When writing your personal statement, the hardest part can be knowing where to start. It can seem like a mammoth task and just another additional stress while you are studying for your A-Levels. Read our Personal Statement Guide for some handy tips to know how to best approach writing your essay.
Start with a very rough first draft.
The main tip you may hear about writing a good personal statement is: stand out and be original. This is certainly a lot easier said than done, and can make the task feel even harder than usual. How are you meant to stand out via an online application?
When approaching your personal statement essay - don’t overthink the first sentences you write. They are not meant to be perfect, and focusing on them can prevent you from writing anything else! Start writing with the knowledge that this is your first draft. Getting your ideas on paper is crucial, so focus solely on the ideas initially, rather than worrying about your tone and essay structure. Your first draft is a chance for you to try to get your head around this whole personal statement thing, so make it as rough as necessary. It is likely you will make around 3-4 drafts before you are happy to show it to anyone else, so don’t be too precious about the first draft.
With your application, a lot of information will be sent to all of your prospective universities. While writing your personal statement, ensure you are not repeating any of this information. Your name, education history, courses and grades are all sent off with your application. Therefore, you do not need to write that you are predicted certain grades, or that you are studying X, Y and Z for A-Levels. While this may seem like a minor detail, this will save space which will, in turn, give you more room to discuss the more important aspects.
Have a correct split between academic and non-academic content When writing your first draft, you may want to focus on your personality and extra curricular activities, to help you to “stand out” from the crowd. This is always great to include, but it must be done in the correct way. Your personal statement shouldn’t be the first chapter in your auto-biography, so ensure it is not focused solely on your life and your achievements. The ideal split is often cited as 70% academic and 30% non-academic, and even 80-20% for more competitive courses. Bear this in mind when you are writing your personal statement, and always try to ensure both sections link well together.
The academic section:
This is your chance to show what a wonderful potential student you will be, should you be accepted onto the course. Don’t simply say that you always get good grades in French, and this is why you might as well do it at university. Instead, explore how the subject has influenced you, and how you plan to study and research it at a deeper level. It is always a good idea to reference a text of some sort, which may have had a particular impact on you, and inspired your desire to study this course at degree level. Have you listened to a Ted talk that discussed dialectical differences in various French speaking countries which interested you? Or perhaps you have read a journal article on Jstor that you keep coming back to in your essays? From podcasts, to articles, to plays, to interviews, to songs, to critical theories - any medium could be used in your personal statement as a point of reference to show your interest in the subject and your desire to study it further.
There is also an opportunity here to link the other courses you are studying at A-Level to further develop your interest in the course. Are you interested in studying a English Literature and you have also studied sociology and politics at A Level? You could link this into a particular genre or time period you enjoy studying, and how it has improved the way you analyse texts. Whatever angle you wish to explore in your personal statement, ensure it allows you to explore your idea to its fullest. This will show your skills as a potential future researcher, and your dedication to the subject.
The non-academic section:
This is your chance to show a bit more of your personality and show who you are outside of studying. Of course, this isn’t a section you should just fling onto the end of your statement. The best personal statements are those that effortlessly weave the academic with the non-academic. This is not always easy and does require more skill. Try not to just list your achievements outside of school and how that makes you a great candidate. Always try to link this back to your desire to study your chosen subject at degree level. For example, do you have a part time job that has taught you some important skills that help you with your studies? Perhaps you are a tutor, and by studying English grammar at a more fundamental level you now have a deeper interest in linguistics and the science behind languages. Whatever skills and extracurricular activities you wish to reference in your application, try your best to always link back to your subject.
Draft, draft and re-draft!
We have mentioned how important it is to not worry too much about your first draft. Once you are pretty happy with what you have produced, start to ask other people to read it and offer their opinion. It could be a good idea to ask family members, or older siblings or cousins who might have gone to university to read through your personal statement. Once they have made their corrections and you have re-drafted it, take it further!
Ask your subject specific teachers if they would be willing to read and give feedback on your personal statement too. If you are wishing to study History, it is the natural next step to ask your history teacher to read through it too. They are likely to have a degree in the subject you are also wishing to study, so they have first hand expertise in this area. With all of these corrections and alterations, it can feel overwhelming and you may get disheartened by all of the amendments. However just remember - this feedback is priceless and does not mean your first essay was terrible! Other opinions can show you a completely different perspective, and can also highlight a main area you might have missed. Take all feedback on board, and compare your first draft with your final draft. It is great to see the progress you have made - and you will be left with a personal statement you want to show off to everyone.