In no particular order, here are the top things that you should avoid putting in your personal statement if you want it to be successful.
Some people find it difficult to sell themselves in their personal statement, especially if they lack work or life experiences that are the building blocks to producing good examples of why they would make a good candidate. However, it is important that you do not fill these gaps with excuses as to why you haven’t done something, for example, why you didn’t complete an A-level or why your grades weren’t as good as they should have been. It’s essential that you keep your personal statement positive and focus on the things you did do. This is why it’s useful to start planning in advance, because then you can address anything you are missing and find ways to fill in the gaps, such as a few weeks of voluntary work or a job placement.
Students often make the mistake of thinking that if they use a lot of complex vocabulary that this will make them sound intellectual. This often happens in GCSE or A-level papers, where the student has replaced a word such as ‘eat’ with ‘masticate’ or ‘ingest’ because it sounds less plain and more creative. Using too many thesaurus words tends not to work well because the thesaurus suggests lists of words without explaining the meaning of them and the context they should be used in. Therefore by doing this students often find that their work does not make total sense!
Personal facts that are not relevant
Try to avoid mentioning anything that lacks relevance or is off topic. Your word count is limited and so you should only write things that make a useful contribution to addressing why you are a suitable candidate. For example, if you were in a school play in year 5, this makes no contribution to explaining why you should study law. It is best to talk about things that you are currently doing or have done in the last few years rather than things you did when you were younger, unless they are significant achievements.
Telling, rather than showing
Using statements such as ‘I believe I am a confident individual who can work effectively by myself as well as in a team’ is a common mistake made by students in their personal statement. The problem with sentences such as this one is that they are often left without any back up evidence as to why this statement is true. Remember that everything you claim to be should be backed up with an example from your life, work or educational experiences.
Humour and jokes can be effective if you are in the right setting; however using humour in your statement may not be interpreted in the way you want it to be, and it could even come across rude if read by a tutor who doesn’t have the same sense of humour as you. Using jokes in your personal statement is a big risk, so it’s best avoided.
Cliché words and phrases without evidence
Words such as ‘passionate’ or ‘I feel’ are incredibly overused in personal statements. It’s difficult to be original if you consider the amount of students that apply for university (around 700,000 last year), but if you want to stand out from the crowd you must avoid using the cliché opening lines or overused words. Here are some examples of these:
I have always been fascinated by…
I have always been passionate about studying…
From a young/early age I have always been interested in…
(subject) has always been something I have been interested in…
It’s best to avoid these clichés by just being honest. Many of us discover what we’d like to study during our A-level years or later, but it’s important that you explain why you became interested in the subject. Did a teacher influence you to research more into the subject? Did a secondary school trip to the space station start your love of science?
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