Firstly, make a list of all of your work, educational, and extracurricular experiences. Don’t be selective at this point; even if you cannot yet see how they’re relevant to your course, write them down anyway. Bear in mind that just because you’ve taken part in something for fun doesn’t mean it’s necessarily irrelevant.
Next, you need to be creative in considering what you’ve learned from each of these experiences. For example, if you play a team sport, you’ve likely developed your capacity to work with others. If, on the other hand, you’ve achieved something more independently, like mastering a martial art or an instrument, you’ve probably needed to demonstrate high levels of dedication and motivation.
Most course pages on university websites specify what they’re looking for in applicants. Therefore, you can now compare your list of activities and the qualities you’ve acquired from participating in them to the attributes that the university is looking for. Your experiences that are most relevant should form the basis of your 4000 character personal statement. Use your experiences to show that you genuinely are interested in the subject, rather than just saying that you are.
Whilst on a university’s website, take a look at the modules that you’ll be required to take and make a note of any that are of particular interest to you. If you can mention which specific aspects of the course you’re especially excited by, this will make a good impression on the admissions team. However, as always, link this to an experience or some reading you’ve done that demonstrates that your interest is genuine.
Furthermore, make a note of the university’s characteristics that appeal to you. These might include their links with industry, their employment rates, their facilities, or their reputation. You can use these to show in your statement that you know what life will be like at a given institution and that you haven’t just chosen them at random. Admissions teams will be more likely to award places to people who genuinely want to study there, and not just somewhere.
This process is, of course, not only valuable with regard to writing your statement, but will also allow you to consider whether the course and institution are really right for you. University represents a significant investment of your time and money, and it is, therefore, essential that you make your choices wisely.
In addition to considering the requirements of the specific course you intend to undertake, think about the more general skills that you’ll need to be successful in a higher education environment. For example, how will you deal with having a multitude of deadlines? Will you be able to work effectively with others during group projects? If so, what experiences can you describe to back this up?
Similarly, you need to consider what will be expected of you upon graduation; how you perform in your career after university will be a reflection of your alma mater, so the institution will want to know that you’re going to represent them appropriately in the future. If, for instance, you’re pursuing medicine, you’ll need to demonstrate that you’re aware of the long hours that doctors typically work and that the profession has various ethical and emotional challenges.
Once you’ve made extensive notes on how your experiences are relevant to the course, to academic life in general, and to your potential career, you should create a plan for structuring your statement. Consider having an intro that explains why you’re motivated to complete the course, followed by separate paragraphs for, say, paid and voluntary positions, as well as for extracurricular activities. Your conclusion should reiterate that you understand what will be expected of you and how you will meet these expectations.
As will all good writing, your statement needs to be thoroughly checked and edited. You should pay attention to whether you’re repeating ideas, words, or phrases too often or whether you’re saying things in an overcomplicated way. A common misconception about formal writing is that it needs to be elaborate. However, the most effective writing is simple and to the point. Remember that Einstein’s paper in which he reinterpreted the entire universe was named quite modestly; Does the inertia of a body depend upon its energy content? Keeping the principle of conciseness in mind will serve you well in your statement, as well as in your subsequent academic endeavours!