A-level results day is a nerve-wracking time for everyone involved, the prospect of falling short of the grades needed to get into your chosen University can be too much to bear. Anyone who’s been through it will know there’s tears, tantrums and table throwing a-plenty.
Slight exaggeration, perhaps. But getting the right grades is just the start – there’s the looming spectre off filling out the UCAS form correctly, including the all-important personal statement. Enough to fill even the hardy with dread, the personal statement section is incredibly important to your application; not only does it add flesh to the bones of your UCAS form it offers course leaders an insight into you, your life, your style. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Figures obtained by radio 4’s top consumer programme You and Yours show many students try to ‘cheat’ their way into university. Often students feel overwhelmed by the personal statement, worried that their future hinges on these few sheets of inky A4. Thousands of prospective students are caught every year copying and pasting example personal statements from websites, changing scant minimum of the information. Search Google; you’ll find hundreds of sites offering templates and examples that are easily copied / pasted. Year on year thousands fall into the trap of going down this treacherous route, failing to appreciate the advanced technology available to universities which scan and check for plagiarism rigorously. Those who fall by the wayside in this way must really kick themselves. Good or bad, there are a even plethora of websites out there that will write your statements for you, usually sending you a questionnaire to fill out in the first instance followed by numerous consultations by phone and email to get it just right. Personal Statements produced in this way can be edited and re-edited several times before the piece is complete, often by graduates of esteemed Oxbridge backgrounds. Of course, these services aren’t free, or cheap; tailor-made Personal Statements can set you back anything from £150 – £300. UCAS say it’s against the rules, ‘cheating’, to use such sites, whilst the creators of bespoke websites that produce tailor-made personal statements argue that their input is akin to that of a good tutor, a doting father or an educated family friend. Actually, I kind of see their point; many students need the help of others to get it just right – when the stakes are that high you can’t blame them, so what’s the difference? In my opinion, however, students need to give Personal Statement websites – tailor made or otherwise – a wide berth and here’s why; my short guide to making your personal statement stand out:
- Write for yourself: It’s an easy thing to do – when it comes to forms, covering letters, personal statements we start to think ‘what do they want to hear?’ rather than ‘what do I want to write?’. Of course you need to tick the boxes, answer the questions and push the right buttons but don’t be afraid to be creative, to let your voice shine through. Remember that your personal statement is all about your hopes, dreams and ambitions; don’t be afraid to let your mind loose. If you have been inspired to pursue an English degree because dear old Gramps used to read you stories under the old apple tree in the garden then say so – it’s a personal statement and these kinds of inflections go far. I remember writing mine and talking about how I grew up with radio 4 playing ever-present in my eardrums, and at the interview I had a long discussion with the course leader about our favourite programmes. It can only have done me good. These people have to sift through hundreds, thousands even of UCAS forms, make yours stand out by saying something unique and interesting – hook ‘em in.
- Be enthusiastic: Subject leaders want to hear why you want to take up any particular course. It’s no good saying ‘because I was good at it in school’ you need to expand, show passion and genuine interest. The more layers you can heap onto your reasoning the better.
- Check, check and re-check: Spelling, grammar and punctuation should not be forgotten about amongst the pressure to get all your thoughts down. University is a big step up from school and sloppy English can really grind the gears of those checking the statement. Don’t be afraid to read it to friends and family and welcome constructive criticism and pointers on English skills. This could be the start of an amazing career so make sure it’s flawless.
- What to include: You will be expected to write about topics such as skills and achievements, hobbies and interests, work experience and future plans. Think carefully about your experience in each of these topics – what is most relevant to the course/University you have chosen? Not only that, showing an active and varied life goes down well, as does expressing a bit of ambition. Want to be the next Prime Minister? Say so!
Check out the UCAS webpage for more help, guides, hints and tips as well as resources all geared towards getting that personal statement right. In my opinion, it’s the only website you’ll need…
The platform that connects tutors and students