Top tips for writing the perfect personal statement
Based on an original article by Hannah Morton-Hedges.
It is often impossible to differentiate between students on grades and academic references alone, and it is for this reason that so much importance is placed on the quality of an applicant's personal statement. It really can make the difference between an 'offer' and a 'reject'.
The personal statement is your chance to show an admissions tutor that you are the ideal person for them to teach on their course, so it should be planned and executed to perfection.
1 – Don't jump straight in
Treat it as you would an important piece of academic work. Take time to brainstorm ideas and think carefully about the content and structure, try googling 'mind-mapping' and 'spider diagram' techniques for help with how you approach your statement.
2 – Be different
First impressions count. Creating an original and engaging start to your statement will help to keep the reader's interest throughout.
3 – Focus on your academic achievements
This is an application for a course of study so aim to focus at least two-thirds of your statement on your academic motivations and interests. Show that you have an understanding of the subject and a genuine interest in it. Have a knowledge of what the course involves, elaborate on any specific interests you have within the area to show your enthusiasm, demonstrate why the topic is important and if a piece of work or a particular text inspired you – mention it. Don't forget to shed a light on any transferrable or study skills you have gained from current subjects that will benefit your time at university.
4 – Demonstrate any career ambitions you are working towards
If your course is vocational (teaching, medicine, social work etc), you will be expected to show that you have gained sufficient work experience or career knowledge through, for example, work shadowing, observations, taster days or networking with professionals. If not vocational, you may be able to demonstrate career ambitions that you are working towards. This may include useful business and employability skills through participation in a school or community challenge. But don’t worry if your career plans are still undecided at this stage, this is a university application not a job interview!
5 – Leave comedy out of it
Humour is subjective and therefore risky, it is safer to stick to a more formal approach. Best to not try and be funny!
6 – Include any extracurricular activities that you take part in
Your academic motivations should form the majority of your statement, but admissions tutors are keen to attract applicants who can demonstrate well-rounded involvement in extracurricular activities. Use this part of your statement to show how the things you choose to do shape you as a person, even if they don’t relate to your career plans. Include part-time work, volunteering, clubs and societies, awards and achievements, hobbies, and anything else that may depict transferrable skills you may have and what things are important to you.
7 – Don't plagiarise
Copying someone else's work is never a good idea. There is anti-plagiarism software that will pick up on statements containing as little as 10% of previously used sentences and phrases, and the university will find out.
8 – Draft and draft again
Several drafts will help to ensure that you have a final version you are fully happy with. And don't forget to proofread (and get others to do so also), a personal statement full of mistakes represents a sloppy attitude and a lack of attention to detail.
9 – Don't leave until the last minute!
Unless you really need the time extra time to consider your choices, an early application will generally make it much easier to creative a positive impact on the reader.
Next page: Requirements and Qualifications
Examples of Awesome Personal Statements
Article Type: Tasty Bits
Write your own awesome personal statement with our COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY LAB, which will guide you through the process, providing tips and even more examples along the way.
Before you start, check out our own sample essays—or scroll down for the Best of the Web. Whether you're an athlete, a minority, or no one special (or, uh, probably some combination), we've got you covered.
No One Special
Some are surprising and some are clever, but they're all good examples of a "hook," not the kind with the pointy mustache but something that writers use to grab their reader's attention and make them want to keep reading.
Grab Them with the First Line
Stanford Magazine compiled the following list of great opening lines written by hopeful Stanford applicants.
Essays That Worked
Connecticut College posts a list of college essays “that worked.”
More Essays that Worked
Hamilton College provides access to some of their favorite application essays.
Other Resources for College Essay Writing
Writing the Personal Statement
The Purdue Online Writing lab offers a guide to writing all kinds of personal statements.
UC Berkeley Has a Say
Check out the University of California at Berkeley’s guide to writing the personal statement.
Application Tips: Tackling the Personal Essay
Abc.com provides some good tips on approaching the personal essay.
10 Tips for Writing the College Application Essay
The famous U.S. News & World Report offers some writing advice.
The Elements of Style
Flip through this famous guide to writing by William Strunk, Jr. that many students and teachers use. Read the 1918 version for free online.
Get Your Writing On
Some great handbooks on writing by writing guru Andrea Lunsford.
A Guide to Grammar and Writing
A cool interactive guide to grammar.
The University of Chicago’s guide to grammar.