I have been helping my students with their personal statements for many years, ranging from Philosophy and English joint honours courses, to History, Medicine and even Computer Science degrees. Whilst I may not teach all of these areas my advice works for all applications. I have also written three personal statements for my own career ( including BA (Hons), PGCE and MEd).
Here is my advice on how to write a memorable personal statement (‘memorable’ for all the right reasons.)
Step One: Do your research (At the end of the day you are planning the next three years of your life so you need to do your background reading = no brainer!!)
1. Read a variety of University websites and explore a mixture of courses on offer – including joint honours and combination degrees.
2. Once you have narrowed down your choices to maybe top 5, print off the web description and highlight all the key words used by that university. (E.g from a quick scan of Oxford and Cambridge University courses, linked with R.S, words such as “intellectual rigour, engaging, discipline, reason logically, questioning – I would then try use these words as inspiration for my own statement.)
3. Look closely for the sort of student the University is looking for – not just the course requirements. (Simply put – if the university is offering a course for an enthusiastic, dedicated, hard working student – you need to show them evidence that you are THAT student)
Screen shot taken from York St. John University website for R.S, Philosophy and Ethics ( a very popular course for my students)
For example: The ‘strong standard of written English’ is shown through a grammatically correct, proof read statement. The ‘demonstration of knowledge’ is shown through your results. But a ‘personal interest’ in ‘current issues’ and evidence of ‘wider reading’ and ‘extra curricular’ activities is what your personal statement is for. I would start thinking of how I could show evidence of these.
Step Two: Write a list of everything you have done, achieved, joined, read, overcome etc (Let me be blunt – your results aren’t everything. Unfortunately a lot of students across the country achieve amazing results, you are just one of them. You must stand out from the crowd! These do not have to be amazing, life changing events just something different)
Here are a few examples:
- Helped with your college’s open evenings/ spoke in local schools
- Raised money for charity
- Volunteered for local charities/ scouts/ Sunday school/ hospice
- Trips with college or youth group
- Written a piece for a newspaper/ book/ have your own blog/ website
- A book/ author that has captured your interest
- Sports team – rowing, netball, cross country
- Member of a club – book, debate, Christian Union
Universities are looking for students to not only represent them academically but also within the wider community. So Universities are hoping that prospective students will join teams, clubs and help with open days/ events.
Step Three: Start Writing (examples taken from a current student’s application for R.S, Philosophy and Ethics)
I find statements that keep a simple structure work the best.
First para: start with an anecdote, quote or something from your list above that links to the course you are interested in.
Next two – three paras: work through your A level subjects explaining the transferable skills you are developing (initiative, independent work, verbal communications, analytic skills etc) from that course.
Next para: mention any wider curricular activities not already mentioned (Step Two List)
Conclusion: summarise why you want to do the course, why you are the right student for their course and leave the reader with a lasting impression (keep it snappy)
- Make sure your sentences are not too long – especially your first sentence. Shorter sentences are easier to follow.
- Ensure you speak of yourself (‘I’) rather than a group (‘ we raised £300’)
- Link activities/ A level courses/ points of interest to the skills you are demonstrating through doing these.
- Do not re -tell the university about their course. They already know why it is a great course, that is why they run/ teach it! Instead you need to say why you are the right student to be on their course, including your passion for the subject.