Most people would agree that the hardest part of constructing a UCAS personal statement is getting started. And the longer your leave it, inevitably, the harder it gets. Much of this is due to the pressures we put on ourselves to produce something perfect and yet aiming for perfection on a first draft is unrealistic.
My solution to this is simple - start putting pen to paper as soon as you can. Having something to work with, no matter how unpolished it is, will allow you to see just how and where you need to improve. Keeping things in our heads, on the other hand, are likely to cause anxiety and further procrastination.
If you find yourself in this position, honest written answers to the following questions will start the journey of allowing your personal statement to take shape.
How did your interest in this subject develop?
Everyone’s story here is different, so what is yours? Was your interest ignited through something you read, something you heard or something you experienced? Be honest. If you’re not honest it will sound disingenuous.
How can you prove you have gone out of your way to research the subject further?
To want to take this subject to degree level you need to show how this interest has developed. So what exactly have you done - further reading, research, open days?
Looking forwards, what particular elements of the subject are most appealing?
Can you show that you understand some of the breadth of what you will be expected to study during your time at university? Are there particular specialisms or module topics that appeal and can you say why this is?
Why is it important that people study this subject?
Are you able to see the ‘bigger picture relevance’ of this subject? What impact does it have on society and on how we live our lives? Can you give any newsworthy examples of this?
In terms of your recent education, can you talk about a piece of work or research that you found particularly interesting?
University staff want to teach interesting, and interested, students. Giving them evidence of a time when you have enthusiastically approached academic challenges in the past will help to do this.
What particular study skills have you gained from your recent subjects?
Remember, not every subject has to be relevant to your future studies. But you should be able to identify the transferable benefits that have come from your studies to date, whether that is critical thinking, structuring arguments or using creativity, to name but a few examples.
Have you gained any work experience (relevant or otherwise to your degree) and what has this taught you about yourself?
It is important to be reflective here. A personal statement showing a list of what you did will be much less impressive than one that shows how the experiences have shaped or challenged your perceptions about the world of work, and how you may fit within it.
What are your current career ideas?
If you are applying to a strongly vocational course then this is definitely something you will need to be able to show that you have thought about. What research have you done? What particular careers or working environments interest you? (NB - don’t over worry this if your course is purely academic - remember that this is a course application and not a job interview).
What additional responsibilities have you taken on, either in or outside of school?
Everyone likes a proactive student who goes out of their way to acquire more skills. But again, this question is about being reflective about your experiences rather than simply listing what you did. Extra-curricular interests can also help to add individuality to a personal statement.
What aspects of university life are you most looking forward to?
University is about personal development as well as academic development so think broadly here. Answering this question honestly should help to reveal positivity and a ‘can do, will do’ attitude.
I’m not suggesting that your answers to these questions will, or should, form your complete and finished statement. Rather this is an exercise in brainstorming ideas and getting the ball rolling. From these answers you should then be able to identify exactly which information is most relevant to your application (it won’t all be) and identify the areas that can be taken to a greater depth. There may also be further work that needs to be done on ordering your statement in a way that flows and makes sense. So, it won’t be perfect and it won’t give you the finished article, but the important thing is that by tackling these relevant questions head on, you are making a start.
Don’t forget that Momentum Careers Advice offers a personal statement review service for just £45. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if interested or read my blog post ‘What is involved in a UCAS personal statement review?’
If you want to browse through the other blog posts that I’ve written on the subject of UCAS applications then please click on this link.