10 more things to put in your personal statement
University admissions tutors will be reading your personal statement as part of your application, but what are they really looking for? Here are their top 10 tips.
1. ParagraphsUse paragraphs, rather than one solid block of text, to help organise your material and make it more readable. A statement with three or four clearly-defined, well-structured paragraphs will look a lot easier on the eye to an admissions tutor who has hundreds to read.
Because you can’t indent on Ucas Apply, leaving a line between each paragraph will look even better. But on the other hand, the lines you leave will count towards your 47, so you won’t be able to say so much.
In the end it’s a matter of personal choice - so it might be a good question to ask a tutor at a university open day, to see which they prefer.
2. A balance of academic and extra-curricular contentUniversities tend to suggest that you focus about 75% on your academic interests and why you want to study the course and 25% on the extra-curricular dimension that shows you’re a rounded person. This is a useful guideline.
Having said that, it's not a hard and fast rule. So, if you don’t do much outside your studies, don't pretend. Just focus mainly on your academic interests and talk about what you think instead of what you do.
Different courses will need different approaches too, especially if you're applying for a professional course like medicine, primary teaching or social work, which will need much more emphasis on your relevant insights or experience.
On the other hand, for subjects like law, psychology or engineering, where having relevant experience is useful but not essential, maybe think about other ways that you've observed or engaged with the subject or demonstrated relevant skills - in your wider reading, hobbies, personal life or part-time job.
3. Evidence that you've researched your choicesIf your statement is all about your passion for media production, but their course is all about media theory and analysis, a tutor won’t be impressed. Likewise, raving about Ancient Rome won’t impress if their history course starts in 1500. So do research the courses thoroughly and ensure that the content of your statement shows you know what you’re applying for.
A growing number of university websites have sections on what their admissions tutors typically look for in personal statements – and this often includes specific advice for individual courses. You could be at a big disadvantage if you haven’t checked these out.
4. EngagementAn admissions tutor wants you to stand out from the crowd, but in a good way.
Showing your genuine enthusiasm and engagement with your chosen subject – the book you found in the library that changed your views, the relevant experiences you’ve had, the project you did, the podcast you just heard or the summer school or public lecture you went to – will help you get the tutor's attention.
You won’t achieve this by being bizarre, or with meaningless clichés like 'I was born to dance', 'biology is my life' or 'it has always been my dream to be a vet'.
5. Lateral thinkingDo talk about what inspires you about your chosen course, but try to avoid the more obvious and popular things that hundreds of other applicants will write about.
For example, a criminology statement that reflects on crime in 15th century Spain or the causes of the vandalism encountered in your part-time job in a leisure centre might have more impact than yet another one that talks about serial killers or CSI. Think outside the box!
6. HonestyBe honest. It’s your voice they want to hear – and if there’s even a remote chance that you might be invited for an interview, your statement will need to stand up to close scrutiny. You don't want any exaggerated claims coming back to haunt you during their questioning...
7. Enthusiasm'Most of all we want people who are enthusiastic about the course'. Admissions tutors are likely to love their subject and they want to teach students who share their enthusiasm. If you can also demonstrate intellectual curiosity, that’s even better.
8. Saying howShow, don’t tell. Give examples and evidence that demonstrate what you think or do. For example:
- How has playing basketball improved your teamwork skills?
- How has doing the Duke of Edinburgh's Silver Award made you a better leader?
- How did reading about the historical context of Yeats’s poetry change your understanding?
- How did you get the old man with dementia in the nursing home where you volunteer to tell you about his life?
- How did you get a new insight into law in your Saturday job on the bakery counter?
Must-read: Make your work experience count in your statement
9. Saying what you want from your courseAdmissions tutors often mention this. As well as outlining what you can offer them, what do you want them to help you achieve?
10. Ending on a positive noteMake the conclusion short and sharp, choosing your key message carefully and conveying it concisely. Don’t simply regurgitate what you’ve already said. Finish on a positive note with something that adds to your statement.
Struggling with your intro? Learn how to write a killer statement opening.