By Arnab Datta - With strong competition for university places, preparing a high quality personal statement is definitely one step towards securing a top university place. Most universities rely on this to decide whether or not to award places. Even for courses which require interviews, personal statements give admissions tutors their first impression about candidates.
It can be difficult to think about the most relevant things to include, so the most important point is to show a genuine interest in the subject that you want to study. You can draw on topics that you have found most fascinating in the classroom, but alsoshowing that you have explored areas outside the syllabus will make you stand out. Relating the subject to the real world shows that you are in tune with current affairs and can see the bigger picture.
Also, you could mention any independent research or books you have read. It is worth asking teachers for guidance about books that have particularly influenced your subject area. This not only demonstrates an enthusiasm for the subject but will help if you attend an interview, since it could be a starting point for a discussion.
Furthermore, mentioning any specific projects that you have undertaken at school will show that you have developed an interest in the subject and can work in a team. For example, practical experiments give you hands on experience and so these are excellent preparation for lab work if you are planning to study Sciences at university.
The personal statement gives you the chance to show why you will be a good student and make a success of university life. Remember to mention your most recent achievements which are related to skills that you will require for your degree. For example, if you are applying for a Maths or Economics degree, then you could mention success in Maths Challenges or competitions and say that you enjoy solving logic puzzles. This shows the university that your past achievements are a solid foundation for your future success in higher education.
You should also mention why you will enjoy studying at university. If you have attended Open Days then you will have gone on a campus tour and been told more about the facilities on offer. If there is a society that you would like to become involved in, you could mention this and link it to the experience you have gained in a similar society at school. This demonstrates that you are proactively thinking about your future at university and considering the way that you will fit in, not only academically but also with respect to extra-curricular activities.
Extra-curricular activities include sport, music, journalism and voluntary work to name a few. Also, coordinating school events demonstrates great organisation skills and teamwork. Voluntary work is especially important for degrees like Medicine, where an interaction with people is just as important as a theoretical knowledge of the subject. For example, you could draw on your experiences while volunteering at a care home. If you are applying for a degree such as English or History, it would be useful to mention experiences like contributing to the school newspaper. This demonstrates that you have good research skills, as well as being able to write analytically and concisely.
Work experience not only gives you a first hand look into careers, but will enable you to bring specific information into your personal statement. This will be particularly useful if you are applying for a degree like Accounting or Law, which has directly related careers. Also, work experience teaches responsibility and shows that you are interested in the working world. This is useful even if your degree is not vocational, since it shows that you are carefully planning and considering your future options.
Overall, remember that universities are looking for well-rounded individuals, who are intrigued by their subject but will also become immersed in university life. Most universities give offers based on the personal statement, so it is important to spend time writing it. It helps to look at examples of previous personal statements and ask someone else to proof read your draft. There is no doubt that it will be hard work, but it will definitely be worth it when you get an offer from your first choice university after months of waiting!