The euphoria of results day has yet to subside given that every conversation I’ve had in the past week has centred around ‘next steps’ and ‘so where/what are you studying?’ The countdown is on and the ensuing excitement about the new chapter in life was compounded yesterday when I met my sixth-form English teacher in Sainsbury’s car park… get me back to academia! With that in mind, those of you reading this may be about to embark on a different journey, the UCAS journey. So much importance is endowed to writing your personal statement but when you take some time to reflect, think about what you love and what you’ve done that highlights such it all somehow falls into place (and sometimes you don’t need the 24 drafts that people will tell you that you will).
I’ve drawn together a few tips and advice, alongside some tips from some friends which I hope may help you when it comes to starting, writing and finalising!
starting your personal statement
Before getting to writing the real thing, I had a notebook of books I’d read, what I’d learnt from them and how they somehow reflected my connection with my subjects of choice (History and French). Also I put in it things I’d seen or done that interested me, like an article in a History Today magazine or an exhibition like the Frida Kahlo one at the V&A. It became surprisingly useful when it did come to starting to write because I had basically everything I needed in front of me and it meant that by the end of summer I was able to have a solid personal statement that I could then ask teachers to look at when I went back to college in September.
Which brings me onto a tip that Tash recommended which was that she wrote hers before the summer holidays, meaning that she had time to ask all her teachers and didn’t have to worry about it over summer. The earlier you can get it done, regardless of when it is due in (the early deadline in October being for Oxbridge and medicine/dentistry and the later one in January for all other universities and courses).
writing the personal statement
Everyone struggles to start writing a personal statement, so just don’t start at the beginning. This was something Jasmine mentioned, and that you should ‘write it last instead and focus on planning the bulk of your personal statement first.’ It makes for more efficient time management and you may find the beginning slots into place after you’ve written everything else.
Ellie from Head In The Clouds Blog mentioned that she read somewhere that they spend max 2 mins on your application including reading personal statement/recommendation so to have a ‘catchy opening’ to keep whoever is reading engaged.
One of the most important tips I think is to show but don’t tell. Your analysis of a concept of history, or further development of an idea in English for example highlights your engagement in the subject without screaming ‘this is what I’ve done’. Mojo mentioned that in a personal statement, one needs to ‘make themselves look teachable’ and to ‘explain why they find certain things interesting, pick[ing] up on subtle nuances that sets them aside from everybody else applying’. This goes alongside what Maebh noted to: ‘try and demonstrate how you’ve progressed and learnt about your subject – for example take a book you’ve read and describe what questions it made you asked and other books/topics you looked into’.
Tash put forward a hugely valid point and it hard to try and cut it down, it all is very relevant – especially if you’re applying for English: ‘make sure you are very specific with any analysis and that you are consistently making distinct links to other works to prove you have breadth and depth of knowledge. I tried to highlight how books we studied in class made me curious about those from a similar time/ other books by that author to highlight how I read around the subject and had a deep understanding of those particular works. Include plays, poetry and prose and try to have quite an equal amount of each. My friend wrote about plays for the majority of hers (linking Shakespeare to other plays) and it meant that some unis thought she wouldn’t suit the course because she was so focused on theatre. I also tried to ensure that I wasn’t just talking about contemporary novels so included works like “The Rover” by Aphra Behn and Paradise Lost alongside books like Atonement. I dedicated mine almost entirely to the course but also connected certain bits to my other subjects and had one or two compact sentences at the end to explain my extracurricular.’
Depending on what subject and what university you’re applying to, you may not put so much emphasis on extra curricular activities. However, it by no means suggests they are redundant. I focused about three brief lines to extra curricular activities but weaved my work experience at the UN into the beginning given that it had a knock on effect on other aspects of my personal statement. Cara notes how her work in a high street clothes shop enabled her to talk about ‘how interacting with customers who use language differently affected [her] overall thoughts and views of language and how it encouraged [her] to think more about accents and dialects’ for a PS for English Literature and Language.
Finishing your personal statement can be as daunting as the start and there are a myriad of different ways to end it. I ended mine with what I felt I’d gain from doing History and French as a degree but Erin suggested that ‘having a solid conclusion linking everything together’ as she had written about a book at the beginning and then referenced it at the end in order to bring the whole thing together.
getting it checked
Getting your personal statement checked, changing little things (or a whole bulk) may seem like the longest thing but once it is done, you can finally relax (for about five minutes until coursework and all other deadlines start approaching). I started off by going to my History teacher, who kindly dissected it and acted as an affective English teacher in her approach to SPaG which was thoroughly helpful, then my French teacher, the Oxbridge co-ordinator and finally my tutor who gave the final look over before I sent it off. Then horror struck because I realised I left off an accent on one of the names of the French writers so she sent it back to me, I added it and then was finally at peace. But every teacher had something different to say and they did actually all help contribute to the final statement in some way. Also remember that their advice is just that, advice. At the end of it, your personal statement has to come from you and best reflect you as a person. This especially applies if you have an interview in your subject because if they ask you about your personal statement, you should be more than happy to expand. My history interview at Oxford was based from one particular part of my statement that I found really interesting and I’d done a lot more research on it than the three lines that they could see.
Dele recommended giving it to an English teacher to check for SPaG which is a particularly good idea if you’re a science student and have no one to turn to for such advice.
Lucy made a great point that with her redrafts, every time she created a new document and rewrote it from scratch, retaining the things that were good from the previous one. Because when writing it ‘you tend to cling to what you’ve written’ and so it helps to write from a ‘clear head and perspective’.
Am I talking too much about one subject, am I talking about them both together enough, why do I want to do them both? Were questions that I constantly asked myself when I was writing my personal statement. It wasn’t as daunting as I thought it would be and actually writing it made me realise that this was definitely the right course to do because I couldn’t think of doing History without French and vice versa. With my course, I’m not necessarily doing French history, the two are just side by side. It’s worth finding out that if that is the case for your joint honours course before writing your personal statement. I tried to write about why I liked them individually and then together, purely because I feel you can only separate the subjects to a certain extent.
I promised I’d share my personal statement as there aren’t a lot out of joint honour ones there so if you fancied a read, it is here.
A few last minute tips:
- remember your personal statement is personal. There isn’t one formula to writing a good personal statement, given that it is tailored to you and your interests (as well as your particular subject). Comparison is also a killer when you’re writing one because you’ll read someone else’s and think ‘that’s so much better’ when in reality it could be equally as good to the person reading it. There are things I’d probably change about mine now but at the end of it I got 4/5 offers.
- On the same vein as my previous point, different universities are looking for different things. I applied for a humanities subject which meant I needed a different style of personal statement to a more art based or science subject – remember to take that into account when you are writing one.
- something Ellie mentioned was to: ‘let your passion shine through’ which definitely rings true for any subject you are applying for.
- Be patient. Sometimes it takes a lot of drafts, sometimes not so much. If you decide to scrap the whole thing and start again then do so. I had a few initial ideas then wrote my first draft in one go and was so pleased with it – there wasn’t huge changes that needed to be done.
I hope these tips help and if you’re in the process of writing your personal statement then GOOD LUCK!!! It should be a chance to express why you love your subject so have fun with it 🙂
lots of love, eleanor xx