Many students are given lots of generic advice regarding personal statements during the admissions process. Much of this revolves around showing 'passion', being 'unique', having an attention grabbing opening, showing you are a 'well rounded individual' and a variety of other buzzwords. What this advice does not help to do is draw out the personal aspect of this particular part of the application: students are asked to stand out by following the same generic advice as everyone else.
Having written and advised on multiple successful personal statements I can perhaps offer a slightly different perspective.
A good personal statement demonstrates the applicant's intelligence, their personal drive and their genuine interest in their subject area in an appropriate and honest way.
An applicant’s intelligence is most obviously demonstrated through their submitted work, admissions tests and grades; however, the writing style of a personal statement is also indicative of this. Applicants are advised to use an attention grabbing opening line not because tutors are looking for a theatrical sales pitch, but because the most intelligent students understand exactly how many personal statements each tutor is reading and wishes to stand out.
Universities prefer to admit students that they believe can cope with the pressure of university life and all the changes that come with it. Furthermore, they want people who are going to stick with their course even if it becomes tough. Displaying your commitment to voluntary work, sport or other interests in an appropriate way does more than tell admissions tutors you like a kick about at the park; it shows that you are committed to the things you undertake and that you are not solely defined by your academic achievements.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, is displaying your genuine interest in an honest and appropriate way. Students of history may have genuinely become interested in a particular period because they played historical themed games when they were a child – honest, yet inappropriate. Equally, a prospective applicant to biomedical sciences may claim to have really enjoyed a thick, dull academic text book on cancer, but admissions tutors will know that this is not honestly displaying their interest. What is important is to provide evidence that is unique to you that proves your interest. You may well have read the Iliad, but what did you take from it? How did that article you read on new cancer treatments pique your interest in a particular aspect of the course?
By answering these types of questions an applicant can not only tick the generic boxes, but really provide evidence for an interest, intelligence and determination that is unique to them.