1. Q: How long does it need to be?
4000 characters, including lines and spaces, with a maximum of 47 lines. You should write it in word and then copy and paste it into your UCAS form, previewing it to check the fit. Make sure you keep your final version to refer to in case of an interview. Also ensure you save your drafts as you go along.
2. Q: When should I start to write it?
A: How long is a piece of string? It’s sensible to begin drafting at the end of year 12 before you break up for the summer. This way you can finish your draft ready for when you return to college in September. However, if you start year 12 knowing your career goal there’s nothing stopping you making notes, bullet points or even completing your first draft at any point during the year.
3. Q: Is it really that important? I’ve heard that a lot of the time they’re not read.
A: Yes, it’s very important. This is the only place on the form where you can give your own presentation of yourself. This is where you are able to demonstrate your personality and hilight your achievements. Admissions Officers do read them and even if some don’t - do you want to take that risk? The value that comes from writing a strong statement is worth it and as you’re probably going to need a part-time job while you study, it’s a great basis for a CV.
Here’s an interesting article written by an Admissions Tutor.
4. Q: I don’t know how to start , what can I do?
Writing your personal statement is a process. If you want it to be great, you need to allow it room to breath and marinate! It’s a good idea to start by writing some bullet points or notes or a mind map. In other words, you don’t need full sentences and paragraphs, you need ideas. Those ideas can then be structured into a draft. Break it down and work on a section at a time. It should include:
- An opening statement on the course you wish to apply for and why.
- A section on how your current studies have developed you (skills, qualities, knowledge) and ideally, how they link to your course choice.
- Work experience. Write about voluntary work, work placements, shadowing, both paid and unpaid opportunities. Think about transferable skills such as communication, time management and organisation. Avoid talking about what you did at school unless it’s really relevant. Admissions Tutors will be looking at your achievements since you’ve left school.
- Your hobbies and interests. Universities want to know who you are outside of your studies just as much as your academic achievements.
- A strong close where you summarise why you’ll be great for the course and how it fits into your life plan or goals.
5. Q: What am I supposed to write about for skills and qualities?
A: Many of you can struggle with this if you’re aged 16-18. It’s absolutely normal as you have less experience of assessing yourself. I suggest you ask those close to you that you trust to give you some positive feedback. If you’re in employment or you volunteer, this a great opportunity to initiate a conversation about what you do well. The extra confidence that you get from this can really help to motivate you.
Some examples of skills:
- solving problems
- managing money
- gathering evidence
- recalling facts
Some examples of qualities:
6. Q: What are transferable skills? I keep being told to refer to them but I don’t know what it means.
A: A transferable skill is one that you can apply in different places. So for instance, on your courses you will need to manage your time well. As you do in employment and of course, at university. This is usually referred to as time management. Other examples are:
- Communication (written and verbal)
- IT skills
Be creative with your thinking. Assessing your strengths and weaknesses can help here. Your strengths are usually the things you find easy. If you’re always on time, at college and socially, then you have good time management. If your assignments and coursework always meet the deadline, this demonstrates good organisational skills and so on. Be careful not to stretch the truth here, this will only set you up to struggle later on, particularly at interview or on the course.
7. Why should I write about weaknesses? Surely this won’t help me to get a place.
Another way to look at weaknesses is by thinking about ways that you can improve or areas for development. By understanding that there are places where you can do better, you demonstrate self awareness and the ability to self analyse. These are essential for higher education and also help you to demonstrate that you are well rounded and realistic about your abilities. No one is fantastic at everything!
8. I don’t have any work experience and I keep being told I’ve got to have something in my statement. Should I write about what I did at school?
No! Do not write about your school work experience unless it is really relevant to your course and I mean really relevant. If you are applying for teacher training and worked in a school then this is really relevant. However, it is much more impressive to gain additional work experience while you are at college.
Ongoing development is important and your school work experience is pretty much out of date by the time you go to university. If you haven’t gained any work experience while at college before you put your application in you could write about experience you intend to gain. It’s not too late to volunteer or shadow a professional for a day if you really put your mind to it and use the contacts around you. Make sure you’re honest here. You could also write about the challenges you’ve faced and what you’ve learned if you’ve really struggled to find a suitable placement.
Think about other areas where you’ve been able to gain or develop skills. This is where your hobbies and interests can be really useful. Playing for a 5 a side football team every Saturday for the past 3 years demonstrates commitment. If you’ve ever helped your Coach at practice or to organise the team, then you can use this as an example to demonstrate work experience.
When I work with students I often find that you have much more going for you than you think and tend to dismiss activities that you do regularly because they are part of your routine. Don’t! Remember, this is where you present yourself in your best light. Keep in mind that Admissions have limited personal information about you. Your subject references are about your academic performance, contributions and achievements. The rest is up to you to add.
9. I’ve been told different things by different people and I’m confused. Who should I listen to?
A personal statement is personal. Ultimately what goes into it is your choice as it must represent you in the way that you want it to. It can get confusing if you’re receiving advice from multiple sources and I suggest you avoid this. 2 people is enough, any more could do you more harm than good. I usually work with students to get a strong draft while advising they check in with their subject teachers or careers advisor regarding subject specific details that would be positive to include. When students are happy with their final version and I’ve looked over it again, they can return to their teacher or careers advisor to ensure they haven’t missed anything of value. A final check and amendments in a 1 to 1 with your tutor or academic coach will help to ensure you’re happy with your last draft.
I suggest you also avoid reading lots of different advice on the internet for the same reasons. Asking questions can be a form of avoidance. If you haven’t started your draft but have had lots of advice that’s a sign that you need to get your pen out and start writing…
10. I don’t have any hobbies or interests, all my time is spent studying and I don’t want to lie. What should I say?
If your studies are also your interests that’s a positive thing! Think about what it is you do that supports your academic work in your own time. Do you read newspaper articles, books, attend events? What websites do you visit, or blogs do you read? Who are the people in your field that you want to learn or have learned more about?
This is another place where you really need to think. Ask people close to you what your hobbies and interests are, they probably will be able to tell you. Avoid writing that you love socialising or listening to music. Most people do these things and therefore not much value is added by including them. If your socialising is around a particular interest, such as sport for instance, then you could add some really interesting insight about yourself if you go into a little more detail. Be specific, generalisations are just that and are usually quite boring.
by Caroline Morgan
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