There is no shortage of advice available online about how, if you’re 17 and confronted with the ‘Personal Statement’ box on your UCAS application, you should go about filling it in.
While most of this is wise words from academics or people who’ve done it before you, nothing that I can find comes from anyone who writes day after day with the objective of persuading people to ‘buy’.
Don’t discount what you feel yourself, or what your teachers or your own parents might have to say on this, but here are a few thoughts to help you.
The first thing to understand is that your personal statement is one, complete item in the eyes of an admissions tutor. The personal statement of the person before you was one complete item, yours is one item, and that of the person after you is one item. This means that it should have one clear message, rather than being a huge list of bits that don’t really add up to anything in particular.
What should the message be?
Easy. The message should be. “I am an outstanding candidate to study this subject, and these things about me prove this.”
Admissions tutors have a lot of applications to read. Many, many applicants will have predictions of the required grades, so you can’t really hope to differentiate yourself that way. Your personal statement and what the school say about you are your main opportunities to do this, (unless you happen to be applying to somewhere that will interview you). As you can’t write the school’s report for them, your statement is your one chance to make the admissions tutor notice you and put you in the pile to be made offers.
The admissions tutor may well have to teach the people he or she admits. If he/she doesn’t have to teach them personally, valued friends and colleagues will have to. No-one in their right mind wants to spend 3 years teaching people with no interest in their subject, or people who come across as uninteresting or, conversely, pointlessly scattergun in their embrace of every passing fad.
Try to present a single cogent idea, relating to yourself and your interest in the subject you are applying for.
Set it out with scale. Don’t be embarrassed about making large statements so long as they are true. If you shiver with excitement when you hear French spoken on the stage, say so. If standing knee deep in an East Anglian fen and knowing you have 5 more days to do more of the same is the happiest you have ever been, say that. Seize your chance to tell the admissions tutor, who has had a lifelong relationship with this subject him or her self, that you are the real thing: a true student of that subject.
Thereafter, you will of course feel you want to namecheck your myriad achievements, so they don’t go unnoticed.
This is fine. Being a senior pupil, or hockey captain, or Juliet, or editor of the magazine are all good. Voluntary work, camps, work experience: they all have value. Don’t just list them though, in the way that most people do, because to do that is simply to string them out like beads and your achievements will look better than some people’s, less impressive than other people’s, but no different to anyone else’s.
Instead, try to focus your achievements back through the lens of the subject you are applying for.
“During my 9 months volunteering weekly at my local aged home, I have taken the opportunity to speak German each week with a woman of 85 who moved to England from Germany when she was 17, as I am now.”
“During my year of captaining the First XV, I have taken the opportunity to conduct a number of original Sports Science related experiments on both myself and my team mates.”
“My 2 vacation jobs working on local newspapers helped me to set up and edit a school blog, encouraging over 30 pupils of all ages to contribute.”
This technique shows off your achievements, while simultaneously evidencing that your interest in the subject has broken the confines of your studies, and started to infiltrate the way you approach the rest of your life, too.
One other thing. Tone of voice. Attitude.
You are not a total genius. You are not the most brilliant applicant ever. And however much you know about the subject now will probably seem worthless even to you in a year’s time. Even if you are a genius, claiming this in a swaggering tone in your personal statement does not assert your claim: it simply makes you look immature. Find a tone you feel comfortable with. Be confident about your strengths, and present them honestly but with humility.
Show that you already have the passion, but that what you want to be given is the opportunity to really explore the landscape of the subject.
It’s so easy for an admissions tutor to make you an offer. They want to make offers to good students.
You just have to make sure that in the only opportunity you may get to address them, you do everything you can to gently force their hand.
Now go and do a draft. And the best of luck.