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WRITING A PERSONAL STATEMENT

HOW TO HELP AS A PARENT

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The personal statement is the best opportunity for a student to tell universities why they want to study a course.

 

Why is it important?

There are some courses where you may have to have an interview, or provide a portfolio of work, but for many courses, universities make their decisions solely on the UCAS application - and the personal statement is a major part of that. To put in context, think of it as a cover letter for a job. It serves a similar purpose, and it’s about the same length – a personal statement’s maximum length is 47 lines or 4,000 characters, whichever is reached first. So, a page, a page and a quarter at most.


What should my son or daughter be writing in their Personal Statement?

Students only get ONE personal statement. Therefore, the courses the students apply for must be in the same area. A student won’t be able to feasibly apply for English Literature and Mathematics and Physics in the same year: the courses are too different to write a cogent personal statement. There are always students who are interested in more than one course, but the closer the courses are linked, the easier it will be for them to write their personal statement.

Generally, universities want to know how your child’s current studies have shaped their decision and what experiences you've gained. It needs to be more than simply that they’re doing BTec Health and Social Care and therefore want to do a Nursing course. What bearing do these current studies have on their course they’re applying for? What skills and abilities have they learnt from their current studies that will serve them well in future? Have they done any pieces of work that they can point to which will help them in that course?

Universities also want to know what interests them about the wider subject area, and whether you have a long-term career goal.  

UCAS say that 80% of a personal statement should be academically focused – that is to say, related to school/college and the course.  

 

I don’t know much about the subject area my son or daughter is applying for: does that impact how much I can help?

We’ve spoken to many parents at events over the years who simply tell us they have no knowledge of the subject area their son or daughter is applying for, and therefore don’t feel they can assist with a personal statement.  

We can categorically say – yes, you can help. A personal statement isn’t meant to be a chance for a student to squeeze as much technical jargon in 47 lines to prove how clever they are. It’s about them explaining why they’re a good candidate for the course. A great example of this is a student referring to studies they’ve read. This is a good idea in theory: admissions tutors like seeing specific examples of what the student is interested in.  

For instance, a student may want to study Psychology, but may have a specific interest in Clinical, Forensic or Business Psychology. What is vital here is that a student doesn’t just state a text or journal and think that gets them instant credit. They need to explain what they gained from it. What did they learn from it, and how did it help their studies? What skills did they develop from reading it? In short, how does it make you a better candidate for the course?

We sometimes see a similar misstep with quoting work experience. Just getting work experience on its own doesn’t tell a selector much. As a parent, it’s helpful to look through a personal statement and ensure your son or daughter has explained their points and hasn’t just stated them.

 

What about their activities outside of sixth form/college?

Universities don’t want robots. They want to learn a bit about the student - extra-curricular activities, what you do in your spare time, part time jobs and any other achievements. UCAS state this should make up about 20% of the statement. As a parent, you can help here by selecting the most relevant extra-curricular activity.

For instance, let’s say a student has two part time jobs - one at a supermarket, and one as an assistant tennis coach. Let’s say this student is applying for a Primary Education course. Which one links better to the course? Which one has the best transferable skills? If you’re short on word count, which one would you prioritise? Parents can be a huge help in this respect.

Following on from this, students must pinpoint the skills and attributes they’ve have gained from inside and outside of school/college, and how they’ll help with studying the course. This is a vital area of the personal statement that students struggle with, sometimes with the fear they’ll sound overconfident. But, like applying for a job, you’ve got to say why you’re a good candidate for the course.  

 

Is there anything else I should be looking out for?

UCAS has a good plagiarism detector. For example, students will be caught out if they use a personal statement from the year before.  

Keep it concise. Some admissions tutors will have read well into five figures’ worth of personal statements, so keep it clear, concise and make sure it flows well. There’s a personal statement builder on every student’s UCAS account which can help with this.

Look out for listing. Students understandably want to get as much as they can in their personal statement and can sometimes end up writing long lists. For instance, it’s much better to talk about two relatable extra-curricular activities in detail rather than noting everything they’ve done out of school and college since they were 12. Again, a great piece of experience on its own isn’t enough. It must be explained!

Flick through your child’s full UCAS application. There are many sections, and by doing this you can ensure there’s no repetition in the statement. For instance, education history is detailed in a section. We therefore don’t need: ‘I go to Kings Priory School and study A-Levels in Biology, English and History’ – students can dive straight in to talking about those subjects.

Students sometimes use quotations. Be honest – ask your son or daughter why they’ve included it. Does it play a pivotal role in helping explain why your son or daughter is right for that course? Or is it there to sound esteemed rather than doing anything functional?

Keep your eye out for cliches and stock phrases. A popular refrain is ‘for as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in…..’ . It may sound grand, but it’s often not true. Was your child really interested in the fields civil engineering or biochemistry or for as long as they can remember?  

In short, as a parent make sure the personal statement explains why and how your son or daughter is a great candidate for the course.

Good luck!






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