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Top Tips for Writing a Great Personal Statement

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By Sarah Dixon

One of the most daunting sections on a university application form is the personal statement. Rather than just being able to rely upon your grades and school performance, this section forces you to showcase something more than your academic ability. This is where you have to lay out how you are different from the other students.

But what should you include in your statement to make it stand out? Here are our top tips.

Get a head start and begin working on it now

There’s a quote that’s usually attributed to Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you all day.” Twain never actually said that, but the concept holds true. Get the thing you are dreading done first, and the rest is plain sailing.

So, rather than filling out the rest of the form, but leaving your personal statement untouched until deadline day, start giving your personal statement some thought as soon as you can. Make notes, research the universities you’re applying to and work out how best to convey what an amazing student you would make.

Don’t panic, it shouldn’t be too daunting

The thought of writing 4,000 characters about yourself may fill you with panic but it’s really not that much. Roughly, it works out at about 750 words, or one and a half pages of typed A4 paper.  To give you some idea, your statement should be about as long as this article, and you’re already one-third of the way through it.

Break it down into sections

Rather than write 750 words in one go, break your personal statement into a few different sections and think of a paragraph or two to write about each. Make sure that whatever you choose to include, whether it’s about your studies or your extra-curricular activities, it has some link to your chosen subject.

The link doesn’t have to be obvious, although if you’re applying for a veterinary course you should certainly mention that you’ve been helping at the local pet shelter. The skill comes in making what you’re saying relevant.

Also, look critically at the things you want to include and think about what they say about you and why you would make a good student. Have you shown commitment by being part of a team for several years? Have you learned personal organisation skills from your volunteer work? If so, flag those elements up, to show your awareness.

Don’t exaggerate

It can be tempting to overstate what you’ve done, in an attempt to get yourself ahead, but don’t. Remember the people who are reading these statements are professionals, they have read many of them in the past and they know what is feasible for someone of your age.

Put your personality across, not someone else’s

Don’t copy anyone else’s statement. Don’t take an example from the internet or use a friend’s. Universities use services such as Copycatch to scan all applications and if yours is found to be too similar to someone else’s then it will get flagged. You don’t want to get caught out for cheating before you’ve even started.

However, it is fine to use a template and to fill it with your own details. Some people need that extra help, when faced with a blank page.

Find a critic

First, get your statement finished. Leave it a day or so and read it again, then make any changes you think are needed. It can be helpful to read your work over in a different way; print it out or read it on an e-reader rather than a screen, so you can look at the words in a different way.

Don’t forget to spellcheck. It may sound obvious but making sure that your spelling and grammar are right is important. You can’t necessarily trust a spellchecker. Sea watt eye mean? There are plenty of free online services you can use to supplement the spell checker built into Word/Pages or other word processing software, but a really close edit by a human being is your best bet at catching everything.

Make sure you know what every word you have used means. If software suggests a synonym, check the dictionary to make sure it’s saying what you want it to before you include it. Words are subtle things, choosing the wrong one can be devastating.

Once you’ve done that, ask someone, or several someones, to read it for you and let you know what they think. Friends, family members, teachers – anyone that understands what the personal statement is about. Don’t ask people who don’t, they won’t be any help at all.

And that’s really all there is to it. Think about why you want to study your subject and use this as an opportunity to say that to the university ahead of your personal interview. Swallow that frog!

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, this piece is 4,576 characters.)

Sarah Dixon writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in graduate jobs and finding candidates their perfect internship.

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5 Comments

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