This is always an immensely fun process. A personal statement for university is, more likely than not, the most significant 500 words you will have ever written (so far). It can’t just be well spelt. It has to be good. Really good. Think of a personal statement as a letter you’re sending to the love of your life that you haven’t met yet. Don’t write it like that, of course; we just mean you should treat it with the same level of respect and importance. This is your one chance to get across who you are, what you’re like, and add a personal spin to what would otherwise just be a list of statistics.
Here’s our ultimate guide into the wonderful world of writing a personal statement for your university choices – what to include, what not to include, and, most importantly, how to include what you should include and how to leave out what you should leave out. See? We’re having fun already.
Remember, a personal statement should be personal. It’s about you, and it’s your one big chance to get across what’s great about you. Sell yourself as a person, not just as a student. Don’t underestimate how much a university cares about which people they bring into the fold and who they leave out. Your personal statement will have a direct and very important effect on your chances of getting into university; remember that.
So, what bits about you are good and what aren’t so good? Number of Jagerbombs you can down on a Friday night is probably a bad move (unless you’re feeling pretty risqué)
So, what bits about you are good and what aren’t so good? Number of Jagerbombs you can down on a Friday night is probably a bad move (unless you’re feeling pretty risqué). Number of jobs? Better, but still not perfect. Number of jobs and how they relate to your university degree? Yeah, that’s good. But a personal twist is also nice. Besides, there’s only so far you can relate some jobs to your subject – working with bleach whilst cleaning a shop floor isn’t really that relevant to a chemistry degree, we’re sorry to tell you.
So, what kind of personal twist can you throw in there to make that pretty good application perfect? Well, frankly, that is up to you. But think of something a little interesting – not something you are even necessarily proud of – just something that would make someone want to meet you. That’s the most important thing really; trying to get across you’re the kind of person that would be interesting enough not just to get by at university, but flourish there. That’s what a personal statement’s all about and that’s what you should, at all costs, aim for.
And don’t for a second complain that you don’t have anything interesting to say. In the words of Great Britain’s favourite two-hearted alien, “in 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important”. We know “important” isn’t quite “interesting”, but frankly it’s close enough and Doctor Who is topical at the moment, so we’re going for it. Besides, it’s a good example of the kind of drivel you probably shouldn’t put in your personal statement. “Likes Doctor Who” isn’t the greatest bullet point of all time.
But we’re getting past our point. Point is, you’re pretty cool. Honestly, you are. You’ve won TIME magazine’s person of the year 2006 award (seriously – look it up). You’ve managed to survive on a giant rock hurtling around a ball of fire at 67,000 miles per hour for at least 18 years. You’re the product of thousands and thousands of years of successful sex, and you’ve managed to get over that fact. Trust us, you’re pretty cool. So, take that into account when you write your personal statement and really, really be as interesting as everyone but you knows you can be. We’re sorry if we’re getting a little over-dramatic, but this really is immensely important. Onto the next big point.
Getting across what experience you have in life and work is almost – and it’s a very close call – as important as getting across a sense of yourself. Work experience in any form is always a great thing to put in your personal statement. Even if it has nothing to do with the field you’re interested in and is the most mediocre job in the world. That’s really beside the point. Of course, experience in an area that’s relevant is worth more than anything else, but that doesn’t mean that any other experience doesn’t tell the person reading your personal statement a lot already.
And it really does – it’ll tell whoever’s reading that, minimum, you’re employable to at least some degree. Which genuinely is worth more than you think. It also shows that you’re committed and driven enough to actually go and get a job. Which again, stands for more than you’d think. Finally, it shows the person reading that you are capable of learning skills and following instructions well enough to not be fired, or at least to not have been fired yet. Seriously, any experience at all is always a good thing, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.
And if you don’t have much experience, we highly suggest you find yourself some. Even if it involves a hobby of yours, it’ll still be immensely helpful to your chances. We know someone who put on their personal statement that they sold their watercolours at a car boot sale. Another had collected damaged guitars, repaired them, and sold them. Even if it has nothing – seriously, nothing at all – to do with your degree, getting a job is still a really good idea. Besides, you could use the money, couldn’t you? Everybody could do with an extra bit of cash every now and again, particularly as university approaches and you’ll be needing as much as you can possibly lay your hands on.
If you can’t find work anywhere, for whatever reason, then volunteer somewhere, even if it is just for the summer. Presumably you’re reading this article because somebody just told you that you need to write a personal statement and the deadline is fast approaching (fair enough). That means, we realise, you won’t have much time to find a job if you don’t have one already and don’t have much work experience. In this case, try to apply for a position over the summer, and mention in your statement that you’re about to get a lot of experience doing [blank]. Again, it’ll be worth a lot more than you think and volunteer work is very, very easy to get. People quite like having unpaid employees, it turns out.
When volunteering in a job, as opposed to working there, it’s best to reach for the stars first if you have time. Even the big companies in your area will be very keen to take on anyone who’ll work for free, and should be quite keen to have you even if you don’t have much experience in the role. You could be stacking boxes for GlaxoSmithKline or you could be wiping down the surfaces in a kitchen or you could just be standing behind the counter looking pretty at a music-tech shop. Point is, there’s a lot that looks a lot better on paper than it feels like at the time, and you should go for the jobs that at least look relevant before downgrading to your local charity shop.
However, this is only if you have the time to be pro-active and apply for positions at these places and expect a response before you should be sending your statement in. If you don’t have any time, then the charity shop, we’re afraid, will have to do. Sorry, but strike whilst the iron is hot – it may have been hot some time ago. Note: there is NOTHING wrong with charity shops. We love them and support our local – staff uniforms at Coursefindr are provided by a well-known charity shop that supports more mature citizens.
Outside work and your studies there is presumably a lot of stuff you do in-between. When talking about these (and talk about them you absolutely should – this is about you, remember) make sure to be as dramatic as possible and choose from the best bits – watching films doesn’t cut much ice. Ice-skating does. Particularly when you make sure to identify how social it has made you and how good at meeting new people (bla bla bla) you are because of it.
That’s the important thing – making sure to sell whatever you’ve done outside of education and work in the right way. Sports make you social. Music makes you multifaceted. Reading makes you informed. It might sound like blatant lies and over-complicated misinformation, but it genuinely will help your chances. Nobody has worked out just yet whether or not anyone actually believes this or this is just an opportunity to show off your skills at seeing the best in a situation. Either way, writing about your extracurricular activities in the most positive way possible will look good. Trust us.
But – and this is a big, juicy, important but – try not to go too overboard. One sentence should be enough; something along the lines of “I played as part of my school rugby team for five years, and socialising with my teammates has made me a much more social person – as well as being great fun!” will be long enough to get your point across and not milk it (as well as saving some space to show off about everything else you can talk about).
How you structure your personal statement is another very important thing to consider – no matter what stuff you put in, it has to look good, and the first step in making it look good is having an excellent, easy to read structure that will make the whole thing flow well and seamlessly fit together. The easier a personal statement is to read, the more fun your reader will have and the more chance you’ll have to get across what makes you special and why you should be considered for your course.
The first step in making it look good is having an excellent, easy to read structure that will make the whole thing flow well and seamlessly fit together
The first thing everyone should start with is their introduction. Keep it simple, concise, to the point, and if you want to be a little humorous make sure it’s light and not too radical. Also, whatever you do, don’t put in a quote from somewhere, no matter how good or relevant you think it is. As Yoda put it – “nobody likes an unnecessary quote”. OK, he didn’t say that. But he should have.
Next up is the all-important relevant work experience – remember to make any work experience as relevant as possible; if you can’t or it seems like too much of a stretch to make whatever work experience you have relevant, you should still mention it but maybe a little later in your statement. An introduction and then something entirely irrelevant will damage your structure more than help it.
Then comes your chance to shine and begin talking about yourself, whilst keeping it relevant to your course – talk about aspects of your current or past courses you enjoy, and don’t be tempted to talk about the bits you’re not so keen on! You’d be surprised how many personal statements get just a little bit too chatty and mention how they don’t enjoy this or that part of the course all that much – nobody wants to hear about that and they won’t be as impressed with your honesty as they will be disappointed in your lack of enthusiasm.
Move on from your personal preferences in your course to your personal life – talk about your hobbies and non-relevant extra-curricular activities. Remember to make them look as good as possible; what makes playing sport or playing guitar a positive thing as far as university is concerned? Give examples (if you can) of how these activities have affected or influenced your academic life. Don’t go overboard, though – a course of antibiotics saving your life when you were a child didn’t give you lifelong aspirations to study pharmacology, and we all know it – go easy on the sob story, keep it light, and above all else make it as relevant as possible.
Finally, conclude with a finishing sentence or two on how much you hope the university considers you and how you’re looking forward to studying [blank] professionally. It doesn’t have to be intently formal, but if in doubt, try to make it more formal than informal. Remember, this is an official document, so yes it should be personal; but that doesn’t mean it should be chatty.
Another excellent way to conclude is to briefly talk about what you want to do after university – this will show you have some idea of what you want to do with your life, which everybody – including the people reading your statement – will be impressed by. If you choose to go down this road, make sure to be specific; you’ll just be wasting words if you’re vague about your future prospects.
Remember that above all else, the entire statement should read well. Everything else should come in second place – as such, you don’t have to stick to our structure if you feel that the statement would look a lot better if some things were moved around or re-prioritised. At best the above is a basic guideline to how most personal statements should look – when you’ve finished your draft, have a look-see and see if anything should be moved around or nipped and tucked.
The structure of your entire personal statement should also depend hugely on what course you’re thinking about taking – a course like English, for example, should have a very specialised personal statement and should have more of a focus on what books or plays you’ve read and how they’ve inspired you. A personal statement for a degree in mathematics should have less focus on this and more focus on relevant work experience (even if it is just working on a till) and the modules enjoyed within your pre-university course. Again though, this all depends on personal experience – maybe you’re hoping to study English and have experience working for your school newsletter. It all depends on the individual – that’s kind of the point.
Now, we all know you shouldn’t lie on your personal statement, and we absolutely stick to that advice. Just in case, we’ll tell you again: don’t lie on your personal statement. OK? Good. Now, we know some of you may well ignore our advice anyway, so here’s some advice for the idiots that won’t take it the first time around.
Don’t lie on anything that is checkable. Ever. That means no fake jobs, no extra qualifications, and no awards or medals that you don’t actually have. It goes without saying that all of this will be checked, you’ll be caught out, and you’ll have your name dragged through the mud. Not just for lying, but for lying and being stupid enough to be caught out on something that will doubtless be painfully obvious.
Now then, what you could lie about – you shouldn’t, and we don’t suggest it at all. Seriously, it’s a bad idea – are things like hobbies and activities outside the world of paperwork and documentation. So by all means tell your prospective future professor that you can play the guitar or that you can speak fluent French, but we don’t suggest it and it’s probably not worth the risk. Surtout quand vous êtes interrogé par un professeur qui parle effectivement la langue. Besides, do you really feel that bad about your extracurricular activities that you have to lie about them? That’s not good, man. Not good at all.
Some General Advice
Finally, we have some advice that all prospective students really should receive before writing their personal statement on what to avoid and what to jump right into the middle of – there’s a lot of awful personal statements out there, and many of them could be made much, much better with just a few gentle pointers in the right direction.
The best way for anyone to think about their personal statement is as a date – this is your chance to get across who you are in the best possible light and holding back the bad/weird/“interesting”/political parts of you that occasionally rise to the surface – focus on the good bits and be yourself but only the bits of yourself that will make a good first impression. And just like a date, it’s fine to be nervous! You should be nervous; it’s an important document and you should be worrying about it. If you’re not, you should really start caring more.
Another excellent piece of advice to remember as far as personal statements go is that less is more. Your personal statement shouldn’t waffle on for several sentences about your subscription to Private Eye or how you excelled in chess club. It should bulge with all the things you’ve done, plan to do, and what you’re like as a person. Writing a personal statement like this takes a lot of work – it’s best to write something about twice the size of the character limit, and then cut back ruthlessly until you’ve got something truly stuffed full of good things about yourself.
What will help in this aim of really stuffing your personal statement is the avoidance of flowery, delicate, overly complicated language. Even English applicants should think twice before shoving long words in there just because they think it’ll impress someone – it won’t; no professor is going to be impressed with your clunky sentence about your gargantuan wealth of penetrating experience in experimental literature. Don’t bother.
Some of you will be applying for two separate courses at different universities. This is fine, but the more different the two courses are, the harder and harder your personal statement will be to write. If you’re thinking about applying to two completely unrelated courses, try to reconsider – for one thing, it’ll make your personal statement a lot harder to write, and for another, it’s best to be passionate about a course before you start it.
Finally, make sure to get as many people as possible – including yourself – to check, double-check, and triple-check your personal statement. It doesn’t matter how impressive your grades are, how inspired you are, and how many hours of relevant work experience you have if there’s a glaring typo in paragraph three that will doubtless annoy the reader. You need to be very, very, very confident and happy with your personal statement when you send it off, so make sure to pick it apart ruthlessly and listen to all the advice you’re given. Good luck and have fun with it!