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How to write a ‘stand out’ Personal Statement

Giving thought to personal statements during the summer holidays can significantly improve their quality. Clare Duffield, Personal Statement Consultant, has advice for next year’s university applicants and their parents.

Covid has undoubtedly created uncertainties and challenges for students. However, one thing is for sure, the university application process will run as ‘normal’ for those heading into their final school year in September. For students planning to apply for a place at university in 2022 or a deferred place for 2023, the summer holidays is a good time to start considering the UCAS process. Having identified your subject(s) and short-listed potential target universities, the next step is to think about the personal statement, a key and very important part of an individual’s UCAS application.

Both parents and students may think that with a deadline of January 2022 for 2022/2023 (deferred) applications for most universities, it’s a bit early to start the process. The truth is that most schools plan for UCAS submission in October/November or earlier if applying for medicine or Oxbridge. To return to school or college with a well progressed personal statement draft in September, before more work lands on your desk, is a strong position to be in.

The task or opportunity posed by personal statements is for candidates to tell ‘their story’ outlining the path which has led them to choose a particular university course and, as importantly, to provide convincing back up to illustrate their individual story. In basic terms there are two key questions which a personal statement should address;

Why am I applying for this subject?

What evidence can I provide to back up my answer?

Starting to think about how you might answer those questions and what evidence you have at the beginning of the summer, will help identify what additional work needs to be done during the holiday months. It gives you time to read books, watch documentaries, listen to TED talks and podcasts and research your chosen subject beyond the curriculum.

A personal statement should be just that, ‘personal’, particular to each individual and should, in my view, be respected as such in terms of content and construction. Towards the latter stages of the summer holiday when the drafting process kicks into full swing, the candidate should feel empowered and develop a strong sense of ownership of this unique crafted document. For some, it will be fairly straight forward, for others who genuinely and understandably might be not completely convinced themselves by their choice, it can be a daunting prospect.

Some tips for students as they start the process;

  • Patience is key, statements usually take 6-8 drafts to get close to a final product with the first draft being the toughest.
  • Look closely at the course detail and think ‘how can I prove this is what I really want to study?’
  • Make notes as you read, listen to and watch relevant material over the summer
  • Build a selection of academic material, personal experiences and other potential content to demonstrate how you might be suited to the course and university life
  • Remember it’s not what you have done, it is what your experiences and learning has done for you, that is probably the most important point

In my experience, parents can be a help and potentially a hinderance in the personal statement process. However tempting it may be to hover over your young adult at every stage, reminding them that the summer clock is ticking, ‘suggesting’ to them exactly what content you think they should include, correcting grammar and making structural changes implying how you would do it differently, please take into account this will not help the candidate. I have read hundreds of personal statements and it is generally obvious when a statement has been ‘doctored’.

My advice to parents is to be positively involved when required, encouraging ideas, and discussing concepts rather than policing deadlines. We all remember wanting to pull away from parental influence and guidance on issues like this at that age and stage. Experience tells me this is still the case, so please don’t take it personally. In short, provide supportive, motivating commentary rather than letting the personal statement become a battle of wills.

For students starting early, researching widely, thinking broadly and being patient in drafting, will result in a more impactful and convincing personal statement which will hopefully increase your chance of interesting university offers.

CD consultancy focuses on helping individuals define their stories and working out how best to communicate them, at whatever age and stage. Work covers a range of scenarios including an individual approach to secondary school interview practise, personal statement advice, compiling marketing tools such as cvs and covering emails for internships, grad schemes, job hunting to get your career off the ground or later in life when applying for jobs as well as interview technique training. clareduffield4@icloud.com

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