Do's and Don'ts in Writing a Personal StatementOctober 09, 2017

Your chances of an admissions tutor offering you a place in the university will depend on four factors, namely your academic record, teacher's reference, A-level grades (or equivalent), and personal statement. If you want to study English language and literature, then your (admissions) essay(s) will be taken into consideration. It might weigh more than the other factors if you happen to be a mature applicant. (Read: Someone who is 21 years of age and older)

What is a personal statement? How it can influence the tutor's decision? Is it different from a school essay?

You can write anything about yourself, which will enable the admissions tutor to picture your (supposed) place in the university. You're an applicant, and you want to show your passion for literature, for instance. It won't be enough, as the coursework can be demanding and stressful. You must be able to cite past experiences, where your motivation help you to achieve goals. It can also be tasks in schools that would make you a standout. This will be good enough for an unconditional offer, but a personal statement is not a CV. You won't work for a tutor, even if you'll end up having one (during your tenure in the university). You don't treat it as another (school) assignment.

If the admissions tutor has second thoughts about your academic record, then your personal statement can be a game changer. Likewise, your statement can be a lifesaver if your grades won't meet the expected mark. There are dos and don'ts.

3 Things That a Tutor is Looking For

Your commitment to the coursework. It's not hard to figure this one. If you're a heavy reader, then list down your favourite books and how the titles change your life. The mere mention of literary quotes can be extra points in your favour. If it's literary character(s), then describe the traits that you can identified with. If you have made an early start in authorship, then you can attach a few samples of your works. Don't be afraid of the tutor noticing your mistakes. You'll get to that part later.

Your ability to prioritise your coursework. It's not a secret that the university has many distractions, and students won't resist it. After all, your experience would be incomplete without making new friends. In this regard, you can write about your past extracurricular activities, and how it would help you become a well-rounded student. Keep in mind that these activities must be related to the degree course that you're applying for. If it's a visit to a library, then describe how those rows of book would put you in a romantic mood. (It must allude to your thirst for knowledge.) In other words, you must be selective about the information. Anything else can confuse the tutor, even doubt your capabilities.

Your genuine interest in the coursework. This should set the tone of your writing. Think about writing to your parents, if not your closest sibling. Imagine corresponding to your best mate. Anything that will enable you to be more intimate to your reader(s). This is what the tutor wants to see in a personal statement, as there's a high probability that the same figure will guide you throughout your studies. It doesn't matter if it turns out to be someone else. (You'll be acquainted with the members of the faculty sooner or later.) You'll be one of tens, if not hundreds, of applicants, but the English Department have a limited number of slots. It's only natural to try to impress the tutor, but don't lose that personal touch. The university wants to know you.

5 Things to Avoid in Your Personal Statement

Your travels. Anyone who has been on a holiday could get an advantage, but the tutor won't be impressed at your apparent wealth. If you have been a volunteer in another country, then the skills you have learned may not assure you of an unconditional offer. There's another way of looking at it, though. Write about your experience with a perspective. (If it's a holiday in Bali, then a few paragraphs on surfing will be a waste of time. Your impression on the temples, a ubiquitous sight, will be good enough.)

Dramatising your past experience. It's not that the tutor will have any empathy, but your statement will be assessed as objectively as possible. Think about writing a book. (You can restrain the emotion, if not resort to metaphor.)

Listing down your achievements. You think that not everyone has been to Blue Mountains, even spent a few days in that rugged region. Everyone likes the outdoors, but not many may like to go to that part of Oz. Your prowess in sports may make you a member of the varsity, but it can pose a dilemma. (You'll have more distractions.) You can't cite all the books you have read, as your tutor might have read more.

Make up a story. The tutor won't compare applicants, as each one will be assessed on his/her own merits. This is not the time to be coy about your talents, even be modest about it. Your statement must show that you deserve a place in the English Department, so promote yourself.

Plagiarising your personal statement. You should know better.

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