You’ve probably heard it a million times already - your personal statement is the most important part of your university application. It is your chance to shine, and show what a talented student you are, and what an asset you will be to any university course. Sometimes the hardest part of your personal statement is just knowing where to start. It is often easy to procrastinate the most important tasks in your life, and chances are your personal statement is one of those tasks that has been shoved to the bottom of your To-Do list. Read our Personal Statement Guide for some handy tips to know how to best approach writing your essay.
1. A Very Rough First Draft is Key
It’s often said that the key to writing a good personal statement is: stand out and be original. That’s definitely easier said than done! This pressure to stand out can make the task feel even harder than usual.
When approaching your personal statement essay - don’t overthink the first sentences you write. Putting too much emphasis on making these the best first lines ever written will inevitably lead to a writer’s block. Instead, start jotting down ideas, keywords and thoughts that you wish to include in your opening paragraph. Keep reminding yourself that this will be a first draft, and the emphasis should be on getting all of your ideas down on paper, not worrying about essay structure and tone. Think of your first draft as your chance to get your head around this whole personal statement thing, so make it as rough as necessary. It is likely you will make around 3-4 drafts before you are happy to show it to anyone else, so don’t be too precious about the first draft.
2. Avoid repetition
A lot of your personal information will be sent to all of your prospective universities with your application. While writing your personal statement, ensure you are not repeating any of this information, e.g. your name, education history, courses and grades. Therefore, you don’t need to write your predicted grades, or that you are studying X, Y and Z for A-Levels. While this may seem like a minor detail, this will definitely save space which will, in turn, give you more room to discuss the more important aspects.
3. Have the correct split between academic and non-academic content
When writing your first draft, you may want to focus on your personality and extra curricular activities, to help you to “stand out” from the crowd. This is always great to include, but it must be done in the correct way. Your personal statement shouldn’t be the first chapter in your auto-biography, so ensure it is not focused solely on your life and your achievements. The ideal split is often cited as 70% academic and 30% non-academic, and even 80-20% for more competitive courses. Bear this in mind when you are writing your personal statement, and always try to ensure both sections link well together.
The academic section:
This is your chance to show what a wonderful potential student you will be. Explore the influence the subject has had on you, and how you plan to research it further. It’s always a good idea to reference a text that’s had a particular impact on you, and inspired your desire to study this course at degree level. Perhaps a particular Ted talk in your subject area has stayed with you. Whether it is a podcast, an article, a play, even an interview, a song, or a critical theory - any medium could be used in your personal statement. This will be your anchor and point of reference to show your committed interest in the subject and your desire to study it further.
There is also an opportunity here to link the other courses you are studying at A-Level to further develop your interest in the course. Are you interested in studying English Literature and you have also studied sociology and politics at A Level? You could link this to a particular genre or time period you enjoy studying, and how it has improved the way you analyse texts. Whatever angle you wish to explore in your personal statement, ensure it allows you to explore your idea to its fullest. This will show your skills as a potential future researcher, and your dedication to the subject.
The non-academic section:
This is your chance to show a bit more of your personality and who you are outside of studying. Of course, this isn’t a section you should just dump onto the end of your statement. The best personal statements effortlessly weave the academic with the non-academic. This isn’t always easy and does require more skill. Avoid simply listing your achievements outside of school. Always try to link this section back to your desire to study your chosen subject at degree level. For example, do you have a part time job that has taught you some important skills that help you with your studies?
Perhaps you are a lifeguard part-time and after helping children in the pool, you now have a deeper interest in physiotherapy and the science behind muscle repair? Whatever skills and extracurricular activities you wish to reference in your application, try your best to always link back to your subject.
4. Draft, draft and re-draft!
Once you are pretty happy with what you have produced, ask other people to read it and offer their opinion. Ask family members, older siblings or cousins who might have gone to university to read through your personal statement. Once they have made their corrections and you have re-drafted it, take it further!
Ask your subject specific teachers if they would be willing to read and give feedback on your personal statement too. They are likely to have a degree in the subject you are also wishing to study, so they have first hand expertise in this area.
With all of these corrections and alterations, it can feel overwhelming and you may get disheartened by all of the amendments. Just remember - this feedback is priceless and does not mean your first essay was terrible! Other opinions can show you a completely different perspective, and can also highlight a main area you might have missed. Take all feedback on board, and compare your first draft with your final draft. It is great to see the progress you have made - and you will be left with a personal statement you want to show off to everyone.
Writing a personal statement is something that will require your time and commitment. However, producing a personal statement that you are proud of will ensure that your application fully reflects who you are as a person and a student. Keep working on it until you are proud of it!