Hello and welcome to Year 12! The year you begin your A Levels and start to think about what you want to do once you’re finished with school.
Although you’ve only been back at school for just over a week, you’ve probably heard a few university ‘buzzwords’ floating around – including ‘UCAS’ and ‘personal statement’. You might be feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point but don’t panic: we’re here to help!
Over the next few weeks we’re going to be talking you through the university application process, starting at the very beginning with personal statements. So, what are they and how do you go about writing one.
What is a personal statement?
If you want to go to university then you have to write a personal statement. It’s a vital part of your UCAS application, and gives you the opportunity to show admissions tutors who you are in your own words.
A personal statement is essentially a short, reflective essay from you to your chosen universities, explaining why you’re the perfect candidate for their course. Getting the grades is important too, but your personal statement is your only opportunity to give universities a real insight into who you are as a person and why you’re passionate about that course – unless you’ve chosen a course which interviews you as well!
As for the nitty gritty, your personal statement must be no longer than 4000 characters long (which means all punctuation and paragraph spacing is counted, as well as the words). This equates to about 47 lines in total. That might sound like a lot of space, but as soon as you start writing you’ll realise that it’s not as much as it seems. Being concise is therefore essential, and you need to choose the information you put in there carefully.
It’s all good though. If you haven’t had much experience writing to a word count, this is great practice for all those A Level and university essays heading your way!
Your personal statement gets uploaded to UCAS along with the rest of your personal details as part of your university application. It must be uploaded by 15th January 2019, unless you’re applying to Oxbridge or to study Medicine or Veterinary Sciences – in which case your deadline is coming up soon (15th October 2018).
If you’re unsure as to when you need to upload your personal statement on UCAS, then check your course requirements either via your individual university website or the UCAS Course Finder. Whatever you do, don’t be late!
Where do I begin?
Firstly, it’s important to decide on the course you want to study. While UCAS does allow you to apply to different courses at different universities, you can only submit one personal statement to your top 5 unis. Therefore it’s important that you set your sights on one particular course. Courses will vary slightly from uni to uni, but your personal statement needs to be tailored to match the subject you’ve chosen. If your personal statement is geared towards Economics, but you’ve also applied for an English course, you’ll be rejected by the English admissions team instantly. Pick a subject and stick with it.
Now it’s time to reflect on why you want to study that particular course. Here we’re talking in terms of your personal ambitions, career goals, interests and passions. Have a think about the main reasons why you like the subject and what might have inspired you to study it – be that family members, books you’ve read, films you’ve seen, a work experience placement – anything! Write all your thoughts down in bullet points so that you don’t forget anything.
Next, you need to reflect on yourself, and think about why you’re the perfect candidate for the course. Think about your personal skills, achievements, hobbies, work placements, interests – anything that ties in with the course and shows that you’re passionate and enthusiastic about that subject, and therefore a keen and willing student. Again, write all your thoughts down in some bullet points.
Once you’ve done the above and have two long lists of bullet points, you’re nearly ready to start writing! But first, you might want to fill in some gaps.
Do I need to do any extra research?
The crucial thing about a personal statement is that each point you make about yourself is related back to your course. No statement should be unsubstantiated, and you really need to show admissions departments that you’ve read around your subject and know more than simply what you’ve covered in lessons.
In order to achieve this, it’s a good idea to think of two or three things that you can do to demonstrate your interest in the subject and show that you’ve gone above and beyond to learn more. Here are some ideas:
- Read books related to a key area you’re interested in on your course, which you can then reference in your personal statement. For example, if you want to study Philosophy you could read Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ or Nietzsche’s ‘Beyond Good and Evil’. If you want to study History and are fascinated by World War 2, you could read ‘Defying Hitler’. If you want to study English and are interested in a particular era or author, read around that area so that you can show your knowledge in your statement.
- Go to exhibitions, workshops, talks and other events related to your desired course. For example, if you want to study Economics you might want to see whether a university near you is hosting any public Economics lectures soon. If you want to study Politics, you could try and attend PMQs at Westminster. If you want to study Art History, head to some galleries and exhibitions. You can also attend insight and open days organised by big companies (e.g. Barclays).
- Get some work experience. This could be slightly tougher at short notice, but if you can get some experience working in a career related to your subject this will look great in your statement. For example – if you want to study Veterinary Science, try and shadow a vet at a local practice or help out on a nearby farm. If you’re looking to study film or theatre, is there a theatre near you where you can work as an usher? Do some research and see if there are any good opportunities in your area.