The first term of Year 13 is difficult. On top of your heavy work load for A-Levels or IB, you also need to think about applying to university and of course the personal statement. This is arguably the most important part of your university application as it is your only chance (aside from Oxbridge interviews) where you can express yourself beyond just exam grades. For non-Oxbridge applicants who normally will not have an interview, it will be the only chance to make your application stand out from all the other candidates. Here are some tips to transform a good university personal statement into a glowing one that will make the admissions committee, who have to read literally thousands of these personal statements, sit up in their chair.
It is simply not enough to apply to a competitive university without reading beyond the narrow bounds of the AS and A2 syllabi. Through your own wider reading, you can explore in more detail areas of your subject that you find particularly interesting; for example if you are applying for Politics at King’s College London, but have a real passion for political thought, then reading Sopin’s “Libertarianism and Federalism” or Mill’s “On Liberty” will allow you to demonstrate your commitment to the subject and more importantly will give you an opportunity to share your own unique perspectives on your chosen subject in your personal statement. If you are applying to read History, what further reading on a subject that is not on your school syllabus have you done? For Science based subjects, what areas of your subject have you researched into that is not required by the A-Level syllabus?
Demonstrate your genuine passion for your subject
After all, you’re going to be studying it for the next 3-4 years. Show the admissions committee in your personal statement what extra-curricular activities related to your course you have been involved in. This is one of the easiest ways to demonstrate your interest in the subject; not by saying it but by actually doing it. If you are in Year 12, think about what work experience, charity work, or activities you can do during the 2015 summer holidays that will boost your candidacy. For example, if you want to study medicine organise work experience in a hospital; if you are applying for economics try and find work experience at a think tank or a city firm; if you are applying to read Maths, enter into an Olympiads or start studying a MOOC (massive open online course) on a particular areas of Maths. These experiences will give you the ammunition to inject detail when you come to write your personal statement and to demonstrate your interests, passions and ambitions. For students in Year 13, think back to what activities you have done which demonstrate your interest in your chosen subject.
Be Selective in what you say
Avoid information overload. The most common mistake that applicants make is to try and say in the personal statement every single important thing that is important to them. You cannot and should not adopt this approach, even if it means leaving out positive things. By saying everything about yourself, you risk just overwhelming and confusing the reader and at worst demonstrating a lack of judgement about what is central and peripheral to you. The personal statement is not there for an applicant to say everything about themselves; it is there to allow a university applicant to communicate their core message and to show the admissions officer why he/she is interested in the course, why he/she wants to study it and why he/she will be an asset to the university course. Simplicity and focus are the most potent weapons here. You want to isolate what are the most important things about you that the university admissions committee simply must know and then build a compelling, detailed and persuasive admissions argument around this. Cramming too many points into the essay does not allow you to develop a clear portrait of yourself or a memorable and clear message. The real skill here is to prioritise on your points and then to have the stomach to let go of some of the also good material.
Keep it simple
Avoid convoluted, academic and complex language. Avoid long and awkward sentences. Keep the language crisp and succinct. The tone should be serious but easy to read.
Draft and redraft
Ernest Hemmingway famously said that “the first draft of anything is sh**.” Be prepared to draft your personal statement many times and set aside time to do this. Be prepared also to take a step back from your personal statement and come back to it a couple of days later if you feel you are not making any progress. All of this means leaving plenty of time to arrive at your final draft.
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