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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Personal Statements - the top ten mistakes to avoid

how to impress with your UCAS personal statement

1.  Boring opening paragraph

Pity the poor admissions tutor sitting at a desk groaning under the weight of UCAS forms.  Every year they have the task of reading (and rating) hundreds of personal statements.  How many of these begin with  “I am looking forward to studying xyz at university because…” or “Since I was in primary school I’ve always wanted to be an xyz…”  We always say about interviews that first impressions count and it is no different with personal statements.

There is a tricky balance to be struck here between being uber-whacky and ultra-conservative.   Humour, for example, is likely to fall flat unless it is particularly clever and subtle.  But you don’t want to risk being so safe that your statement lacks impact, leaving the admissions tutor to merely skim through the rest of the document.  You need to give them a reason to read on with a sense of expectation.

The aim is to make a positive impact in your opening paragraph so that the reader sits up and takes notice without thinking “Uh-oh,  here we go with another screw-ball!”  There is no formula for this.  Whether you decide to make your opening gambit passionate, informative, original or humorous is your judgment call but do try to make it personal to you,  authentic  and eye-catching.

2.  Overly brief Statement

UCAS has given you 47 lines (or 4,000 characters) for a reason – they expect you to use them.  If not all of them, then the vast majority.  If you cannot do this then you need to go back to the drawing board as you have clearly not devoted sufficient time to thinking the whole thing through and hence are not going into the detail that will be expected of you.

There are always students who think that academic standards alone are going to be enough to get you onto the course of your choice.  This is simply not true.  Even with an A2 prediction of 4 A*s, a 5 line personal statement will never be enough.  And nor will 25, or even 35 lines.  45, however, and you’re in with a good chance.

If you are really struggling with the length of your personal statement then get it reviewed by a careers adviser or teacher.   they should be able to spot areas that you have either missed out completely or that you need to expand upon.  In fact,  it is always a good idea to get your statement checked out by someone in the know!