Part 2: How to Structure a Personal Statement

Your personal statement needs to be written in your best English. That means you cannot let spelling and grammatical errors spoil the statement. Ideas should be outlined clearly, enthusiasm shown and once it has been written up, you should ask people you trust for feedback.

The way to make your personal statement clear and concise, yet personalised, is through having a good structure and clear paragraphing. The method to good structure will be explained in this article.

1. Begin briefly by writing about the course.

In this introduction you are looking to explain why you are applying for your chosen course. You need to look at why the course interests you, why you think you are suitable for the course and any evidence to show that you have researched the course. Particularly if you are applying to a competitive course, the university needs to be able to see your USP (unique selling point) so that they pick you, and not someone else.

An example introduction for accountancy:

‘Whether it is making financial investments or managing spending, accounting is something we do in our everyday lives; and you know that if you are spending more than what is coming in then it has not been managed well! I want to gain more understanding about the science of accounting and how it can benefit the economy. With my skills in Mathematics and my business acumen I know that Chartered Accountancy is the perfect career for me. Therefore studying Accounting and Finance will give me the perfect foundation on which to build my career.’

From this introduction, you should be able to see that almost every sentence has meaning, and says something about the individual. It clearly shows why they are gravitating towards an accountancy degree and why they think they are suitable. There is also some light humour - which is acceptable to use however do be careful that you don’t go overboard.

2. Write about your skills and achievements.

Universities like to know the skills you have that will help you on the course, or generally with life at university, such as any accredited or non-accredited achievements. What skills have you got? This is an important time to discuss those said skills and any achievements which you’re proud of. Don’t just take this as an opportunity to boast about yourself. Rather, present your skills and always try to link back to the course.

Think about why the university should know about, for example, your skill of good teamwork. If you’re applying for a Psychology degree, is that the most important quality which needs to be mentioned? Remember, you’re limited on characters and lines and you only have enough to mention the most important skills and qualities. Don’t worry if you can’t fit in everything you’d want to say - the admissions team understand that you’re rationing characters.

A good way to write about skills in more detail, is to use the ABC method - activity, benefit and course. So consider, what have you done? What skills have you gained? And, how will this prepare you for the course? An example answer:

‘I am the school captain of the football team. This shows I have good communication and team working skills. This is relevant to Business Studies as being able to communicate effectively is an important skill when working on group projects.’

3. Write about your Hobbies and Interests.

Think about what hobbies and interests you have which demonstrate your personality, skills and abilities. This might not necessarily be a separate paragraph to your first two, but it is a key section to include.

Saying, ‘I enjoy running, swimming, playing the cello and taking part in Debating society’ does not tell the reader anything about you. It simply lists activities which any old Joe could have also mentioned. You need to be able to pick apart your different activities, explain what you learnt from it, what skills it developed and fundamentally, how it has helped you to decide that course X is the right course for you.

For example, I took part in the National Talent 2030 Engineering competition. It was an opportunity I could have used in my personal statement to show off my good teamwork skills. But it was also a chance to demonstrate my love for Science, and that I was keen to go beyond the school specification to learn more - it was an opportunity to see Science being applied to real life and this only further fuelled my desire to study something Science-related at university.

From this, you should be able to see that I’m not looking at just listing my interests. It was genuinely an amazing opportunity and something which I learnt a lot from.

An example paragraph by a candidate who applied for Korean Studies:

‘Achieving the Duke of Edinburgh Award (Bronze) has given me extensive leadership experience, working in schools for my volunteering and skills sections, and has given me the invaluable opportunity to participate in team building expeditions. Last year, I independently created, and now lead a Politics Club for students passionate about political and current affairs. Organising and chairing discussions and debates, while listening to varying views and opinions, has developed my leadership, teamwork and management skills, and taught me how to tackle problems logically. The club has expanded to now include members based in California, Michigan, New York, and Seoul, who join debates via Skype and bringing personal experience and insight to our discussions on culture, current affairs and international relations. Such discussions have broadened my knowledge and understanding of the world due to having such varied sources of information.’

Note that the student is linking their hobbies and interests to the course they want to study. Within Korean studies, there will be language learning, study of the History and culture and so the Politics club nicely compliments the course.

4. Write about your Work Experience.

Work experience isn’t necessarily mandatory for all courses, but is helpful for many. Some courses like Medicine and Dentistry may have required you to have a certain amount of experience in a certain place. Different universities will require different things so it is always fundamental you check their website for any requirements. I.e while some medical schools want you to have had some experience in hospital before applying, others don’t specify anything and are fulfilled if you can demonstrate you have had some interaction with people - whether that be as working in retail or volunteering in a care home.

Again, as you write up this paragraph, consider what skills and abilities you’re demonstrating. It is this paragraph where critically analysing what you saw on work experience is vital. Just as there is no use in just listing your hobbies, there’s no use in just listing what you’ve witnessed. You need to be able to talk about what you learnt.

For example, if you did work experience with the Police Crime Commissioner and saw the team of 30 staff working to maintain a good police force; what specifically did you see, and what did you learn from it? Perhaps you’re applying to study accountancy at university. In this case, it may have been that working with the finance department, where you were able to see how money in the police force is budgeted, which was of particular interest to you. Now that you’ve had that exposure, you’re keen to go into accountancy, and perhaps are inspired to look at ways to better invest and spend money than is currently being done in our economy.

For other courses, it might be more appropriate to discuss super-curricular work which you have done. Or, it might be that you discuss both. Super-curricular reading and wider research is always impressive and allows you to personalise your personal statement. It gives you the chance to talk about something you truly love, and are passionate about.

For example, this segment of a personal statement is from an application to study Chemistry:

‘Computer Science has not only taught me how to code and solve problems logically, which would be important skills in a future scientific career, but it also has given me another perspective from which to look at chemistry. We are already seeing jobs being replaced by computers because of their efficiency and chemistry is no exception. Seeing computational chemistry in action on a university open day, the code and the calculations being displayed in real time showed me a combination of my interests.’

5. Write about your Future Plans.

Finally, what would you like to do beyond your course? How are you planning to use the knowledge and experience you gain moving forward? For example, if you want to study History, do you see yourself going to do research after university? Or do you want to go on to do teaching and lecturing?

The universities are not expecting you to have a career path set in stone. Rather, they’re looking to see if you are aware of life beyond education, college and university. If you can show that you have an awareness of what career opportunities will open up to you, this will reflect well on you as a person and make you stand out to the university.

Finally, have a couple of lines to conclude your statement. They shouldn’t be too long but just enough to nicely tie all your paragraphs together.

For example:

‘As has hopefully been demonstrated I have deep and abiding interest in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and it is due to this that I seek to read them at university, finding answers to the many questions I have about the society, world and reality in which I live.’

Overall, don’t exaggerate and lie - you will definitely get caught out if you’re called to an interview.

Don’t rely on just spellcheck;

Go through your personal statement with a fine tooth comb. And, avoid leaving writing it to the last minute. The more feedback you can get from peers and colleagues, the better the outcome of your personal statement will be. Don’t be embarrassed when asking for advice - because that’s how you learn - and take your time with writing it up.

Good luck!

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