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Writing your Personal Statement

Updated: Nov 3, 2019

"I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions" ~ Stephen Covey

As I have recently finished my first year of university, one of the things I had to do in order to get into university was to write a personal statement. This part of the process of applying to university is probably the one that is the most time consuming. As I did not really know what a personal statement was, I was unsure of what I was meant to write in it or how to make my personal statement stand out from all the others. This is something that is very important as admissions tutors have to go through thousands of personal statements each year so you want yours to stand out. Today I thought I would share with you some tips on how to write your personal statement, how to stand out from the crowd, and what you should do before you send it off.

Before you start writing, you need to be aware that UCAS will only let you write 47 lines of text, which is around 500 words (or 4000 characters if that is what the application you are using to write uses). I think this is normally about a page, but the spaces in-between paragraphs also count as lines, so on average you should write around eight lines per paragraph (or seven if you are writing six paragraphs - you only really need to write five paragraphs unless you are going on a gap year, which is when you need six).

One of the first things you need to do when planning what to put in your personal statement is splitting up what you are planning to write into five sections (or six if you are going on a gap year). These should be (and I would recommend on this order, however you can change it slightly if it suits you better): why your chosen subject interests you; any work experience you have undertaken (it is best to include things that link to your subject); your hobbies and interests (again, if you can link any of these to your chosen subject, then please try to do this); why you are going on a gap year (obviously only include this if you are planning on going on a gap year, or if you have already been then you could also include what you did during this time); any achievements (try and link these to your chosen subject); and finally, what your career goal is once you finish university (this does not have to be exact, but just give them a rough idea so they know you are serious about taking and completing this course).

The above is a recommended guideline that I found in a personal statement booklet that got sent to me from a university, however I have not stuck to this exact structure or the exact topics it recommends you talk about. I also wrote six paragraphs, even though I did not go on a gap year. I think the structure I used and am about to give you was one given to me from my sixth form: the subject I am interested in and why; how the subjects I studied at sixth form link to what I want to study at university; any work experience I have done (linked to my chosen subject) (this was split into two paragraphs); any interests I have (I also wrote about some of the skills I gained from these, such as team work and social skills); and what I hope to learn during my time at university and what I want to do afterwards.

One thing I will tell you now is that you should not expect to just write one draft and be able to send that off all in the space of one day. It took me about five drafts before I was able to send mine off. Also, do not be put off if you go over the word/line/character count on the first couple of drafts. My first draft was just over 800 words, which gradually got cut down to around 600 words, which did work out at 48 lines so I think when it came to putting it onto UCAS, I had to cut it down slightly (pretty sure I ended up putting both work experience paragraphs into one and then maybe cutting out one or two words as it would not let me upload it otherwise, cannot remember exactly what happened though).

You also need to get as many people as possible to read through your personal statement, so they can give you their opinions on anything you should cut out or things you could add in. I know I struggled when writing about my work experience and interests in remembering everything I had done and how it tied in with what I wanted to study at university, so writing everything down and asking other people really helped me. If you are still at sixth form/college then I would 100% recommend asking your teachers to help you as it is highly likely they have been through this process themselves and will have helped other students with their personal statements. I personally asked the librarian, my mentor (who also taught me two of my subjects) and my head of sixth form. They were really good at helping me cut my word count down and in re-phrasing some of my sentences to help me stand out from all of the other candidates. Obviously, you can ask whoever you want and as many people as you want, I just asked these three as I thought they would be the most helpful.

Even though you personal statement is all about you, one word you want to try and move away from as much as you possibly can is 'I'. I used this word (or letter, what even is 'I' when written in a sentence?) quite a few times in my personal statement (including in my final draft) and I wish I had not done this. For example, instead of saying "I recently undertook a week of work experience at a local primary school...", I should have said "While on work experience at a local primary school...", which would have given more variety in the start of my sentences and made it more appealing to whichever unfortunate person had the misfortune of having to read my personal statement.

I will tell you now that you should start sooner rather than later when it comes to writing your personal statement. You never know how many times you are going to have to re-draft it, plus you need to take into account the time others are going to have to put aside to read through it, write in their suggestions and go through it with you. In one case, it took someone who I gave my personal statement to around a week to get it back to me and when you are having to work to a deadline to get everything sent in on time, the last thing you want is others to take a while reading through it and you then panicking to get it sent over and sending over a draft that could have been better and ending up regretting it. The best thing for you to do is to get it over and done with so that it is one less thing you need to think/worry about.

I hope you have found this post helpful if you are beginning to think about writing your personal statement. If you have any other questions then ask them in the comment section or ask me on twitter or instagram and I will do my best to answer them. Or, if you have any other advice, then please give that in the comment section below, as I am bound to have missed something.

Love Beth xx

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