Advice on compiling personal statements
Effective Personal Statements are likely to offer about three separate paragraphs, and with a little space left between them. The principal aim (and by a mile) is to get across your enthusiasm for selecting your chosen subject(s); hence most, probably two-thirds, of the statement will identify and reflect upon your academic interests. As a hard and fast rule specific examples are always far more convincing than very general statements, and so do not begin by stating ‘I want to read economics at university because I am very interested in it’. Your interest is taken for granted; what selectors and interviewers want to know is what steps you have taken to foster and to develop that interest, and not simply in AS/A Level classes. You should therefore start by outlining clearly the reasons for selecting your subject. Explain exactly what it is that excites you about it, and make explicit reference to very specific examples of topics, issues, personal research, reading outside the A Level specification, practical work, projects, coursework or fieldwork. In the case of joint honours degrees you will need to do this for each of the subjects, trying where possible to identify links between them. If you are not studying your proposed subject at school, explain clearly what has attracted you to it, indicate any research into it that you have done, and try to show how it might link with one or more of your current A Level subjects. If you have chosen a diverse range of courses at different institutions (and this is ultimately not good strategy) then you will need to provide clear reasons to justify this.
You might go on to provide details of your academic achievements, such as scholarships, performance in AS Level examinations, prizes awarded and any participation in external competitions. You might here also want to give some brief indication of your career aspirations, if you currently have any, and, where possible, establish links between your degree course choice and your career choice, though (except where there is a necessary link between degree subject choice and career) be careful not to put too much emphasis on any suggestion that your choice of courses is simply a means to a career end. Any relevant work experience should also be mentioned here, placing the stress on how you benefited and what exactly you learned. This is particularly important for applicants in medicine, veterinary medicine and law. If you plan to take a gap year, outline the reasoning behind your decision, and give some indication of what you have planned or are in the process of planning. Refer to any sponsorship for which you have applied. Any activity that is enabling you to develop one or more of your skills is particularly worth mentioning in this context. Indeed, you should include in your statement any information that demonstrates that you have acquired (and are using) particular skills, including any associated with information technology, teamwork, leadership, problem solving, communication, and service to the wider community. Remember that most courses now have Entry Profiles, and it is essential that you study and consider these before putting pen to paper, since you will need to provide specific examples in your statement of the particular skills, qualities and attributes that are sought.
In the final section of your statement you have an opportunity to describe your personal strengths, qualities and interests, and thus to impress the interviewers and selectors with your likely contribution to university and college life. It is important here that you get over the fact that you have seized the more rewarding opportunities that have come your way. Include examples of activities and interests that demonstrate your leadership or teamwork capacity, your enterprise or originality, your sensitivity to the needs of others and contribution to a community, or your determination to stick at a task. Select three or four prominent (and preferably contrasting) activities which bring out these qualities; they certainly do not have to be confined to school-based activities, and might well encompass sporting, musical, artistic or dramatic talents and achievements. Voluntary or charity work, team membership, direction of a play, responsibilities at school, performing in concerts or organising a rock group, and fascinating or unusual hobbies are simply a few of the possibilities. Try to offer evidence that you can work independently, that you can manage time effectively, and that you have a clear sense of priorities. Resist the obvious temptation to include long lists of sporting teams you have played in (since the age of seven!), foreign countries you have visited and activities in which your participation is no better than marginal or occasional. Remember that the aim of the statement is to establish that you are an interesting individual in your own right, with your own priorities, values and agenda, and therefore someone who will clearly benefit both from the course and from university life; this should be summarised in a short, though decisive concluding sentence.