As University applications open, many students will be looking ahead or may have even already decided on their CAO choices prior the closing date of the 1st of February 2017. But those hoping to study in the UK will also be looking at the UCAS application system. One of the main differences with UCAS is the requirement for a personal statement or PS as part of the application. The PS is a vital part of the application process and students should not underestimate the importance of getting it right before the earlier closing date of the 15th of January 2017.
I am currently working in a registered Cambridge international school in China. The majority of students are applying to UK universities through UCAS. I’ve looked at around 140 Grade 12 personal statements and have seen some really good and some really bad!
So what makes a good personal statement?
From my experience, someone who shows genuine interest, has some work experience and can discuss and show proof of research such as a reading outside of school makes for a strong PS.
A good structure to your PS is important and of course it needs to be well written. This can really help when trying to convince the reader you’re right for the course, which is the ultimate goal.
Let’s break it down into different sections.
Your PS needs to have a strong introduction:
Ask yourself: Why do you want to study the course? What interests you about the subject area? What aspirations do you have?
Your introduction is an important part. You need to grab the reader’s attention.
Be clear about what you’re interested in studying and why. That’s the number one rule.
Try not to start with “Ever since I was 8 years old I wanted to be a doctor”, or a weak quote. This strategy is overused. It might be difficult to give your background in the subject without mentioning your age. If you feel you need to, just don’t be clichéd about it.
Here is where you show proof of your knowledge, skills, academic ability and experience, i.e the evidence!
Divide it into two parts academic and work experience/volunteer work.
In the academic section: Discuss academic achievements/subjects studied. Ask yourself: What academic skills and knowledge do you have that will prepare you to succeed in your chosen subject?
What subjects are you doing now? Any skill transferable to what you want to study?
Any particular school projects that come to mind? Any achievements/ awards?
And of course, make sure you show proof of readings.
This should be the longest section of your PS. Depending on where you are applying for it can vary. 60% to 80% of your PS should be academic.
Within this section, while it is okay to show off in-depth knowledge, avoid extended, in-depth discussions of an idea. Keep it brief enough and more of a prompt to start a discussion perhaps at an interview.
In terms of the Work experience/employment/volunteering:
Write about any skills that you have gained from work experience, employment and/or volunteering opportunities and how these experiences prepare you for university study.
If you don’t have anything that relates to the subject you are applying for and you have time… go get some! It’s impressive when a student is applying for accounting and interned at an accounting firm for a few weeks. Remember students with work experience in the related area is who you’re up against.
Not only does it help you with the competition, the fact that you have gained real life experience in the area and are still interested in the subject is going to show the reader that you really are interested in this subject. Which, remember is the overall goal.
If your work experience or volunteer work does not relate to the particular course you are applying for, make the skills as transferable to the course as much as possible.
Mention any other achievements, extra-curricular activities or hobbies that demonstrate you have the relevant skills for the course you are applying to.
This can say a lot about you even though you might not think so – it shows the reader something about you and could even make you stand out. What do you have to offer the university outside of the classroom?
For internationals, including Irish students if you’re applying to the UK, they like to see why you want to study in the UK and if you actually have a good reason.
And finally, the final paragraph should convince the reader again you are suitable for the course. Finish with a brief summary, like the introduction, it’s extremely important. This is your last chance. Why should you be offered a place?
What to avoid:
- Don’t be negative! There’s simply no time. Avoid saying things like I’m not good at this, I really struggle with that etc., how will this convince the reader of your suitability? Exactly, it won’t.
- Story telling: The personal statement is not intended to be an event-by-event summary of your life. Rather, focus only on those aspects of your experience that are directly relevant to the position you’re seeking.
- Overly complex language – Keep it simple and easy to read.
- Focusing on other people.
- Avoid discussions of money – Many students focus on their goal of making money for the reason why they chose the course. This is not a strong reason, it doesn’t show your interest in the topic directly.
- Spelling or grammatical errors –and remove the slang!
- Humour (the readers humour might not be the same as yours).
- Start your PS early.
- Get it proof read – a few times.
- Remember you’re applying for the university course – not the job or careers. It’s useful to mention aspirations and goals if you have them but just remember it’s the course you are applying for not the job.
- Use com– I also suggest using Grammarly.com – this online app is free and will help with essay structure, spelling and grammar.
- Be careful of your word count. Check here:https://www.studential.com/applying/personal-statement-writing/length-checker
- Look at examples – Cambridge has a database of examples based on subject: However DO NOT COPY! https://www.studential.com/university/applying/UCAS-application-guide/personal-statement-examples
At the end of the day the most important thing to stress is your interest in the subject, your knowledge and what makes you suitable. Make this as clear as possible.
For more information: Simply follow the UCAS structure, it’s easily explained and sums up what a personal statement needs: https://www.ucas.com/ucas/undergraduate/getting-started/when-apply/writing-ucas-undergraduate-personal-statement
These UCAS personal statements have been kindly provided by students applying to School of Oriental and African Studies. You can click on one of the links below to view the entire statement and find out if the applicant was offered a place.
You can also view our entire collection of personal statements or view personal statements for application at other universities.
International Relations and Politics Personal Statement
Since childhood, I have been fascinated by the constantly changing world that we live in, wanting to understand and explore the causes and effects of current and future human interactions. During my teenage years I started listening to the BBC World Service and reading internationally recognized journals and magazines...
Agriculture Personal Statement
Ever since i watched "shaun the sheep" on CBBC, i have been passionate about becoming a farmer. For me, nothing in life would be as good as a farmers life; driving a tractor really slowly and holding everyone up, speaking in an "ooh argh" farmer accent, immediatly gaining a farmers wife upon becoming a farmer, almost guaranteed fame due to presence in most adverts regarding bread/wheat/cereal, wearing clothes that died out decades ago, and most importantly raising animals in order pit them against each other in a gladitorial pit...
Sustainable Development/Economics Personal Statement
The first time I recognised the magnitude of my passion for sustainable development was when my family visited the waste-site Smokey Mountain in Manila, Philippines. Smokey Mountain is a two million metric tonnes waste mountain and home for about 30...
Economics Personal Statement
Choosing an Undergraduate degree in Economics is a result of my deep seated curiosity to know why economies are they way they are; why oil prices in my country, Pakistan, rapidly fluctuate whereas economies like USA and China continue to strengthen despite recessions...
Anthropology Personal Statement
My fascination with human behaviour and the motivations behind human actions has existed for most of my adult life, to determine a cause however I would accredit this to the voluntary work I participated in with Crisis Single Persons Homeless charity...
Politics Personal Statement
My background, living in three major metropolises, Lagos, London and Aberdeen bestowed me a very diverse, open, multicultural way of thinking. The cultural shock of Lagos widened my eyes to vastness of the world and prepped my involvement in the Community Development Committee, allowing me to get in touch with all sectors of Nigerian society; here my interest in sociology, politics and government took flight...
Politics Personal Statement
I am of Somali and Maasai parentage, but was adopted and became a Dutch national. This places me firmly in the mainstream of multiculturalism. My family's extensive travels exposed me to various African and European cultures...
Government Personal Statement
On a vacation to the Krak des Chevaliers and Palmyra in the Syrian Desert, I witnessed the rich culture of the Middle Eastern people. This region is generally perceived by western democracies as a constant source of political and social turmoil...
Politics & Law Personal Statement
Human rights infringements, widespread poverty, economic dependence on advanced states, unstable governments, high rates of illiteracy, disease, population growth, but still wealthy ruling elites. All these are the common traits of the Third World Countries...
Religious Studies Personal Statement
I find it inspiring to be in the presence of other people who are seeking understanding of themselves, and the most intense experience I can remember is when I attended a Baptism where I witnessed the transformation people would undergo...
Politics & International Relations Personal Statement
I gained my interest in social sciences in my early teenage years, when I started to question the surrounding world trying to find my way and place in it. As I browsed through books, which introduce main points of today's cultural, management and social studies, I became eager to strive for more...
International Relations Personal Statement
The Middle East has always been a political hot zone, at the center of international disputes which gain worldwide attention. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the region has acted as a battlefield for other nations, making stability in the area an impossible feat...
Law Personal Statement
"If exams were spoken you would pass with flying colors" this is the very statement that fuelled my desire to read Law at degree level. My ambition to read Law can be traced back to my childhood as I sat watching lawyers helping people in need...
Law Personal Statement
I cannot remember a person in my life who has had a more significant influence on me than my father. Everything I have achieved with regard to academics, sports, or life in general, I am indebted to him for...
Geography Personal Statement (Gap Year)
A trip to the capital city of Iceland; Reykjavík, shaped distinctively by its earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, I noticed how fundamental tourism and investment in geothermal energy had resulted in a strong correlation of economic growth for the country...
History & Politics Personal Statement
For years I have listened to my family discussing the latest political and historical issues on the news and I have been fascinated and awed by the fact that there was never a wrong or right answer, decision or explanation to a given problem...
African Studies Personal Statement
Committed to lifelong learning, I am a designer-maker and arts facilitator supporting creativity through an interdisciplinary practice to enrich learning and appreciation for the arts. Curiosity underpins my desire to return to higher education to study the humanities...
Economics Personal Statement
I have an Austrian father and an Australian mother. I was born in Thailand and grew up in various third world countries around Asia due to my parents’ involvement in humanitarian aid work. From an early age, this sparked a deep curiosity about the way the world works and given me a good understanding of different cultures, traditions and languages...
Arabic and Islamic Studies Personal Statement
"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world" - Ludwig Wittgenstein Even as a young child languages have been important to me. I used to try to sing along with hit tunes on the radio and watched movies without subtitles from an early age, all to improve my English skills...
Japanese & Politics/Religious Studies Personal Statement
England and Japan are two immensely contrasting worlds: this distinctiveness is why the undeniable magic of Japanese culture has always attracted me to study its oriental societies and traditions. I have been enthralled by the Japanese language since I was a young teenager; reading 'Japanese for Busy People' at school and trying to note down homework reminders in Kanji, anything to incorporate Japanese into my daily life...
Chinese Studies Personal Statement
As a pupil in a European school, on occasion I had the pleasure of being lectured about East Asia. Whenever that happened, I found any kind of information imposing. I always pondered why it always had to be cut off and not talked about continuously, like was the case with western countries, whose lectures flowed from one subject on to the next without hesitation...
Linguistics Personal Statement
Have you ever heard the Tuvan throat singing technique? Beautiful and intriguing at the same time. The question that's bound to accompany a throat singing performance is how the human voice could possibly produce such a sound...