Most sixth form and college application forms include a section where you write something about yourself. It could just be a few lines or, more scarily, a large empty space with no word limit.
This is often the first time you’ve ever been asked to ‘sell’ yourself so it can seem a bit daunting.
But don’t worry – it’s the same for everyone applying and in most cases it’s just information so the college can get to know you a little before you start.
So what should you include?
It’s really not too difficult to work out. Follow these simple tips and everything should be fine.
Do your research
You’ll almost certainly need to explain why you want to attend that college.
Find out about the college’s facilities and courses. Think about why you want to attend. Is it the courses it offers? Does it have a great reputation for sport or drama? Maybe it has an excellent academic reputation and strong exam results.
Think about life after college
Most college application forms will ask something about your career or uni intentions.
You may know exactly want you want to do after college – if so, fine. But you may have no idea of your uni or career path, just a broad sense of the subjects you really like and others you don’t get on with at all. This is probably all you need at this point.
If you do have a clear idea of your future, now is a great time to check whether or not your ambitions are still relevant, realistic and achievable.
Do exactly what the form asks
Read the wording carefully. What exactly does it ask you to do? Is there guidance on what information to include? Is there a word limit?
Make sure everything is done exactly as requested.
Don't feel you have to include loads of detail
No one expects you to have travelled the world, done masses of voluntary work and excelled at football, ballet and chess. But if you do participate in any organisations or sports it’s worth mentioning.
Check spelling and grammar
This is not a good place to make these kinds of errors. Although the college is likely to be forgiving it’s better to read your form through a few times for errors (they’re so easy to make). If spelling and grammar aren’t your strong points, maybe get someone else to check for you?
Article by The Learn Ranger on Wednesday 22 November 2017
That said, you’ll want to avoid overused opening sentences. Whatever you say, don’t write that you’ve wanted to study your subject since a young age: there’s only so often admissions tutors can read that sentence without risk of mental collapse. Finding a balance is key.
Don’t assume Word will pick up on every error; if you’re running factory standard ‘American English’, the spellchecker will be letting through all sorts of Zs which should be Ss, for instance.
“A spelling or grammar mistake is the kiss of death to an application,” says Ned Holt, former head of sixth form at Reading School.
And mistakes are often hiding in plain sight as Ken Jenkinson, headmaster of Colchester Royal College, knows well: “This morning, we had a very bright student who spelt his name wrong.”
The advice from both men? “Always have someone proof read it.”
Write like you
Many personal statements end up looking less like a record of your brilliance and more like a written application to work as a human thesaurus. Admissions tutors are looking for substance, and pomposity won’t do anything to convince them you love their subject.
The personal statements that don’t do well, says Alan Bird, head of sixth form at Brighton College, are those which “lack genuine personal flavour”. Start telling your universities why you’re so keen to study and why you’ll be the best student since Hermione.
And never simply say you’re right for the course – it’s your job to demonstrate that by being specific. Whatever you write needs to be intrinsically you, which is something easy to lose while rattling off achievements.
Make everything count
Universities are looking for someone interested in the course and someone interesting to teach it to. Cut the small talk and press home why what you’re saying is relevant.
Alan Bird sees too many lists which say nothing: “Students might name a book and then give it a review – I could read that off the dust jacket.”
Remember that anything extra-curricular is padding, albeit the good kind, and needs to be spun the right way. “Charity work or being captain of a sports team is very positive and can be great as part of a statement – but make sure whatever you include has relevance to what you are applying for,” says Alan Carlile.
The University of Manchester’s head of widening participation, Julian Skyrme, encourages taking a straightforward approach: “We’re asking ‘why does your part-time job relate to you being an engineer?’ Nail your experience to the course. Personal statements can sometimes appear like a biography.”
You’re good but you’re not that good
After flicking through 30,000 admissions, a little modesty is likely to go down better than a literary rendition of Simply the Best.
“Confidence is great, veering into egotism is not,” says Alan Carlile.
Remember you’re applying to study something new. Your statement should convince universities that you’re excited to engage with new experiences based on your past experiences. Bragging about your achievements just won’t do this.
Ten most overused opening sentences
Ucas guide to the personal statement
UCAS: Dos and don't s (external)
Durham University guide: How to write an effective personal statement (external)
Studential: Writing a personal statement (external)
David Ellis is editor of studentmoneysaver.co.uk