The UCAS personal statement is arguably the most important part of a university application. Many universities will decide to offer a place purely based on the information on the application and the personal statement, so it is a big deal.
With the application deadline for most courses coming up in a couple of months, it is really time to get the statement sorted. So here are 5 top tips for writing a statement to help your teen stand out for all the right reasons.
1. Be reflective
Encourage your teen to explain in their personal statement why they made certain choices and what they learned from their experiences. Don’t let them just list the things they have done.
How has it influenced their plans? Has something changed their ideas or confirmed them and why? What skills have they developed and what have they learned about themselves and their strengths and personal preferences? And how are these things relevant to studying at university level, their chosen course (and if relevant) future career plans?
2. Be honest
This should go without saying, but it’s important to stick to the truth in the personal statement. This includes not simply copying some or all of someone else’s statement or getting someone else to write it. It is supposed to be personal to them. They may be asked about things in detail during an interview, so they shouldn’t start to invent things. It looks bad when they can’t back things up later on.
Encourage them to reflect on how their everyday experiences at home, in education, or in their free time relate to their study plans. Many young people feel that the “small stuff” doesn’t count. But it really does and in most cases actually provides lots of material for their statement.
3. Focus 75% on academic and 25% on extra-curricular activities
As a general guide, they should use 75% of the statement to focus on academic (course-related) experiences and 25% on extra-curricular activities. Of course, this is not an exact science, but a reasonable guide. Where possible, it is a good idea to relate the extra curricula activities to skills that will help them do well at university and/or their chosen career path.
4. Use a clear structure and check, check, and check again!
Your teen should aim to make the statement as readable as possible. So look for a clear structure and that they use paragraphs. They have 4,000 characters, so try to help them to write clearly and concisely so they can use the limited space wisely.
I personally think writing lots of drafts over time works really well. Your teen can start by putting down bullet points on anything they might want to include in the personal statement. Mind maps can work well here too.
Then put them in a rough order for the statement and write the first draft. I find assuming it will be a bit rubbish anyway helps to take the pressure off and reduces writer’s block. Then leave it for a day or two, then rewrite, leave it again, etc.
And then remind them to spellcheck and proofread! It’s a good idea to get a range of people to read it to check it’s readable and that no typos are hiding anywhere!
5 Be passionate about the subject
It should go without saying that your teen should be really into the topics they want to study at university! If they are not, they really should reconsider.
But even when they are, it can still be a little challenging to work out how to show this in their personal statement.
This links really closely to tip one. Encourage them to reflect and think critically about their relationship with their chosen subject. What exactly draws them to it and makes them want to keep learning more? They should think about ways they have gone above and beyond what they might have studied in school or college to find out new things about their subject. Have they watched lots of documentaries on the topic, read endless books, volunteered in relevant organisations, or undertaken their own experiments? I know someone who used to do plant trials on all their grandparents’ window sills with different types of compost and light levels etc. She now has a Ph.D. in horticulture… Anything goes here, provided they can show how it relates to their subject.
Remind your teen that this is a PERSONAL statement and the universities want to get a feel about them as an individual. So they should definitely make use of all the support and inspiration out there, but it needs to be written by them and reflect them and their experiences. They don’t have to have done the fanciest work experience or travelled the world to stand out. If they focus on their own experiences and how those have influenced them to do what they want to do, they are on the right track.
For a bit of extra inspiration, UCAS has some personal statement guides for different areas of study, which you can find here.
And if your teen isn’t quite sure yet what they want to do at university, or if it is the right option for them, feel free to get in touch and see if an individual careers guidance session could be the right help for them. You can find out more here.