Personal Statement, a Prelude.

From the poll on the website, it looks like everyone is starting to build their personal statement and some even claim it’s starting to take shape already! I’ll try and avoid the general jibber jabber that every single personal statement guide seems to have and try and keep it all as relevant as possible to the situation you’re in as an economics (and/or management, PPE, psychology and so on…) applicant but before that I’ll just lay down the basics.

The personal statement is perhaps the most time consuming part of the UCAS form to fill in. You’ll most likely have several (around 3-6) drafts before you even copy it onto UCAS Apply, so it makes sense to start it in Word/your word processor of choice (OpenOffice, anyone?) and only copy it online once you’re fairly sure it’s nearly done. The limits are strict – 47 lines or 4,000 characters (including spaces) – and the figures your word processor will show for lines aren’t going to correspond with those in your UCAS form as font size/type is different.

This will be, for most universities, the most important determinant of how strong your application is going to be so it needs to be good. Really, really good! So start working on it early and draft and re-draft taking into account the suggestions you receive (but at the same time, remember this is your personal statement and you don’t have to follow all of the advice you get).

There are lots people you can ask to review you personal statement – teachers, friends (at school or uni – even those applying in the same cycle as you… though be careful if it’s for a similar course!), parents are the obvious ones but parents’ colleagues can offer fresh advice from a non-academic point of view and as people who perhaps won’t know you so well (similar to admissions tutors). Anyone dealing with job applications on a regular basis is great too – you’ll get different ideas from different people; the things your economics teacher might pick up on are probably going to be different to the things your parents might pick on so it’s great to have it looked at by people from various backgrounds.

The deadline for Oxford and Cambridge applicants is October 15th and for the rest it’s in January. However, regardless of where you’re applying it does help to get it in early, not least because you’ll be waiting for a shorter period of time and it always feels great to get an offer in the bag early on! I’d recommend setting a personal deadline of mid-November at the latest.

Ok, now down the nitty gritty…

How should I go about it?

I’d first start by gathering the stuff you’ll write about – certificates, articles, things you’ve written (however petty), work experience details etc.

If you already have made a CV, this will make this a lot easier although the personal statement is very different to a CV in that dates are usually not needed, and a certain level of depth rather than breadth is needed to demonstrate that you  have an interest in the subject and what particular areas of the subject you’re most interested in.

For the first draft, don’t worry about the space limits, write anything and everything you can think of – there’ll be lots of irrelevant/waffly bits that you can remove or cut down on later.

It can be pretty daunting at first when faced with the task of writing your personal statement. It often helps to look at the type of things people have written about and how they’ve written about them by looking at personal statements such as the ones on Studential (link for Economics and Management). When going through each personal statement look at what and how points have been made and more importantly, look at the what you liked and what you didn’t like. Make (mental) notes on the positive and negative aspects of the statements you read so that you can identify and replicate this in your own personal statement.

Also remember that while everything else matters too, the introduction is of great importance so start thinking about these especially. If you can, start with something unique to you, something that will make the tutor go “mm?” and take of his/her reading glasses (in a good way :D). While on this topic, it’s important to end strongly too. This post will be followed by one that focuses more on the specifics of what rather than how to go about writing alongside some proper personal statement dissection – so I’ll leave you with one final thought…

What sets you apart from all the other applicants for that course/uni?

Reading The Economist, the FT or the Times doesn’t do this. Neither does saying you’ve read The Undercover Economist or Freakonomics. In fact, your work experience in itself probably won’t either.

What matters is how you write about what you (and specifically you – not in general terms!) gained from either of these activities. It also shows tutors that you’re ‘switched on’ and your work experience isn’t just for the sake of ticking that box but that you have a real interest.

That’s all folks. When you’re ready move on to the next article in the personal statement writing series which dissects the structure of a personal statement. And download the Personal Statement Guide (currently on sale!) before you start writing.