A Guide to Writing Personal Statements

Hello again – afraid I’m a little bit late in updating, but I was watching TV with room mates last night and could only get the plan for this typed up. Anyway, instead of telling you about my time at university (though that is the main function of this blog), I’m going to be giving you a few tips on personal statement writing. If my estimations are correct (a rare occurrence), it should be just under a month until the early applicants send off their applications to UCAS, so let’s crack on with this.

 

Now, a word of guidance – I am not a trained careers guidance councillor. I’m only giving you a few tips to help with your statement, and can’t remember everything I was told last year. I can’t write your statement, I can’t read it over for you, and if your teacher disagrees with what I’m saying AVOID MY ADVICE LIKE THE PLAGUE.

All good? Well, let’s continue.

 

Your personal statement is the only part of your application where you can put a bit more of your personality into your application, and for many courses it can be be used as the deciding point in your application. If you are applying for a course which involves interviews as part of the decision making process (such as, in my case, Medicine), the interviewer may question you on your personal statement, so know it inside out. But onto advice for writing it!

 

Don’t cheat

This seems like it should be obvious, but loads of people get caught out every year, so I’ll say it again – avoid plagiarizing. It’s okay to read other people’s work to get a few ideas about structuring and what to include, but don’t lift anything from another personal statement. The universities employ a lot of anti-plagiarism software to ferret out cheaters, and it’s an easy trap to fall into. Equally, don’t get someone else to write it for you – even if they say they’re credible, it’s supposed to be your own work.

It’s 4,000 characters!

Lots of people in my year got caught out initially with this, but you most definitely do not have four thousand words! This might sound like a lot, but when you factor in spaces and punctuation as well, it adds up pretty quickly – staying under the limit is probably going to be your main problem. Don’t panic if your statement is well over this in the early stages (mine was about double the limit initially), as you’re going to spend a lot of time redrafting and cutting down your character count; any unnecessary words, sentences or even paragraphs will be removed. Your careers teacher should probably be able to help you with this.

Get it done early

Early applicants should probably even have done a fair amount of work by now, but most people will probably be just thinking about beginning their application. My advice is do as much as possible as early in the academic year as possible. Not only is your last year in school (for most applicants, anyway) going to be your busiest, but writing and redrafting your statement takes far more time than you could possibly imagine – I can’t count the number of redrafts which were going back and forth between me and my careers teacher, and I definitely ended up scrabbling to do it last minute. So do as I say, not as I do!

Put everything in

This probably seems like the exact opposite of what I was saying about the word count, but in your first drafts at least try and put in everything that’s relevant – again, your careers teacher will be able to advice you on what is good and what isn’t. The universities are looking for proof that you are interested in and would be suitable for the subject; this comes through in talking about your personal qualities, your work experience, and even seemingly unrelated extramural activities, as universities also want a student who has other interests as well. Obviously, a limit applies on how much you can cram into the personal statement, but if it fits, get it in!

 

Get as many people as possible to read it

This would be my final and most strongly stressed piece of advice on personal statements – get everyone to check it. I didn’t realise how useful this was initially, mainly relying on my careers teacher, but your parents, your friends, your neighbour, the dog can all help (though maybe not the last one). They might point out a hobby that you missed, or suggest a better way to phrase a sentence, or suggest a more suitable structure for introducing your statement and concluding it. (The dog might just look at you confusedly and whine for biscuits.) While your teacher has years of experience in sending students off to higher education, it wouldn’t hurt to get a few other suggestions in there.

 

 

Of course, for many other students there will be other procedures to applying – medical students have the UKCAT (horrifying), veterinary students have the BMAT (even worse) and some law applicants have the LNAT (god knows) – and let’s not even get onto folios. My advice, again, is to get it out the way as early as possible, and for entrance tests practice past papers constantly. The UKCAT is not a test you can revise for, but familiarizing yourself with the questions and the time pressure really does help; some previous applicants even recommend going on one of the weekend courses some people offer for these tests.
 
Now, I have to get some sleep before tomorrow, so I will leave this here. Again, I’ll try and post sometime soon, but you know what us medical students are like. 😉 Till then!
 
Fiona
 
 
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