Do’s and dont’s of writing a personal statement
If you’re applying to Oxford or Cambridge this year, you’re almost certainly aware that the deadline is fast approaching (15th October). It’s also possible that you have been leaving one particular task to the last minute – your personal statement. If the thought of writing 4,000 words about how great you are fills you with dread, you’re not alone – it can be difficult (no, excruciating) trying to capture the essence of your personality on a UCAS form. We have some key do’s and dont’s to get you started, but it really boils down to three points – be specific, be positive, and be yourself. Good luck!
What not to include
- Details about specific universities or institutions
Your personal statement has to be seen by all the universities you apply to, so this is not the place to write about how badly you want to attend a particular institution.
- Grades or details about your classroom performance
Your grades are listed elsewhere in your application – there’s no need to discuss them here. Similarly, do not use this space to make excuses for any discrepancies (for example, if you dropped an A Level or got a lower grade than you were expecting) – keep it positive.
- Rhetorical questions, clichés, quotes – and especially the phrase, “ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by…”
All of these are immediately off-putting to admissions tutors – they tend to betray a lack of imagination, and more importantly, they don’t actually tell the reader anything about you. Avoid.
- Bragging or exaggerating
The aim here is to present yourself in the best possible light – but do try to avoid anything which could be perceived as arrogance. And it should go without saying, but obviously don’t include anything which isn’t actually true – you will be caught out.
- Trying to be funny
Humour does not tend to translate well to this sort of exercise, regardless of how funny you are in real life. You can usually show that side of your personality in an interview, but it can be misinterpreted in writing – tread carefully.
What you should include
- A strong opening
It’s not a bad idea to leave writing your opening sentence until last – you want to get it just right. This means a strong, succinct statement which gets straight to the point – who you are, and why you want to study your chosen subject.
- A clear explanation of your personal motivation
There are two questions that you should ask yourself about your chosen course:
- What excites you about it?
- Why do you want to learn more?
If you can answer these questions concisely and eloquently, you are well on your way to a convincing personal statement.
- The ability to demonstrate your understanding of the course you have chosen, and your suitability for it
Relevant details about your own areas of academic interest can be included here, particularly where you can demonstrate independent reading or research. Try to paint a picture of your intellectual ambitions and goals, and to show what you are already doing to achieve them.
- An honest appraisal of your current skills and strengths, and how and why you want to develop them
Admissions tutors are not looking for long lists of impressive-sounding accomplishments. What will really stand out is a thoughtful consideration of what you are really good at, and how you believe these skills will equip you for what you want to do.
- A sense of you as an individual
The point of a personal statement is to literally give an idea of the person behind the grades. It feels artificial, but try to be as genuine as possible, and to write what comes naturally. You are creating a first impression, which will be particularly important if you are going on to an interview – use this as an introduction to the best version of you possible.
For more information about the individually tailored guides to university applications included on all of our courses, visit www.thegrataacademy.com