May 15, 2020

How to Nail Your Personal Statement


Writing about ourselves and our interests ought to be the easiest thing we do in our academic career, but for some reason, there is nothing that fills the university applicant with more dread than the prospect of doing just that in their personal statement. This feeling is understandable, personal statements are a tricky beast; it’s easy to get confused about what you actually have to include, and students often fall into the trap of writing a cross between a CV and an introduction to an autobiography on their first attempt. However, once demystified, personal statements can actually be a relatively straight -forward and surprisingly rewarding experience, so, here are my top tips to make sure you nail it every time!


As the inimitable Harvey Specter so wisely told his young associate Mike Ross in the TV show Suits, “first impressions last,” and this applies threefold when it comes to your personal statement. You might have heard before from your teachers to avoid clichés and you should listen to them! The people in university admissions departments are sick of hearing how ‘passionate’ you are about a subject and they don’t care if ‘you’ve had a love of ‘insert here’ ever since you were little. My advice is to get straight to the point. A punchy but simple opening such as ‘I am driven to study such and such’ is perfectly effective and if you want to be more elaborate and start with a quote, make sure you have a strong link between that and the rest of your first paragraph; if you don’t, leave it out.


I cannot stress this enough. Although the personal statement is about you, it’s not about how much you enjoy playing tennis on the weekends, it’s about how you relate to your subject of choice. Talk about the things you have studied that have particularly fascinated you and made you want to pursue this subject at a higher level. This doesn’t all have to be course specific either, in fact, the more you can prove an interest in the subject outside of the classroom, the more original the statement. So, if reading Jane Eyre for A-level lead you to develop an interest in gothic novels of the Victorian era, make sure to put it in! If you’ve written an EPQ that relates to your subject, this is a great time to reference that too!


This is a tricky one. Whilst it’s impressive to mention what you will be studying at degree level, you also have to be careful not to be too specific, as each university you apply to will have a different course. However, there are certain things you can guarantee will be included across the board and referencing them is an excellent way to show ambition to develop your knowledge further. For example, if you particularly enjoyed the oral element of a language at school, you can be sure that you will be doing that at a higher level at university, so make sure to include how much you’re looking forward to it.


Although it might be tempting to include the time you volunteered for Amnesty International or won County Netball, if it’s not relevant to your subject, don’t talk about it. Refer to extracurricular activities only if you can link them back to the course you want to study; if debating society has taught you more about politics, fantastic, but if Gold Duke of Edinburgh hasn’t, it’s not worth using up your word count on it.


What Harvey forgot to mention is that last impressions are equally as important as first ones. Universities are competitive and you’re up against a lot of good candidates, so it’s important to tell the person reading your statement exactly what studying this course means to you. If you know it will help with the career you want to do afterwards, definitely tell them that and even if you don’t, it’s still important to convey a strong desire to deepen your understanding of your subject. After all, not everyone gets the opportunity, and no-one wants to teach a student who doesn’t want to be there.


Finally, take your time with writing it. Try and start as early as possible and don’t panic too much. This is an opportunity to hone in on everything you love about your subject, so keep calm and let yourself enjoy the process. Good Luck!