The personal statement writer is faced with an unenviable challenge.
Treading an immensely fine line between demonstrating why they’re a better candidate than the many others jostling for a competitive space, but guarding against “bragging” too outlandishly. It’s an art that often relies on a careful act of judgement – and yet by avoiding these simple mistakes, you can both maximise the effectiveness of your statement, and set yourself up to interview with ease.
1) Extravagant language and clichés.
Remember how many hundreds of personal statements the Admissions tutor will have to read after the UCAS deadline passes. It always helps to put yourself in the shoes of this weary professor! Do them a favour by making your statement easy-to-read, concise and accessible; keep extravagant and flowery language at bay, and any clichés to a minimum – they’ve read them all before.
I was tempted to begin my Geography personal statement with an anecdote about my Geographical passion igniting as I gazed at the raw power of the Vesuvius volcano on a family holiday, aged 8 – before admitting to myself that this wasn’t really true, and sounded painfully stereotypical. Instead, I opted for the simple opener: “My passion for Geography really developed when…” and mentioned a topic that had captured my interest in class.
Keep it honest, keep it simple, and try not to sound like you’ve swallowed a dictionary: the best candidates will make themselves stand out without having to resort to obscure, grandiose phraseology – and your admissions tutor will appreciate you for it.
2) Topics you’re not wholly comfortable talking about.
Here, you need a careful balance between demonstrating individual flair to give yourself a personal edge over other candidates, whilst guarding against leaving yourself stumped when questioned about something on your statement that you really don’t know much about. Admissions tutors can pick up on unexpected aspects of the topics you address in your personal statement – so beware!
For instance, in my Geography statement, I thought it would look impressive if I mentioned a short work experience placement I did in a satellite navigation company, to demonstrate my knowledge of GIS – a form of digital mapping – which I expected my rival candidates would lack. The basics of the mapping element I understood: however, I was floored when asked in interview: “So, how does satellite navigation work out your location on Earth?”. Though, luckily, my answer was correct, the sheer panic of being asked something so unexpected – that I’d seemingly brought on myself by giving the (very short!) placement such prominence in my statement – left me shaken for the rest of the interview.
Statements that demonstrate your depth of passion for your subject, rather than the extent of your knowledge on niche areas, would certainly float better. Because A-Levels and University are so vastly different, tutors accept that any current knowledge you have on your subject won’t scratch the surface of the degree syllabus. It’s far better to demonstrate how keen you are to learn – and makes for a much more comfortable interview experience!
Remember – a personal statement is designed to be personal; not just solely to impress.
Describe what it is about the subject that makes YOU tick – not simply everything you know about the topic, no matter how impressive it might sound that you know it – and you’ll find that your genuine passion and commitment to the subject may be all you need to make it to the next round of admissions. Good luck!
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