How to impress when things get up close and personal

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The Independent Online

Why is your personal statement so important? Because it is the only part of the form that allows you to be an individual - to reveal to selectors who the real person is behind the application.

Why is your personal statement so important? Because it is the only part of the form that allows you to be an individual - to reveal to selectors who the real person is behind the application.

There is no approved structure, but here is a good plan:

Write in distinct sections. Headed sections if you like; otherwise, obvious paragraphs.

Explain how you chose your courses. For example, all offer the same options, final-year specialisms or the opportunity to study abroad through ERASMUS. Admissions tutors like to see consistency. They know how their subject is taught elsewhere and they are not impressed if you choose radically different approaches. This shows either lack of interest or lack of research. If you have chosen different courses or even different subjects, you have some explaining to do!

Evidence of enthusiasm for the subject is vital. If you're applying for philosophy or psychology as a new subject, what steps have you taken to find out about it?

Now it gets personal. They want hard-working, motivated, well-adjusted students. You need to tell them that you stick at things, learn from experiences, can work independently (and in a team) and can manage your time. Use sports teams, Saturday employment, choir, orchestra, voluntary work here. The activity is less important than what you have gained from it. Finally, if you have any career plans mention them and say how this course will help you.

Chrissie Tunney is the admissions officer for geography at Leeds University. She reads around 2,000 UCAS forms every year. What impresses her?

"First, let me stress that I read the entire form and in a particular order. GCSE grades come first. Then I look at the six choices of university. Has the applicant chosen consistently? Section 10 comes next. I leave the reference until last.

"I want to get a picture of the applicant. I like to see the statement in sections and I actually like typed headings- eg 'Course Choice'. That one comes first. I don't need two-and-a-half pages saying that geography is their favourite subject. That is assumed! I want items about field trips and projects and what they gained from them, plus evidence of geographical interest related to day to day happenings. Do they read the news? Can they relate geography to the cause of a hurricane?

"Secondly comes skills and experience - any kind gained from school, part-time job, work experience. How have they gained them? How will they be useful here? We teach transferable skills too - but have they made a start?

"I do want to know about out-of-school activities - and again the benefits. Literary, political, sporting interests, Duke of Edinburgh Award. It doesn't matter what they are. This part tells me that someone has a broad mind and is not a couch potato.

"If they are taking a gap year I'd like to know why - and what they expect to get from it. And a brief note about career plans if known. The overall layout counts too. Can they write an essay?"

And what do applicants do wrong? "They use unstructured sprawl and untidy handwriting. They don't always realise how much the form will be reduced. If I can't read it that is an instant turn off. Or they write inane statements like, 'Your course will help me to develop as a person'."

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