By Delyth Chambers, Director of Student Recruitment, Outreach and Admissions at the University of Warwick
1. Applying to Warwick
2. About the UCAS form
3. Know the course
4. Aspirations and goals
5. Personal achievements
Applying for University next year? The time has come to focus on your UCAS application and your personal statement. This is where you’ll demonstrate your skills, enthusiasm and knowledge about the course you’re applying for.
Follow our top ten tips and listen to our handy podcasts to find out how to write a winning personal statement.
Our top ten tips
STEP 1: PLAN
Start early - the sooner you start, the more time you have to think about all of the different elements you’d like to include in your personal statement. This is your opportunity to sell yourself and make your application stand out. Why not start with a mind map to list all the different elements you intend to include? Grab a piece of paper and write your name in the middle, then draw lines from the centre, include one for your relevant skills, one for your experience, one for the course (what do you know about it? Why are you interested in it?), one for your hobbies and interests and one for influencing factors that made you want to apply. Remember, this is a rough first draft and just an initial way to get your thoughts on paper. Once, you’ve done that, you’ve already made a great start on creating your winning application. You can now start to use the words from your mind map to create the basic structure of your personal statement - at this point, don’t worry about writing perfectly, it can be a very rough draft in basic note form.
STEP 2: KNOW
How much do you know about the course you are applying for or the universities you are applying to? Check out the university website, read about the course details and try and gain and understanding about the personal attributes and skill set that potential students studying the course might be expected to display, this way, you can try and match your skills and experience to those of the course. The reviewer of the application will recognise that you understand the course and that you’ve clearly researched what it involves – it will also show how passionate you are to be considered or the course. If it’s not too late, you can attend open days at universities or education fairs and ask lots of questions to find out more.
STEP 3: PROVIDE EVIDENCE
Use evidence to support what you say - think about what skills you'll need and what activities you have been involved in to demonstrate your skills, enthusiasm and experience. This could include work experience, volunteering, attendance on a residential course, competitions, personal reading or involvement in an online community such as IGGY but to name a few! Don’t forget to explain what made these experiences valuable and relevant to your application and ensure that you try and include examples of your transferable skills such as communication skills, critical thinking, listening skills, problem solving, planning, coaching, writing etc.
For example: Justify why a particular experience is relevant and demonstrates your ability to undertake the course. It's better to say "my EPQ on rainwater pH levels will allow me to complete lab tests, analyse data and write in an academic fashion which will help me on introductory modules on lab work" than "I did A-level Chemistry, and I've done Duke of Edinburgh and I had a Saturday job". Sell yourself.
STEP 4: BE PASSIONATE
Be positive, use positive language to show that you are passionate about the course you want to study. Your statement should highlight your interest and enthusiasm in a subject so you should try to convey this in the language you use. What lead you to be excited about the course? What inspired you? Was it a book, a film, a conversation, work experience, a debate on IGGY, an article in an academic paper, a discussion with your teacher, a summer school you attended? What did you enjoy? How did it impact your decision and how did it resonate with you enough to make and want you to learn more? What kind of independent learning have you carried out? This approach might really make your application stand out.
STEP 5: BE REALISTIC
Don't exaggerate and don’t make things up. If you haven’t done it, don’t pretend you have. If you have done it, make sure that you give an honest and true representation of your experience and skills. If you have spent time creating your mind map (see step 1) and you’ve considered all of the attributes and skills that make you a good candidate for the course, you won’t need to exaggerate because you’ll find that you’ve already got tons of exciting things to share! By the way, your extra-curricular activities don't have to be jaw-dropping, what is more important, is that you are able to show what you've learnt from them and how that is relevant to the course you're applying to (see step 3).
STEP 6: REVIEW
Now you’re getting somewhere! You should now have a first rough draft of your statement which includes all of the elements mentioned above. Have a look at your word count, you will probably find that you are over the word limit, believe it or not, this is a good position to be in. (If you find that you are below your word limit, you might need to go back to step 1 and revisit your mind map).
Now is the chance to review your statement and try and remove or re-word lengthy or unnecessary sentences. Don’t forget to consider your audience carefully when writing your application, remember; you're writing to academics, not to your friends, don’t just consider grammar and spelling, but overall tone and style. Try and be concise but don’t worry if you are struggling at this point, that’s where step 7 comes in…
STEP 7: SHARE
Ask other people to read your personal statement. If you want to see whether your interest and enthusiasm comes across, there is no better way than getting other people to have a read. This could include, a parent, teacher, careers adviser, friend, neighbour – people will be more than happy to help, and you can guarantee that they will want you to succeed so do share your personal statement with more than one person in order to get a few different viewpoints. There are lots of good reasons for this; they may have thought of a useful experience or skill that you have forgotten to include, they may spot spelling mistakes and grammatical errors that you might have missed- even if you have read it 50 times already, and they may suggest areas that you might want to re-word or remove altogether.
STEP 8: ACCEPT FEEDBACK
By now you have spent hours of time and effort writing your personal statement and it’s become a very close and personal document to you. Once you have asked for feedback from those around you, make sure you are open to their suggestions and try not to take it as a personal criticism if there are elements they suggest you change. Remember that they have your best interests at heart and that they really want you to succeed in landing a place on that course! Depending on who they are, they may also may be very skilled in reading, editing and marking written work. Don’t be put off by constructive comments – people are there to help you, they want you to succeed so take their feedback on board.
STEP 9: REPEAT
Carry out steps 6 and 7 again! After accepting feedback and advice from those around you, take the time to edit, spell check and make any additional changes to make your personal statement into a document that you feel really proud of. Pass it back to your friends and family and ask them to read it again and give you more feedback. This process may be repeated a few times until you are truly happy with your statement but remember, all this hard work and effort will be worth it if it means you are accepted onto your chosen course.
STEP 10: SEND
You’ve done it. Your personal statement is ready to go. You’ve worked really hard to create a concise document which demonstrates how skilled and experienced you are, and how passionate you are about your chosen subject area. Don’t forget to save an up to date copy as you may need to refer to it later on. Good luck!
Got any questions? Need more advice? Let us know in the comments box below.