choosing the course; why you are suited to the course; enthusiasm for the subject and your commitment to study. The remaining 25% should cover areas like your non-academic achievements, extra-curricular and voluntary work. In addition to this, it is crucial that you emphasise what these elements have meant to you and what benefits it has brought you. For example ‘volunteering for X has given me a great insight into the business world.’

Also, always check the entry profiles properly before application and plan your statement carefully. Expect to do several drafts, start early, check deadlines, back up your data and make sure you write a good ending paragraph that brings attention back to the chosen degree and your potential for success.

Mrs Joy Gatenby, Headmistress, Newcastle Church High School

In Sixth Form at Church High we offer an individual tutorial system which ensures that all girls are coached every step of the way as they embark on their journey to Higher Education. This system focuses strongly upon the writing and preparation of Personal Statements for university. Staff work with girls on a one to one basis, helping them prepare Personal Statements which are reviewed repeatedly before being declared strong enough for submission. In addition to this high level of support, we believe the key to success lies in the twelve months prior to submission, when girls are instructed on how to develop their CV and gain experiences that will enhance their applications and demonstrate commitment to their chosen course. 

Throughout Sixth Form, girls are able to attend lectures at university, gain work experience in the fields in which they are interested and benefit from career related speakers in school. At Church High, teachers also ensure that girls are supported in selecting the best and most appropriate university courses as well as ensuring they are fully prepared for subject specific university interviews and assessments. In this way, we ensure that when the time comes, our students are given the best possible opportunity to reach their full potential and be successful, both academically and personally, after Church High.

Paul Telfer, Personal Statement Advisor, Yarm School

I’ve been privileged to help sixth formers shape their personal statements for over 25 years and compiled that experience into a bestselling book – Personal Statements: How to Write a UCAS Personal Statement. The art is giving admissions tutors what they want – whilst being personal and demonstrating a passionate interest in your chosen degree subject. The one golden rule is: be specific. To help students, we developed an app based on the book allowing students to create their personal statement on their phone or iPad. The Personal Statement App advises and reassures students, giving them confidence and a step-by-step structure to follow towards an individual statement.  An app brings the statement into the twenty-first century, allowing the student to maximise their time by writing the statement anywhere at any time. One student reviewer said ‘It’s a great app for anyone attempting to write a Personal Statement. Clear guidelines, simple to use and expert advice that really helped me get into the university I wanted.’ Paul Telfer’s Personal Statement App is available from the Apple Store or www.perfectstatements.co.uk

Graeme Hallum, Deputy Head, Newcastle School For Boys

The most important part of the UCAS form that you have complete control over is your Personal Statement. It is your first opportunity to convince admissions tutors of why they should offer you a place on their course. Here is a list of a few things they’re looking for. 

  • Genuine enthusiasm and passion for the subject that you want to study at university.
  • Details of what you have read about the subject, what you are looking forward to studying within the subject area and how your AS and A2 subjects have assisted you in choosing the subject applied for.
  • What career plans you have for when you complete your course and how the subject you have chosen impacts upon these plans. If you are applying for a degree that directly relates to a specific career, this should be obvious. 

It is useful to think of the Personal Statement as an argument that uses a series of reasons, either independent of each other or those that work in conjunction with other reasons, to lead to a conclusion that states clearly why you should be offered a place on the courses you have applied for. About two-thirds of your statement should be focused on your chosen course and any information or evidence presented must be clearly shown to be relevant to your choice of degree or be shown to have developed in you essential transferable skills. For example, whilst you might be especially proud of your sporting and dramatic achievements, these in themselves will not secure you an offer of a place on a course. What is relevant, however, is how these pursuits have developed certain skills or disciplines and how these have benefited you as a consequence.

Published in: November 2013

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