Personal Statements fill a lot of Year 13 students with dread, and rightly so. It is at least for most universities and courses the only way you can showcase yourself as an individual beyond just your grades. It will also be the first time you write something in such a format and for people who don’t have the best essay writing skills it can be an even more daunting task. There is also no one size fits all method of writing a good personal statement. Nevertheless, I will be sharing my top tips on how to write a personal statement for a top UK university.
When writing my own personal statement, I struggled a lot with picking what I wanted to study. I originally wanted to study Law but after doing some work experience over the summer of Year 12 I quickly realized that perhaps studying it as a degree might not be as fulfilling as I first expected it to be. This was an unsettling realization as I had already written a personal statement for Law during my summer as a means to be ahead of the game. Time feels really limited during Year 13 and while it is, do not dismiss the value of setting aside maybe a few hours a week really just thinking and researching different courses and careers you want to get into. You do not need to have decided your career at only 17/18 and I can almost guarantee it will change over the next three or so years, but what you should try to gage is what you are truly passionate about. This can take as long as it needs (to as long as your investing the time to think about it) because you are investing a lot of time and money into this degree and when you have a bunch of assignments due in on a dreary night in December, not truly have an interest for the subject will make the experience much worse. My resolution to this was to effectively attempt to write a personal statement for every subject I was interested in, and the one that came most naturally to write about to me would be the subject I would apply to study. The subjects narrowed down to Law, International Relations, and Philosophy and in the end, I applied for Philosophy. This made writing the next series of drafts much easier. While I’m aware that this method is time-consuming, it really removed the mental gymnastics of coming up with relevant content for my personal statement. Thus demonstrating how beneficial being passionate about the course you’re applying to will be. Moreover, academic tutors reading your statement will be able to see that genuine passion and also be able to see through the efforts to ‘appear’ to be.
My second piece of advice would ensure relevance and specificity. Ensure everything you speak about relates back to the subject, avoid at all costs being general. For top UK universities especially, you must show a passion for academia and thus your personal statement should loosely read like an academic essay. You might be an extremely well-rounded and talented individual but shoving in all your work experience and awards won’t do much good if it is not directly linked to the subject, so be selective with what you choose to include. If you haven’t undertaken many extracurriculars that are relevant to the subject not to worry either. Something simple like working a part-time job in a retail clothing store can be linked to economics or finance. Or you could speak about how visual merchandising of the products on the shop floor has given you insight into the psychology of customer behaviors. What you want to avoid is stating general things as it provided you with “good time management skills” as this is arguably a given. The same goes for when talking about your A level subjects. You often see students write how taking an essay subject for example English Literature has provided them with a good command of language and essay writing skills, this is an obvious skill you acquire from studying English Literature or other essay-based subjects and doesn’t make you stand out. Again ensure relevance, importantly so if you are A-Level subjects are different from the course you are applying for. While it can be difficult is it definitely there. For example, a text I studied in A-Level English was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which explores the debate surrounding nature versus nurture which is a philosophical, psychological, and biological debate. Thus can be applied to all three subjects.
My final piece of advice would be to include is reading you have done around the subject and you can go into detail why this motivated you to study the subject. For STEM students this can be scientific journals or recent developments in the field that have been interesting to you. For humanities, this is much more flexible however rather I would highly recommend demonstrating how you have critically engaged with the reading. By this, I mean rather than saying “I read x and I found it interesting, as a result, I want to study y”, provide a more perceptive response.
“While reading Richard Dawkin’s “God Delusion”, I found that while attempting to maintain an objective scientifically-based approach to ethical dilemmas relating to God’s existence Dawkins fails to formulate a proper argument as to why God does not exist but rather provides extensive criticism towards certain religious practices. When considering the context of the early 2000s of which the book was written where world peace was seemingly threatened by extreme acts of violence in the name of religion; it appears that Dawkins himself has subjected himself to the cultural bias he is so critical of. This has challenged my understanding of what it means to be morally objective and whether this could really be achieved and is a debate in Philosophy of Science I am enthusiastic to explore.”
(As you can see this much more reflective of the text and demonstrates critical engagement.)
As mentioned in the beginning there is no one size fits all method when it comes to writing a personal statement. Your statement will hopefully go through a series of drafts and will improve each time if you keep in mind the three pieces of advice I’ve provided on top of the general advice given to you. Start your statement as early as possible but take your time with it. You only get to send one out at the end of the day, so make sure it’s your best work yet to ensure your chances of getting into your desired university and course.