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#NoFilter: how to keep it honest in your personal statement

How does what you write in your personal statement compare with what you post on Instagram or Twitter?

Are you finding yourself putting a glossy filter on your interests and experiences in your statement?

Below are some bad examples of personal statement-filtering. If you're guilty of these, check out our tips for what you could write instead...


Interests and knowledge

No filter needed postcard - ecommerce
A surface understanding or tenuous connection to a subject won’t be enough in most cases when applying. You'll need to demonstrate a solid grasp of the key concepts that you'll be learning at degree-level.

For example, if you're applying to study music, talk about the niche, specialist genres you enjoy (rather than those which everyone knows), your historical knowledge and technical understanding of these, and your own practical abilities.

Plus, you'll sound more confident and enthusiastic when talking about something that’s had a real impact on you. 

What you've read

No filter needed postcard - english

Admissions tutors won't expect you to have read everything they have (phew!). But you can dip your toe into what's been written about your future field.

Get into the habit of reading further texts or related blogs, articles and journals. Don't feel like you need to know every opinion on every topic; think about a few areas you’re interested in and go from there. Make sure they're relevant to the course you’re applying to. 

But don't just list what you've read. Say what you thought about these too. Did you enjoy them? What didn't you like? Can you compare texts you've read?

Save or bookmark these for when you're on the bus or have some free time between lessons, so it feels less like 'work'. Set up Google Alerts to show that you're caught up on the latest developments or discussions.

Gap years

No filter needed postcard - gap year

Universities will want to know how you spent your gap year if you took one, as well as how this has made you a strong applicant for a course.

Plan how those twelve months are going to pan out well in advance. It can take time to organise placements, jobs, travel plans and so on. You don't want to find that you've got little to show for it at the end of the year. If you go overseas, mix pleasure with some volunteering or work experience.

Spare time

No filter needed postcard - weekends

At the start of Year 12, have a long, hard think about how you spend most Saturday and Sundays. And no, admissions officers won’t be impressed by how many seasons of The Office you’ve watched on Netflix...

Take up one or two new weekend hobbies which could add something to your statement. You don't have to step too far outside of your comfort zone either. These can be sports or activities you already enjoy or use to stay fit, but which also offer opportunities to lead a team or do something positive in the community.

If you kickstart this new attitude early on, you can accumulate enough experiences and skills to talk about when the time comes. 

Personal experiences

No filter needed postcard - broken leg

Keep in mind that your personal statement is a formal essay to a higher education institution. Avoid turning yours into a heartfelt, X Factor-esque plea.

Subjects relating to the health or wellbeing of individuals (e.g. nursing, medicine) can see students draw on significant personal experiences, like a loved one's illness, to show how these have inspired their decision to apply.

If this is the case behind your motivation to applying, that's perfectly fine to mention and move on - just don't base your whole statement around this.

Talk about formal, organised work experience where you've observed professionals at work from the other side. This way, you can show you clearly understand the field and what it takes to work in it.

And if you find yourself glossing over a lot of things…

If you're struggling to demonstrate your passion and skills for a subject, it might be time to reflect on your choices so far and reassess.

It could be worth having another look through our course search or using our A-level Explorer to see what those who studied the same A-levels, went on to do.

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