When applying for a course, universities will use a variety of information to assess your suitability, including your current or projected qualifications and potentially an admission test. While these components are vital for getting your application shortlisted, it is unlikely that they will make you stand out amongst a crowd of other students with similar academic achievements. To separate yourself from the pack, you need to show the admissions team who you are as a person and why that makes you an ideal candidate for their institution.

The place to do this is in your personal statement. Here, you have the opportunity to paint a picture of yourself that will intrigue the reader into wanting to know more - perhaps even to offer you a place on their course there and then.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing your statement - after all, the most important thing is to allow your unique skills and abilities to shine through. However, there are some do’s and don’ts to help you craft a winning submission.


Show don’t tell

Making generalised, sweeping statements about your best attributes is not going to win you any favours - anyone can say they are dedicated, hardworking and motivated. Instead, show how you have demonstrated these qualities in the past by using specific examples.

Want to show you have leadership capabilities? Talk about a time where you led a project or team and the achievements you made in this role. Want to show how passionate you are about your chosen subject? Detail related extracurricular activities you have taken part in.

Avoid clichés and quotes

The best way to spot a cliché in your draft is to cast your eye over the words and ask, ‘could anyone have written this?’. Overused phrases like ‘I’ve always been interested in’ or ‘from a young age’ fail to add weight to your story.

Similarly, it’s best to avoid quotes in your statement - they can come across as at best unoriginal and at worst lazy. Instead, work to formulate the message you are trying to convey in your own words using your own voice. If in doubt, read what you’ve written out loud - if it sounds like you, you’re on the right path.

Tell the truth

It can be tempting to exaggerate in your statement to beef up your application, but the risk is simply not worth taking. If a university wants to follow up with you in an interview, for example, it’s likely that they will use your statement to shape their questioning. If you’re not comfortable discussing what you’ve claimed in detail, leave it out.

There is one caveat to this point. Whilst it is important to be transparent about your experiences and skills, there is no need to detail your flaws or highlight anything you feel is missing from your background. Keep things positive and don’t dwell on your shortcomings.

Be relevant

Including a list of every country you’ve visited on your travels or every book you’ve read is tiresome for the admissions team. If a piece of information isn’t related to your field or the qualities the university has stated they are looking for, leave it out.

To weed out any outliers, take each sentence you’ve written in turn and ask, ‘so what?’. If you can’t come up with a decent answer to this question, remove or alter the sentence. Stick to the salient points, and don’t waffle.

Your personal statement is your chance to show the admissions team who you are and how your experiences and achievements make you a great candidate for their course. Be yourself, be concise, and make sure you’ve covered the criteria the university has asked for.

Kate Jones writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and graduate jobs.

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