Go Higher: Application calls for a bold approach

It's up to you to use the personal statement to sell yourself to selectors, so don't be afraid to blow your own trumpet.
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The Independent Online
The personal statement is the only part of the application form where you can select and emphasise what to say about yourself. Admissions tutors want to find out about you as a person and don't want you to copy a format for a personal statement.

The idea is to convey some idea about yourself: what your strengths are, whether you have some insights into your experiences, and what you want to do in life. If you don't blow your own trumpet, no one else is going to do so for you. So feel free to sell yourself. If you are applying for an oversubscribed course, it could make all the difference between acceptance and rejection.

You are asked to write something about your career aspirations, your reasons for choosing the course and the name of the sponsor you may have organised. Few students are sponsored, so you won't be disadvantaged if you can't fill in this section. But if you have been able to secure sponsorship, the university or college you are applying to will want to know. If you've applied for sponsorship but don't yet know whether you have been successful, tell them where you've applied.

Admissions tutors are looking for students who can analyse their experiences and give reasons why these have led to their application. It helps to have chosen a consistent list of courses. Be honest .

When writing your statement, don't pack too much in - and don't indulge in too much padding. Only put in things that you are prepared to talk about at interview. Check your spelling. And don't repeat material that appears elsewhere.

Give convincing reasons for your choice of course, so that the admissions tutors feel you have given some thought to the subject. Hit the reader with the most important point first - why you want to study the course you have chosen. If you're applying for a popular course, it's especially important to set out to sell yourself, without going over the top. Always emphasise experience that is relevant to your chosen courses, be specific about details and give selectors plenty of leads in case you get an interview.

The personal statement is particularly important for people who are applying for subjects such as creative and performing arts. You need to explain what you have done, seen and heard. You must write down your chosen musical instrument and mention practical experience.

If you are a sporty person give details of your achievements. Don't simply say, "I play football." Better to say, "I play football for the school's first XI," because that shows you excel at something.

If you have already chosen a career, say so and explain why your selected courses are relevant to it. People applying for teacher training should give details of school experience, with the times and places.

If you have taken part in the Youth Award Scheme, especially at platinum level, say so and state the core skill developed.

Model personal statement

I intend to study science-related subjects as I find them interesting. I believe the sciences are the key to the development of the nation and I intend to be a part of this.

During my early school career I was my form's representative on the year council for three years. In the final year I was appointed a prefect.

During the last five years, I was a keen member of the basketball team, and the school discus champion.

At sixth form I have been elected senior student. This post involves many responsibilities, including attending functions such as meeting the president of Lithuania. As a student councillor I was responsible for producing the 1997 year book. I am a member of the college debating society.

I am an active member in the college charities group, which raised over pounds 4,000. Outside college I regularly work in a soup kitchen for the homeless.

I have recently been elected to represent the youth of Blackpool on the Blackpool police and community forum.

(Taken from 'How to complete your UCAS Form', by Tony Higgins, published by Trotman, tel 0181 486 1150.)

PITFALLS OF THE PERSONAL STATEMENT

NATHANIEL MARTIN, 18 (pictured left), got three A-levels at City of London Boys School in maths, history and physics. He achieved As in maths and history and a B in physics. He is completing his UCAS form and wrestling with his personal statement.

"I had been planning to study physics at university but my results forced me to rethink because I got a B for it. Now I've decided to study philosophy and maths. At Oxford I'm applying for PPE.

"I want to keep up with maths because it's an important subject and I'm quite good at it. I want to do philosophy as well because it's a bridge between science and arts subjects and I like both.

"I'm applying to Oxford, Edinburgh, Manchester, UCL, Leeds and Bristol, but am finding it difficult writing the personal statement. Knowing how to start is hard. The first sentence matters. I can't get anything down. You don't know what the tone is supposed to be. You need to say why you want to study a subject. Then you state academic achievements and to support your subject choice. With philosophy there's not much I can say because I never studied it for GCSE or A level. I will have to at least read Sophie's World."

Lucy Hodges

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