For many people applying to university through the UCAS system is a very stressful process, and the worst part of it is trying to come up with a good personal statement to make you stand out from the crowd. It is a common experience to sit staring at a blank Word document at some point in your life, racking your brains for something novel to say about yourself. I wish I could say “Don’t worry, it’s not that important!” but it is.
With many courses – especially in the Arts & Humanities – experiencing large cuts in central government funding, admissions tutors are turning more to applicants’ personal statements to determine which candidates will earn a place. Furthermore, considering that the great number of universities outside of Oxford and Cambridge do not conduct interviews with applicants, a good personal statement can be your chance to impress a piece of your personality upon the admissions tutor.
When it comes to preparing your UCAS form and deciding how to write your UCAS personal statement, you need to put yourself for a moment in the place of the admissions tutor who will be looking at your form. With more and more people applying for university places it is quite possible that the admissions tutor may have a pile of 500 application forms on his or her desk, and that the amount of time the tutor can spend considering your form is very limited. You must remember too that the first thing that will win you a place on the degree course of your choice will be your exam performance, either your actual results or the grades your teachers can predict for you. This means that a good deal of realism in your thinking is necessary when you make your application. If the guidelines for a course you are interested in are that you will have to have three As at A2, and your predictions are three Cs, then obviously it is not worth wasting your energy making an application which is unlikely to succeed.
But if your academic prospects or results are good enough for the chosen course, then the quality and content of your UCAS personal statement becomes very important. It is the part of the form many students feel least confident about, but there are some guidelines which might make the process easier for you, or at least give you a possible approach. However, the clear importance of a good personal statement need not make the writing of it too stressful – indeed some A-level students may take solace in the fact that a very important determinant of whether they get onto their desired course is not strictly reliant on academic achievement!
On the other hand, some students (especially those taking mainly science related A-levels) will not have been required to do any creative writing for years and could consequently find the writing process challenging. Either way, writing a good person statement will take lots and lots of redrafting, and should you be especially set on one particular university then it is also a good idea to craft your personal statement to suit this institution – although this can be potentially risky if it backfires.
This video from the Imperial College London gives you a great introduction to Personal Statements and why they’re so important. It’s a little bit longer than some others but very, very helpful: