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
Sorry to start the thread, but I am begining to write my PS now, and believe I need an eye catching begining, because on all the 'good' personal statements i've seen they dont go straight into talking about the course, rather they usually give anecdotal evidence about something or rather that made them interested in the subject.
Anybody got any tips, ideas, or can anybody share theirs with me?
Oh yeah, Im applying to do Biochemistry @ Oxford, Warwick, Bath, Imperial, Bristol & York
Any advice gratefully recieved, cheers.
Personally I think its more important for your personal statement to sound genuine than for it to be eye catching. My tutor told us that the admissions department read them at least twice and that they are read by more than one person.
That said it is good to start off by saying why you want to do the course and if a short anecdote will help then put it in.
Why not look at a few personal statement websites such as:
to look at a few examples of how some applicants started off their personal statements. Quotes seem to be quite popular but make sure it fits in with your personal statement and is something that you'll be able to expand on and link it in with whatever else is in your statement. Don't just chuck them in there for the sake of it. Perhaps a brief explanation of the main reason why you want to study the subject or any major event that led you to become interested in the subject.
It is quite hard to get a catchy first line at the beginning but once you started noting down things you want to include in your personal statement, eventually it'll come naturally.