Thursday, 14 August 2014

Writing Personal Statements

Wherever you are in life, there will come a point when you have to sell yourself. And I mean that in the figurative sense of course. Whether it be for a job application, a place at college or an audition, to be successful usually involves proving yourself to others. Unfortunately that can mean having to talk, and even verge on brag, about yourself. For some, that may seem easy but I think it's safe to say that most of us, talking ourselves up feels rather uncomfortable. One particular struggle for me was writing a personal statement for university. 

4000 characters of pure cheese. Yet, if done well, can make the difference between receiving an offer from university and, well, not.

So, first things first, don't panic! 4000 characters (including spaces) may appear daunting yet it really is not that much space at all. In fact, the last sentence alone was 114 characters. And so far in this blog post, there has been 904 characters. See? Not that difficult.

I always think that the hardest thing about writing personal statements and alike, is knowing where to start. Don't worry about your opening line straight away, just start on different sections. A sentence here and there. These can then be put together later on. If you're struggling to think of things to say, I've put together a checklist of things that I found helpful when writing mine:

1. The most important thing to include is why you want to study your chosen subject at university. You are applying to study there for 3 years or more, so the university want to see that you have a real interest in the course. An interest that you will then bring with you to that university. No uni wants to invest time and resources into a student who isn't particularly passionate or is going to drop out after first term.

2. What have you done to show your particular affinity for your subject? It's all well and good saying how passionate you are about your subject, but what they really want to see is how you've taken that passion, that interest and have proactively furthered your education. This includes books you've read around your subject, lectures you may have been to, workshops you partaken in, essays and competitions... the list goes on. If you find that you haven't really done much, don't worry, it's never too late to pick up a book!

3. Have you done any work experience or volunteer work? Preferably related to your course, particularly in regards to competitive courses such as medicine and veterinary medicine. However, it is not a necessity for volunteer work to directly associate with your course. Instead, write about how that experience has developed you and any skills you may have acquired or improved. 

4. What are your hobbies and extra curricular activities? Don't just add these in for the sake of it. Make sure you show or allude to how they have been vital in part of your character and development, if you've been part of a group or company for a long time, show that you have dedication, that you will gel with the rest of the university outside of academia. 

5. What other subjects are you studying currently? How do they link to your course, what do they add that will come in useful when you get to university? Personally, I decided to remove part of this element from my personal statement as it didn't flow as well as I had hoped. 

6. Have you got any anecdotes or been on any trips that make have sparked interest or lead you down the path that you're currently taking? Your personal statement is called a personal statement for a reason, adding personality makes it just that bit more original. 

Remember: admissions tutors read thousands of applications per year, make yours enjoyable to read. Get friends or teachers to read before sending off. Check for spelling mistakes or improper use of grammar. These things are just as important as any of the other points above. 

I hope this has been a help! Good luck!


A copy of my personal statement - applying for Geography (BSc and BA)
Offers received: Oxford, Durham, Lancaster, Exeter and Royal Holloway
Total number of characters: 3987

My first tentative steps were taken onto the path of geography when I heard the words that still to this day bring a smile to my face, ‘longshore drift’. Having spent the majority of my life by the coast, the processes that shape the world around me have always been an intriguing unknown. It was the summer of 2009, whilst sailing around the UK, in which my particular interest in the topic of coastal geomorphology initially developed. My most vivid recollections from the trip were passing along the Yorkshire coast, cutting through the highlands of Scotland and sailing alongside the isle of Arran on the west coast of Scotland. The sheer diversity of the British landscape was something I had never previously had the opportunity to experience. At that point in time, however, my comprehension of geography and what it encompassed was limited to what I had learnt at school.

Only through further study and reading around the subject have I been able to understand just how widespread geography really is. Every time I pick up a piece of related writing I manage to stumble across new concepts and ideas that I’d never previously encountered. ‘Whole Earth Discipline’ by Stewart Brand was, for this reason especially, a joy to read. The most compelling topic for me was the controversial issue of nuclear power. Not knowing much about the matter beforehand, I realised when reading this book that my preconceived ideas about nuclear had been extremely biased. After turning the final page, however, I walked away having gained a new perspective, mind buzzing with the sudden realisation that there was so much more for me to learn. Through this love for reading I have been able to volunteer at both my school library for six years and local library for a year which has given me the ability to find information quickly and easily. This desire to acquire knowledge continues to pave the way in my pursuit of geography.

One particular overarching issue that I find myself drawn to whichever direction I take is climate change. When reading ‘The Last Generation’ by Fred Pearce, I was introduced to the term ‘Anthropocene’ which I decided to research for my extended project. The idea that humans have made such an imprint on the planet to have a geological epoch in their name is mind blowing. It is fascinating to see just how much of an impact humans have had on earth. The question of whether Homo sapiens are as important as perhaps believed is still undergoing much debate, despite the inordinate amount of evidence that suggests the term is well deserved. Climate change is an issue upon which humanity is universally trying to resolve and through my study of biology I have been able to explore methods of adapting to climate change such as the development of genetically modified crops and the selective breeding of cattle.

My experiences of geography stretch well beyond the reach of the classroom and have been essential in my desire to study geography at a higher level. When on my field trip to Northern Ireland I visited Murlough Bay, a stunning sand dune ecosystem which is facing an increased threat of erosion. I had the privilege to meet David, a national trust warden who had such a passion and investment in the area that it was impossible not to feel inspired after talking to him. Participation in the Duke of Edinburgh silver award allowed me to spend a lot of time in the New Forest where I encountered natural flood defences in the form of marshland. Having learnt about the importance of wetlands previously, observing first hand just how appropriately named they were, was an experience. Taking part in the UNIQ summer school only strengthened my belief that geography was the right way for me. After a week full of lectures given by experts in their fields; fieldwork determining the role of plants and algae in stone conservation and a tutorial investigating the issue of resource nationalism, I was certain in my decision to study geography at university. 
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