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How to make your personal statement stand out – as told by admissions tutors

By Alan Bullock (Careers Adviser) - 17 September 2014

Student painting a fence bright colours

“Admissions tutors are busy. You have to grab their attention”... “We receive more than 1,500 applications. It’s like jungle warfare!”… “Don’t give us a load of old flannel. Tell us what makes you stand out.”

These are a few choice words from admissions tutors – and here’s how to deliver a polished personal statement that will get you noticed.

The strong consensus is that you’ll stand out by being interesting, reflective, relevant and personal, not by using gimmicks. As a law admissions tutor explained succinctly: ‘Off-the-wall won’t work.’  Or as another tutor put it: ‘We want you to be different, but not TOO different.’ Avoid the top things tutors don't want to see in your personal statement at all costs... 

Here are some more tips to help your personal statement stand out in the right way – see our personal statement checklist for advice on putting your statement together.

1. Follow these dos and don'ts

Our student reporter headed to universities to capture admissions tutors' comments on camera...

 

2. Start well

Write a strong opening sentence, making it clear why you have applied to study a particular course. Lee Hennessy | Deputy Head Of Recruitment - Admissions At University Of Bath

3. Make it easy to read

Don’t write it in one long paragraph! Write well-structured paragraphs, so that experience, additional qualification, aspirations etc are clearly-defined. Karen Pichlmann | Head Of Admissions - Bournemouth University

4. Don’t let someone else write or rewrite it

Write it yourself – and ensure that it reflects your own personality. By all means ask others to proof read it or critique it, but make sure that you are the one to make any changes. Over-editing just results in any individuality being lost. Angela Milln | Director Of Student Recruitment - University Of Bristol

5. Use examples

When you are talking about your strengths and qualities, make sure you use examples to highlight your claims whenever appropriate. Graham Hackney | Senior Student Recruitment Officer - Uclan

6. Let your personality in

Personal statements should be original, not just in terms of using your own words and avoiding plagiarising someone else’s work, but to make sure that what you write reflects who you are as an individual. Andrew Hood | Admissions Manager At University Of South Wales

7. Demonstrate a real interest in the subject

It is really important to focus a significant amount of the statement on your chosen subject and to detail what you have read or participated in to evidence a genuine interest in it. For example, by reading around the subject area, talking to someone in the relevant profession or gaining some relevant work experience. Nathalie Mortimer (Head of UK Student Recruitment, University of Nottingham),

8. Don’t lose sight of the task at hand

Always remember to answer the question ‘why should we give you a place on the course?’ rather than just writing about yourself – every bit of the personal statement should be answering this question. Fran Bonner And Becci Hubbard | Community Outreach Team - Nottingham Trent University

9. Value-added skills and learning

Emphasise what you have been doing to develop your awareness and understanding of your chosen subject above and beyond the requirements of your A-level, BTEC or International Baccalaureate course. Mike Nicholson | Director Of Undergraduate Admissions - University Of Oxford

10. Relevant work experience – and what you learned

If you are applying for a strictly vocational degree like veterinary medicine, the importance of reflecting on your work experience can’t be stressed highly enough. Jim Cannon | Widening Participation Development Officer - Royal Veterinary College University Of London

11. Write naturally

Use your own voice. Students often lack the confidence to say things the way they naturally would and end up writing a bunch of bland clichés. Reveal your personality and your own opinions in the statement, not what you think we want to read. Chris Fuller | Schools And Colleges Liaison Officer - University Of Southampton

12. Remember – explain the Action, the Benefit, and relevance to the Course

Ensure that you follow the ABC rule and keep it course-related and relevant. Claire Little | Home/eu Student Recruitment Officer - University Of Surrey

Next, find out what admissions tutors said when we asked them what you should put into your personal statement.
 

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