Continuing our series of ‘How to write your personal statement’ for a university place in the UK. If you missed last month’s look at ‘Be Realistic’ - Applying to United Kingdom Universities - Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3<link>.
And so to the actual personal statement. Now you know what courses you are applying for, you should feel much more focused on what you want to say. Reread the notes you made while researching. Use the planning structures suggested on the UCAS website. Make a list, a chart, a spreadsheet or a mind map (whatever works for you) of why you want to study this subject and why you will be VERY good at it. The VERY is a reminder to be passionate, enthusiastic and upbeat. This is not a time for modesty – never say anything negative about yourself, but it is also not a time to list all your achievements either – hopefully your teachers will sing your praises in your reference [translated and notarised, of course]. You need to explain why you will be good at this subject, why you love it so much you want to spend the next three years studying it and why you will be a first-rate student. These last three ideas should come through with every sentence you write – it is a good test to match up each point you make to at least one of these ideas and if it doesn’t fit in, maybe it is irrelevant to the application.
Your opening paragraph needs to be about the subject you intend to study. It needs to be an ‘attention-grabber’, but doesn’t necessarily need to be anecdotal. Try to be honest and original. Don’t write about something that happened when you were three, or in first grade. Don’t use a quotation – the admissions’ officer wants to hear from you, not someone else. Don’t write about your parents or grandparents - everyone is influenced by them, it’s not exceptional and doesn’t make you look like the sort of independent student that universities are looking for. And DON’T PLAGEURISE [Google it]!
That “tricky”middle bit”
Most students will be applying to study for a subject that they have studied before at school, a derivative, or an amalgamation of subjects. Think about what you have really enjoyed so far about your classes, your experiences, your reading. It might be subject knowledge, it might be the process of learning this subject, it might be lab work, it might be the skills you are acquiring, it might be the application of the subject to other areas, it might be the excitement of knowing where this subject might lead, it might be unanswered questions you absolutely need to find the answers to that go way beyond your current curriculum. Don’t be vague. Your experience should be unique, so go into detail.
Write about any further activities you have done relating to this field. Perhaps you have done some work experience or an internship. Maybe you have conducted a piece of research, entered (and possibly won) a competition, produced a project, given a presentation, attended a lecture, interviewed someone, been a subject teaching assistant, travelled abroad, met an influential person or just read around the subject beyond the required course textbooks. At this point, explain not only what you did, but the skills and knowledge you learnt from the process, how this affected you, and how this might link to what you will need to be a successful student.
A few other things to remember. Firstly, if you have done a project or a piece of research as a team, do mention that – you cannot take sole credit for something you did with help, but do highlight your part in detail, and also say what you learnt from working with other people, how you grew from this experience personally, and how you look forward to further opportunities like this at university. Secondly, don’t lie. Only mention books you have actually read – if you’ve only read chapter 6, say that. There are some books that are overly cited (Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, for example) – if you really want to use one of them, make sure you have something original to say about it. And finally, it is much better to make your references professional ones, but if a family member has really influenced you, keep it about you, not them, and be objective.
Next month we’ll look at the concluding part of writing your personal statement.
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