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Help! I still haven’t written my personal statement yet!

I thought Personal Statement Workshop season had passed. It’s November now and most schools, parents and youth organisations that engage my services to help students write their personal statements don’t want me now. There has been lots of press coverage speculating whether the timing of your UCAS application affects the likelihood of being accepted at a university; while there was no official consensus it seems beneficial to err on the side of caution and submit an application as early as possible and this is what almost everyone seems to be doing now.

However, this weekend I was with a friend who has a 17-year-old daughter who is planning on going to university next year. I casually enquired about where she wanted to go and what subject she wanted to study fully expecting that she had already submitted her application. It turns out she hasn’t written her statement yet and I am wondering who is helping the students who are still working it all out. Concerned parents following the news in the media are getting stressed out. It’s worth noting that the UCAS deadline for most courses is 15 January so in many ways there is plenty of time, but I still recommend submitting your application sooner rather than later. Students applying now have either missed all the scheduled events that their school has put on or else are competing for their teacher’s attention along with other classmates.

The personal statement is one of the key things that forms part of your UCAS application. It’s where you have the opportunity to explain why the university should pick you in approximately 600 words (officially 4,000 characters). It is something that so many young people seem to stress over and put off until the moment of inspiration strikes. Those sessions at school when you are supposed to write your statement is spent thinking and trying to work it all out, often with little accomplished. Having worked on hundreds of statements I thought I would share some top tips to help students on their way. I also highly recommend going on the UCAS site as they have lots of information on what to include.

Ready, set, go– getting started can be the hardest part. You try to think of that killer opening sentence and sit staring at the blank screen. Instead, focus on something that will get you moving which is to brainstorm ALL the possible things you can put in your statement. This can be anything from reasons you want to study your subject, extra-curricular activities, jobs, hobbies, interests. You can work out what is relevant later.

Get passionate– the tutors reading your personal statement want to know why you want to study your chosen subject and why you would be someone they would love to have around. It is something they have devoted their life to and you should show them why you love it and what would make you a good student.

What’s the point?- 4,000 characters doesn’t give you space to waffle on. Look at what you have brainstormed, what can you link together, what points need expanding, what isn’t relevant? Roughly two-thirds should be devoted to why you want to study your chosen subject and what makes you a suitable for the course. Use the remaining space to talk about work experience (both paid and unpaid), extra-curricular activities and other interests. Read every sentence, what is it saying? Every sentence should be making a point, if it isn’t immediately obvious look at the preceding and following sentence to work out how to restructure it or remove it entirely.

Once upon a time– try to tell a story about what makes you a good candidate rather than simply putting together a string of random reasons. Link together different things you have done, e.g. did a holiday get you interested in Economics when you saw the disparity of rich and poor, which then led you to study Economics at A level and then led to work experience? Was it reading a certain book that got you interested in something you haven’t studied yet? How does it all fit together? Try and make it compelling.

Keep it simple– don’t use over-complicated words or sentence structure. Use language that is considered plain English and language you would normally use (as long as it is not slang). There is a lot of research that shows simple language is much more effective when communicating.

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite– don’t expect to knock out a polished personal statement the first time around, or even the second or the third. Most people do about seven re-writes to produce the final polished version. Remember to get someone else to proof-read and spell-check for you. Don’t just rely on the computer.

If you have any specific questions about writing your statement, then please pop them in the comments box and I will respond.

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