Writing Personal Statements

Getting into HE
Workshop: Writing references
and personal statements
Jonathan Tinnacher
Head of Student Recruitment, Division of Marketing and
University of Leicester
James Seymour
Head of Schools and Colleges Liaison
Aston University
Perfect Personal
James Seymour, Head of Schools and Colleges Liaison
Aston University, Birmingham
[email protected]
Subject “Fit”
Interested in Biology
Biomedical Sciences, Human Biology, Genetics,
Optometry, Zoology
Business, Environmental Sciences, European Studies,
Logistics, Surveying, Town Planning
Accountancy, Computer Science, Engineering, Internet
Gambling Studies
20%+ of Scientists/Engineers go into Finance/Accounting
50%+ of Graduate Jobs advertised don’t specify a particular
Application Strategy may be subject dependent
Medicine, Dentistry, Law, Pharmacy, Vet Sci, Physio,
English, Psychology, some Business, History, Sports
high competition, higher grades, can vary between
Some Engineering, Chemistry, Languages, Sociology
(compared to Psychology), Philosophy, Physics
Less competition, sometimes lower grades (but often
excellent career prospects!)
What do Admissions Tutors look for?
Academic Potential (Predicted Grades)
Academic Record (GCSE, AS)
Reference from School/College…..
Evidence of:
Motivation and Commitment
Leadership, Teamwork, Communication
Evidence of research into subject
Relevant, well written Personal Statement
IT/Business/Key Skills (if relevant)
NOT Nobel Prizewinners, just general enthusiasm….
The Personal Statement – consider 3 main
Why do I want to study this course?
What are the reasons for my choices, any career
Related academic or work experience?
Show you know what the course will involve and mention
any special subjects you are interested in.
Some consistency in your 5 choices
What can I offer to the course?
How do my academic interests and strengths match up
with my chosen course?
Have I done anything which highlights my skills /
knowledge / initiative?
any relevant experience eg paid / voluntary work?
What am I like as a person?!
Have I held any Positions in and out of school/college?
Am I a member of any teams or societies?
What are my relevant interests, hobbies, leisure
Personal Statements – Practical Ideas
Consider dividing form up into paragraphs,
maybe with headings
Consider 5 paragraphs
Practice on a “dummy”, brainstorm
Spelling and Grammar ARE Important……
Reduced in size and still printed by Universities
Use your “Key Skills”/accredited evidence
Don’t list endless sports/hobbies
Always make it relevant
Humour rarely works - don’t risk it!
School/College examples from previous years
Closing statement
Personal Statements - Style
Positive words- achieved, developed, learned,
discovered, enthusiasm, commitment, energy,
Short, simple sentences in plain English - not
contrived, not verbose or grandiose
Personal touch if possible- but be careful with
humour and vernacular/’chatty’ approaches
Use evidence wherever possible to support
Dos and Don’ts
Plan the statement as you would an essay
Clear and Concise - the more concentrated the points and
facts, the more powerful
Be honest- ‘truth will out’ - don’t copy/buy!
Similarity Detection Software at UCAS
Draft and redraft (X10 not unusual), and seek other
Waffle or try to include your life history
Start with “ I’ve always wanted to be a……”
Use gimmicks, or quotations- unless they are very relevant
and you deal with them in a way that shows your qualities
Mixed UCAS Choices
Avoid very different choices if you can (though of course
accepted for 5th choices for Medicine/Dentistry/Vet Sci)
If choosing joint or combined courses, write about your
interest in each subject such as to reflect the balance in the
Different course titles may be fine - check the actual
contents for similarity. The principle is to be coherent so
that whoever reads your statement, it makes sense for their
Show your appreciation of links between different subjects
where applicable
eg of Optometry and sometimes Pharmacy at Aston….
Plagiarism – Similarity Detection Service (SDS)
Universities are informed by UCAS with an SDS score out
of 100%
We can then view the statement online with the “similar”
elements highlighted
Policies then vary between HEIs and courses – eg reject,
asking to explain or resubmit a statement
In our experience there is already another reason for a
rejection before this becomes a factor
SDS is not made available to Universities regarding
references, YET!!
Students should not panic about this but consider their
statement as confidential from their friends.
The Main Message
Why this subject choice
Relationship to current/past studies?
Career ideas?
Work experience and Other life experiences bearing on
Many Universities can easily call up the statement online
via their application systems – it does matter, especially at
results confirmation and for borderline cases
Encourage your students to be proud of what they have
written – we have no Facebook page on them but
interviews will be based on what they have written – or may
be their only chance to pitch themselves.
Please don’t write this type of stuff…..!
“I enjoy the Theatre and used to go a couple of times a
year.” (Drama)
“I am a keen reader and am committed to the study of
human behaviour through TV soaps!!”
“I have led a full life over the last 18 years and it is a
tradition I intend to continue”
“I describe myself in the following two words: “TO ODIN!!”
the ancient Viking war cry” (Law)
“My favourite hobby is bee-keeping & I want to be an
“My interest in Medicine stems from my enjoyment of
“Casualty” and other related TV series”
“I enjoy socialising with my friends”
Realistic but positive….
Vast majority receive 4 or more offers (80% plus)
Applications per place – don’t forget students are
making 4 other applications!
Check entry requirements and specific requirements
eg: Aston: 2010 entry: c15,000 applications for c2000
places: 78% of applicants received
conditional/unconditional offers. Average grades on
entry 2009: ABB from best 3 A levels.

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