Personal statements are many students worst nightmare. For most, it is the first time you have had to write about yourself in a way that sells you. You will probably find yourself caught between wanting to portray yourself and your achievements in the best light possible whilst at the same time worrying about coming across as boastful or clichéd. Don’t panic! This is a fine line to walk but there is a way of doing it well, without falling into any of the usual traps.
By relying on the experiences you have had and, in particular, what you have learned from them, you will write something that is unique to you. We all experience things differently and learn from things differently – take advantage of this as it is what will make your statement different from anyone else’s! Below are some tips to bear in mind whilst coming up with ideas for your statement:
The personal statement is about you and your individual story. Whilst not an exercise in creative writing, if you aim to tell a story with your statement, instead of simply listing your accomplishments, you will give a much better account of yourself. Everything you include, from your academic achievements to your extracurricular activities should add something to the narrative about why you have chosen to apply for this particular subject and add substance to the reasons behind why the university should offer you a place.
Quality over Quantity
Be selective! Whilst it is tempting to write about every single one of your achievements, you only have very limited space. Think carefully about what will have the biggest impact on the person reading your statement. Cramming in as many points as possible will mean none are given their due. Better to concentrate, for example, on three achievements or activities that clearly illustrate the different points you want to make, than to cram in ten at the expense of detracting from the overall impact of the statement.
If you include relevant experience make sure your emphasis is on what you have learned from it, not simply that you have done it. Ten different placements relevant to your subject of choice might look impressive but admissions tutors will be far more interested in someone who can articulate exactly what they took from the experience. For example:
“I have always wanted to be a doctor and my extensive work experience demonstrates my commitment to this goal. I completed two weeks at my local GP surgery, volunteered in a nursing home for six months and shadowed a consultant at a local hospital”.
Whilst this does indeed demonstrate that the applicant has managed to arrange relevant experience it tells me nothing about why the experience itself was useful to them, what it taught them about being a doctor, how it helped to shape their decision to apply, or even the aptitudes the experience allowed the student to demonstrate. By contrast:
“Shadowing doctors at a Hospital in Thailand has given me a multicultural perspective on medical provision and the Doctor-patient relationship. Throughout the placement I was also reminded of the importance of good communication and co-operation in effective and efficient multi-disciplinary teams. Witnessing a broad range of procedures, from brain surgery to childbirth, I learned that it is the combination of the surgeon's skill, knowledge and patience, along with the compassion and respect with which each patient is treated that results in good outcomes”.
Work experience is a learning experience, not just a box ticking exercise!
Before you start writing come up with a clear structure. This will help you to avoid waffling or focusing too much on less important aspects. Decide from the start which of your achievements add the most value to your application and build the statement around them.
Avoid Overused Words
Try to avoid words like ‘passion’ and ‘fascination’ unless you can follow them up with evidence of it. These words are very overused, to the point where on their own they cease to have real meaning, so make sure that if you really can’t think of a different word you can justify their use by giving evidence of that fascination or passion (this could be as simple as doing your own research into a subject that has really interested you).
Similarly, evidence any bold statements that you make. For example, ‘I am hard-working’, ‘motivated’, ‘a team player’, ‘I am a good leader’ etc are all great qualities. Do not just throw them out there. If they are important enough to mention in your statement make sure you back them up with an evidence point. For example:
‘My leadership skills can be demonstrated both by position as head girl and by my captaincy of the netball team. Both of these have tested me and I have grown in confidence as a result…’