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How to plan your personal statement

Writing an effective personal statement can be a time consuming and exasperating process, and it can be difficult to know where to begin. However, if you approach the task in a series of steps and plan effectively, it will be much easier. Personal statements are written to persuade universities or colleges to accept you on their course – they are your chance to shine and stand out when course tutors compare you against other candidates!

First of all, it’s important that you plan when you need to begin researching and eventually writing your personal statement. Universities have very strict deadlines and it’s important that you leave enough time to have your statement checked over before you send it off, as well as enough time to make suggested changes. The UCAS website offers a downloadable timetable to help you meet these deadlines.

Writing an effective, quality personal statement does not start with sitting down and getting straight to it. It starts with researching your university, finding out the type of candidates they are looking for and what’s going to make you stand out from the crowd. At this point, it may even be helpful to consider applying for some relevant work experience or voluntary work if you haven’t already done so, because things like this will help you stand out above other potential candidates. Universities are impressed by candidates who have gained experience that relates to the subject they are applying for. For example, if you are applying for a law degree, it would be impressive if you had work experience in a law firm, as it shows you are interested in law and are eager to learn about the subject. It also shows that you impressed the employers in your interview, and they were happy to take you on.

In order to plan your personal statement, you need to ask yourself the following questions;

Why are you applying for this degree?

As in, why do you want to study at higher education level? Why does the subject you have applied for interest you? What are your ambitions and goals once you have finished the course?

TIP: Although university does allow you to experience a rich social and cultural scene and meet loads of new people, universities will be more interested in knowing about why you want to learn in terms of career prospects – a higher earning potential, a more rewarding career and more opportunities. They will also be happy to hear that learning is something you enjoy or that your family has a history of qualifications in that particular subject (e.g. mother and father are lawyers). Try to keep it personal rather than general – talk about yourself and use ‘I’ and ‘me’ rather than talking about students or university in general.

What makes you suitable for this course?

This is where it would be beneficial to have work experience in the subject you applied for because then you can talk about your knowledge of the subject, achievements and skills that will help you to do well in your course. You can also talk about your hobbies and social interests to show them that you are an active, interesting person that likes to try new experiences.

TIP: Avoid talking about social interests such as ‘I enjoy going out drinking with my friends’. Universities are impressed by hobbies that show you can learn new things, like to challenge yourself or that you want to give something back to the world (voluntary work).

Which skills and experiences are relevant to the course you are applying for?

This section sounds similar to the above; however this time you need to consider if you have the skills and qualifications that they are looking for. For example, one university may ask for three B grades to study law, whereas another may ask for three A grades. This section is where you can link the skills that you have learnt in your work or educational experiences to the course requirements. For example, if you studied A level psychology, this may have taught you how to deal with large pieces of information which may be beneficial when studying a law degree.

Once you are confident you have noted down enough material and answered all the above questions, you can then begin to write your essay. It may be useful to have a look at the guide on how to write your personal statement effectively.

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