Writing your personal statement can seem like a daunting task, and here at Think Student, we would like to provide you with some useful tips on how you can write a successful personal statement. We have compiled a list of 15 do’s and don’ts for writing your personal statement for college, to make your life easier. Perhaps you are confused about structure, what information you should include, or how long your personal statement should be. We hope that this article will answer any questions you may have about the techniques you should use when writing your personal statement.
1. Don’t Be Too Clever With Your Introduction
Your introduction is the first impression that you are going to make on the reader of your personal statement. It should describe you, and be as interesting and engaging as possible, but make sure you don’t overcomplicate it!
You have to remember that you are not writing an essay, and don’t need to summarise what you will talk about. It is simply (as the name would suggest) a way of introducing who you are as a person. Try to make this concise so you can discuss your achievements and interests for the majority of your personal statement.
2. Don’t Repeat Sentence Starters Too Much
One of the ways that you can make your writing more interesting is by varying the sentence starters you use throughout your personal statement. There are many different ways that you can do this, but the most important thing that you should remember is that your sentences should not all start with ‘I…’.
You will be aware of some sentence openings from your English lessons, but here are some examples of words you could use to help you out:
- Adverb Openings: Similarly, Slowly, Fortunately….
- Verb Openings: Learning, Working, Being part of…
- Connective Openings: Although, Despite…
There are many examples of words that you may like to use to start your sentences, and this is simply a small limited set of examples. However, you should also be aware of the sentence openings which are most commonly used, so that you can try to stay away from them to make your personal statement stand out! Some examples of these can be found here.
3. Do Use Vocabulary That You Understand
One of the common mistakes that people make when writing their personal statements is using complex vocabulary in the wrong context, which can make their writing weaker and reduce the quality of their personal statement overall.
Instead, you should be using the vocabulary that you understand. Your personal statement should be a reflection of your understanding. If you can include some complex vocabulary – great, if not however, you shouldn’t worry.
As long as you personal statement is coherent, and gets across the messages that you want it to (like your achievements and reasons for applying for a particular course), it is better that it makes sense than to try to overcomplicate things by using strange vocabulary!
4. Do Talk About Your Extra-Curricular Activities
Your extracurricular activities showcase who you are outside of your school life. You may play an instrument or a sport, or enjoy something like creative writing in your free time. Whatever the hobby or extra-curricular activity you do, it is certainly worth mentioning.
Talking about your extra-curricular activities shows how you spend your time to further your skills, outside of academia. This is important for enabling your potential sixth form to see how many skills you have. It is even better if you can link the skills you have developed to the subjects that you are interested in studying at sixth form!
5. Don’t Just Talk About Your Extra-Curricular Activities
Although the extra-curricular activities that you do should be mentioned in your writing, it is important that they don’t take over your personal statement. They are important, but your personal statement is not intended to be a way to only showcase these!
You need to make up the majority of your personal statement with other aspects – namely your academic achievement, and how and why you are interested in the subjects that you would like to study at sixth form college.
You should make sure that your personal statement has a good balance of information about achievements within school, outside of school, and reasons for your interest in the subjects that you want to take.
6. Do Make it Specific to You
Your sixth form college will receive many applications from prospective students, and you want to make yours stand out. The information that you choose to include needs to be relevant, and most importantly, specific to you.
Obviously, you will have to include similar types of information to everyone else, but it is absolutely essential that you do not copy any part of your personal statement from online sources, or even your friends.
In order to make your personal statement specific to you, you should consider the things that make you stand out from other candidates. These could be skills that you have developed that are relevant to your course, or (as I said before) extracurricular activities.
Avoiding things like common sentence starters (as mentioned in point 2), will also make your writing style more unique, and specific to you.
7. Don’t Include Cliché Analogies
I won’t go into this one too much at all. We all know what kind of sentences fit into this category. If you are stuck, here’s two to avoid:
- “Since the very first day I was born, I wanted to become…”
- “From a young age, I’ve always dreamt of becoming a…”
8. Don’t Lie About What You Have Achieved
Lying about achievements is a bad idea all the time, but this is especially true when writing a personal statement. Your chances of being found out are incredibly high, and it serves you no purpose in the long run.
You should be proud of your actual achievements, and be able to promote yourself without lying. In fact, a personal statement is intended to be something that showcases who you are as a person, and so lying presents you as a liar – which is not a label that you should want.
However tempting it is to add a couple of extra achievements to your list, it is not worth it, and will not benefit you at all. Starting at sixth form college is an opportunity to start a new chapter in your life – meeting new people and studying new subjects – and you don’t want to start out by lying.
9. Do Show Genuine Interest Towards Your Chosen Subjects
The subjects that you choose at A-Level should be the subjects that you find the most interesting and want to pursue in the future. Because of this, you shouldn’t find it difficult to communicate your interest in your subjects to your sixth form.
If you’re not sure where to start, you could talk about:
- Why you have chosen the subjects
- How they relate to your GCSE subjects
- What you would like to do with the subjects that you have chosen in the future (more about this in point 15!)
- What things you do outside of school that relate to the subjects that you have chosen (if there aren’t any, don’t worry – these are just an extra!)
Your interest in your subjects should come across all the way through your personal statement, because of your writing style and general tone, though this can sometimes be hard to achieve, which is one of the reasons that you should leave plenty of time for writing and editing your personal statement!
10. Don’t Come Across as Arrogant
Although you want to showcase your achievements in the most positive way possible, you should make sure that you don’t come across as arrogant – try not to sound like a know it all! You are moving on to your next stage of learning, and you want it to come across that you are willing to put in the effort to learn the things that you don’t know!
As with showing your interest in you subjects, this is more of a tone thing than anything else, so make sure you leave plenty of time for amendments. You can do this using feedback from teachers, parents or even friends, but make sure that you check that you have come across positively.
11. Do Keep an Eye on Your Word Count
Your personal statement needs to be a general overview of your interests, skills and experience. This may seem like a lot to cover but luckily, you don’t need to go into too much detail.
Your colleges will be receiving a lot of personal statements in a short amount of time so you need to make sure that your personal statement includes all of the relevant information, without making it too wordy.
You should try and limit your writing to roughly one A4 page. By doing this, you can ensure that you only include important details, and whoever ends up reading your personal statement can get all the information they need relatively quickly.
If you are struggling with condensing your writing down to the appropriate amount, try and include things that you can elaborate on in a future interview. If you state your skills and achievements without talking about them individually in great length, you will be able to include a greater variety of things.
12. Don’t Forget About Your Personal Statement’s Structure
Your personal statement requires planning, and so should have a structure which is logical and well thought out. This is not to say that there is only one way to structure your personal statement, but you do need to plan out your personal statement so that it flows in a coherent way.
You could choose to follow your introduction with paragraphs which are categorised into subjects, each one including the reasons for you wanting to study it, any potential extra-curricular activities that you do which are related, and why it would be useful for your future goals.
Alternatively, you could categorise your paragraphs into reasons that you want to study your subjects, your extra-curricular activities, and future goals separately.
Whatever way you would like to structure your personal statement, try to plan it in advance, so that your final personal statement has a good flow and is logically set out.
13. Don’t Forget About Punctuation and Grammar
One of the ways that you can showcase your abilities is by making sure that your personal statement is an example of the best written communication that you are able to produce. One of the important parts of this is the use of correct punctuation and grammar.
This is one of the things that you will be able to perfect in your editing of your personal statement. You may, again, also find the feedback of someone else useful for this – it is often easier to identify someone else’s mistakes than it is to find your own!
You may want to also use online tools to identify mistakes, such as grammarly. The techniques used in your written communication are important, and this is something that (with time) is fairly easy to get right, especially as you have such a long time to write your personal statement.
14. Don’t Rush Your Personal Statement
Making your personal statement something that is specific to you, and well written, is something that will take time and planning. Therefore, you need to make sure that you do not leave writing your personal statement until the last minute! Your school are likely to give you internal deadlines to follow, and it would be useful to make sure that you stick to them, as to ensure that you don’t have to write your personal statement in a state of panic!
It is also important to note that writing a personal statement is something that you will have to do more than once in your lifetime, and so taking advantage of this opportunity to practice writing one well is something that will be useful to you in the future.
You need to make sure that you leave enough time to get feedback from teachers, as well as to edit your writing for clarity and conciseness. Even if you work well under pressure, writing your personal statement is certainly a task that you should be doing in advance of its due date!
15. Do Talk About Your Future Plans After Sixth Form College
Your future plans are something that your sixth form college will be interested in hearing about in your personal statement. They are a way of showing why you are choosing the subjects that you are, as well as demonstrating that you have goals which you are directing your attention towards.
Talking about your future career aspirations is one of the things that can show your sixth form that you are focused on achievement, and have an idea of how you would like to progress. This could give the impression that you will be more hardworking on your college courses.
Keep in mind that your future plans don’t have to be too specific – after all, it is very difficult to know what you would like to do for the rest of your life when you are only 16! If you don’t know what specific career you would like to go into, you may want to simply mention which field you might be interested in going into.
Also remember that providing some information about your current future plans does not commit you to those plans. You can always change your mind about what you would like to do, but it is nice for your college to be able to see that you are planning ahead as best you can when you apply.