How to write your personal statement

Two of our students, Sophie Clarkson (MA Creative Writing) and Karolina Tauer (MA Publishing), share their tips for crafting the perfect personal statement.

Sophie: So you’ve started applying to universities, searching entry requirements, and choosing the path you wish your life to take. Now it comes to writing the dreaded Personal Statement.

Oh no, writing about myself?! Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it seems. Here are a few tips to get you on the way to writing the best personal statement in UCAS history!

Honesty is the best policy   

Sophie: When writing your personal statement, always be honest. Don’t make up things that you think will sound good. If you get an interview, they will more than likely ask you questions about things in your personal statement. If you’d made something up it will be glaringly obvious to the interviewer. So just don’t do it. You may think what you’ve done in your life/school is boring. Believe me, I was the same. But trust me, nothing is too boring.

Girl sits writing in a notebook

Keep it simple

Karolina: Be sure to show how passionate you are about the subject you want to study, but make sure to not actually use the word ‘passionate’ every sentence. Every applicant will be using this word constantly, and it is the biggest cliché to steer clear of. To be different, try using words such as eager, keen, excited or enthusiastic.

Sophie: Always keep your personal statement simple. Don’t overcomplicate it with fancy words that you think will make you sound smart. It’s been done before, doesn’t give you any extra brownie points, and makes it difficult to read. Unless there is certain terminology needed in relation to the course you’re applying for, put the thesaurus down and keep the big words to a minimum. You only have a certain amount of space and you want to make every word count.

What not to say

Karolina: The crucial part of writing your personal statement is showing you’ve done research about the course you want to study, and what modules are offered in said course. If you suddenly start talking about a minor part of your chosen field – which the course doesn’t touch upon – this could show that you didn’t do the necessary research. It’s all well and good quoting Shakespeare, but it does you no favours if the course doesn’t teach you about it. However, do mention these interests (Shakespeare, perhaps…) in a different part of your statement to show your wider knowledge of the subject area!

Sophie: If you’re applying to two or more universities, you don’t want to mention any of them by name (even your favourite!) because the others will see this and think you’re only interested in one and may not even consider your application. Read through the course specifications of all the courses you are applying for and pick out the main similarities in them and talk about that. No one will be offended, and you will have been seen to have done some research. Bonus!

Abstract pot of paint brushes
A girl looks between portrait canvasses on a shelf

May I offer you a cold glass of 'experience'?

Karolina: Make sure to include all related experience you have in the field you want to study. Even the small things count and show that you’ve gone above and beyond! If you did work experience in the relevant field, write it down. If you stay behind in class to help put all the equipment away, write it down. Even if you often find the time to help your younger siblings with their homework, mention it. No matter how small, it not only shows that you’re keen on your subject, but also that you’re eager to help and do some extra work.

Sophie: Even if you think that something isn’t relevant to the course, think about the skills you’ve acquired during your time doing whatever it is. There will always be something. I applied for Creative Writing, but my hobbies were music and Rubik’s cubes. I also helped run a Sunday School. Nothing writing related, right? Wrong. The problem-solving skills needed to solve a Rubik’s cube and the discipline to run a Sunday School transferred over to my writing. They showed I could use initiative, but also have self-discipline.

Don't curb your enthusiam

Sophie: Always be excited about the things you’ve done. Whether it’s something you did at school or something outside of school. If you show passion in the things that interest you that will show the person reading your personal statement that you are a passionate person that will bring something to the university you are applying for.

Karolina: Be sure to mention any extracurricular activities you take part in, even if they’re not directly related to your subject of study. If you’re applying to study an English degree, still mention that you were hockey team captain. Examples such as these are character building; they paint a picture of who you are as a person, that maybe you’re determined, work well with others and manage your time efficiently. That’s the kind of person any university would be glad to have!

A girl ascending a climbing wall

What does the future hold...

Karolina: Before you finish off your personal statement, add a bit about what you want to gain out of the university experience; what kind of a career are you planning to head into? How will this degree help you in achieving that?

Good luck!

Sophie: A personal statement is the one chance you get to sell yourself to a university. To prove to them that you deserve a place. Take your time with it. Re-draft and re-draft until you have sold yourself as much as you can. No amount of redrafting is too much! Be honest, be sincere, but most of all, be enthusiastic.

 

University of Derby student drinking coffee