Top tips for writing your personal statement
Hi, I’m Edgar, a 3rd year student studying Commercial Pilot Training! I wanted to share with you my top tips for writing your personal statement, as well as some handy ways of making yours stand out from the rest!
What is a Personal Statement?
A personal statement is effectively a narrative text that demonstrates your passion for the subject you want to study, including specific areas or topics you’re interested in within that subject. It should also explain how you’ve made an effort to engage with your subject already and what you’ve learned, or how it’s developed your understanding. Another really important part is talking about what you want to do in the future, after university! A personal statement is a vital part of the university application process – it’s not just grades that determine if you get offered a place. For example, I needed to talk about how I got interested in flying, why I am so passionate about the career, what work experience and opportunities I had already undertaken, and how I saw my career path as a pilot developing.
1.) Make a plan first. If you’re worried about going over the word limit – or afraid you’ll get nowhere near – make a plan. Jot down what you want each individual paragraph to discuss and assign each section an individual word count until it totals the overall word count.
2.) Have a structure. This makes your personal statement easier to read and ensures you include all the relevant topics. I suggest the following structure: Introduction (why you want to study the course or subject), Academic Work (specifically subjects you’ve studied that are relevant to the course/subject you’re applying to, including specific topics or pieces of work), Extra-Curricular Work (this could be books or journals you’ve read or events you’ve been to), Work Experience (pick out one or two key experiences or placements, talking about what you did and what you took away from these), Hobbies and Interests (these could be extracurricular activities that demonstrate key transferable skills that aren’t necessarily linked to your subject), Conclusion (this should reiterate the key points you’ve already made with broader goals and future plans).
3.) Start with an opening sentence that will grab the attention of admissions staff. Some say that a personal statement should almost be like telling a story, as this will make those reading it personally engage with your interest and knowledge in the subject, making them more likely to remember you! I remember that my opening line was ‘Watching the Jet2 Boeing 757 roar into the skies above Leeds/Bradford Airport…’. Although it seems a bit cheesy now(!), it immediately makes the reader want to carry on reading and find out more and instantly shows some knowledge of the industry/subject.
4.) Be original! Try not to use clichés like ‘ever since I was a child’ or ‘I am so passionate’. It sounds much more effective and personal if you write more simply and plainly instead of using fancy vocabulary! Admissions have a lot of personal statements to read, so make yours easy to read, whilst still allowing you to stand out by what you’ve done or why you’re interested, not by which synonyms you’ve managed to find!
5.) Mention what your long-term goals are if you can do it in an interesting way and you’ve got a specific path in mind. If you do, then try to show a spark of individuality or imagination. If you’re not sure yet, just talk about what you’re looking forward to at university and what you want to gain from your course or from university life in general.
6.) Tailor your personal statement to the skills and qualities your choices are looking for. Look at prospectuses and websites to see how they describe the course and how it is taught. Make sure you address these skills and qualities in your personal statement.
7.) Remember that you send the personal statement to all universities. So, if you are applying for more than one subject (or it's a combined course) it's crucial that you include common themes or reference the overall skills needed for all subjects and don’t mention specific universities!
8.) Avoid humour! Whilst it can be tempting to try and entertain the reader of your personal statement, it’s best to avoid being too jokey or trying to be funny. You have no idea who will be reviewing your application or how they’ll receive or view any attempt at humour, so keep it professional and stick to the facts.
9.) Draft your statement and get family and friends to read it. Remember, you have a maximum of 4000 characters and 47 lines.
10.) Conclude with a sharp summary that stands out. What you’re looking for here is a sign-off that is bold and memorable. The final couple of sentences in your statement give you the opportunity to emphasise all the good stuff you’ve already covered. Use this space to leave the reader in no doubt as to what an excellent addition you would be to their university. Pull together all your key points and – most importantly – address the central question that your personal statement should answer: why should you get a place on the course?
Edgar Woodhead, BSc (Hons) Air Transport with Commercial Pilot Training