Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The applications game

As UCAS season is on us, I was asked by a journalist from the Guardian for some thoughts on what makes a good 'personal statement'. I ran away with myself a bit: for what it's worth, here's my thoughts in full. I should add, this is an entirely personal take on the process: caveat emptor.

There's no formula for a good personal statement: the opposite, in fact, because if it looks like you're following a formula that can sink you. It's relatively easy to say what you shouldn't do. Don't write a list of things you've done, or (worse) of exciting places you have been: that makes it look like you've been deliberately trying to amass CV points in order to bolster your personal statement. If you must talk about how a holiday (especially an exotic holiday) sparked your love of your subject, keep it to a minimum: it can sound as if you are saying, 'I was bored and indecisive, and then my parents took me somewhere expensive, and I thought, yeah, history (or whatever), that could be fun!'

Remember that admissions tutors are reading these things by the hundred: they all blur into one. You want to be one of the ones that stands out - not for being crass, cheesy or embarrassing (we have seen plenty of those) but for being fresh and genuine.

The kind of personal statement that warms an admissions tutor's heart is the kind which is honest: which describes, in genuinely personal terms, quite why the student loves the subject, and conveys something of their passion for it. We, as academics, think our subjects are wonderful: we like students who give the impression of thinking that too. When we sift through personal statements, we are not looking for someone who can tick every box but for someone who has that spark: a real sense of engagement with their subject, and of thinking and reading about it. So do talk about what made you love your subject, even if it was a foreign holiday: but tell us why it made you love it, and why you think you need to study it more. Tell us what about it excites you, and make us feel that excitement. Don't write a miscellany of disconnected facts - I volunteered for this, I worked for that - but tell us a story about yourself; make us feel that you are a person of vision and imagination, for whom your outstanding A-level performance is just the beginning.

So there are no rules as to what goes in and what doesn't: everything that needs to be part of the story should be in, and anything that doesn't contribute should be out. Though if you really do have a Paralympic gold medal, there's no harm in mentioning it in passing.

And don't get too stewed about it: it's not the be-all and end-all of your application. Most applications are decided on the predicted and actual results. Almost no amazing personal experience is worth dropping a grade for.

3 comments:

  1. I hope you are up for reviewing your goddaughter's draft statement in only two years' time...

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