powerful personal statements: get the first and last lines right
Crafting powerful personal statements requires more than just collating the highlights of an educational and extra-curricular career. A list of bullet points won’t get you very far: you need to finesse your information into a persuasive piece of writing, which sells you and your achievements. This can seem like a daunting and perhaps unfair hurdle, particularly for those going into degrees like physics or mathematics, where assessment will be based more on numeracy more than literacy.
There are many, many elements of a good writing style, but here we’ll focus on just two: the lede and kicker. The lede is the opening sentence, a kicker is the last. Between these elements is sandwiched the rest of your personal statement; they represent your best opportunity to leave a lasting impression on whomever reads your writing.
This is where a personal statement service can be immensely useful – you can hire an expert to edit your draft and give you pointers on these elements.
There’s no one secret to crafting the perfect opening line. The goal is to generate a sense of interest in your reader, while of course keeping to the primary aim of the personal statement: explaining why you want to study the course you are applying for.
- Open with a quote. If you hunt around you will often discover an expression that captures, better than you ever could, precisely what it is you love about your chosen subject. There are some caveats to this option – if it’s particularly famous quote then there’s a danger that many others will also choose to use it, turning the pithy into the cliché. Thus if you are applying for a physics course it’s probably best to avoid quoting Einstein.
- Avoid clichés. This is advice which applies to the whole of your personal statement but is particularly important when it comes to the opener. If you start with something like ‘From an early age …’, or ‘From a young age …’, or ‘I have always been interested in …’ you announce an unoriginal approach right from the off.
- Tell a story. An extremely effective technique in writing a personal statement is to craft your achievements into a narrative, i.e. try to tell a story with the culmination being the desire to study a subject at university. Thus establish a sense of time and place with your opening line or paragraph; perhaps start with a memory of a particular course and subject: the moment which crystallized your desire to study a particular subject.
- Write a ton of opening lines. Not much more to say here.
The kicker is the final line; its importance should be obvious as it’s the last thing your assessor will read. A good kicker connects with the lede, in that they both aim to sum up the emotional thrust of the personal statement.
- Write a ton of kickers. Again, you’ll end up with something better if you have a lot to choose from.
- Reformulate your opener. Don’t just copy and paste your opener but think about what you expressed in that opening line. If it’s a reason why you feel passionate about a particular subject, you can restate that sentiment. Linking the beginning and the opening in this way creates a feeling in the reader of having come full circle.
- Avoid humour. It’s tempting to use jokes to conclude but humour is a particular thing that often falls flat. A joke at the end may undermine what’s good about the rest of your personal statement.
Don’t stress about these elements too much – yes, they are important but your application will not live or die based on whether you can craft a killer lede or kicker. Your assessor is duty-bound to slog through your writing no matter how it begins. They will give you a fair shake.