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Writing Advice

How to write your Personal Statement

Your personal statement is tightly limited in length.  You are allowed a maximum of 4000 characters, which is all that can be fitted into the space available on the UCAS form.  Your main problem will be getting your statement down to that length, and indeed, if you don’t find yourself struggling a little to stay within the specified limit, you have probably left something out!  See it as a challenge and a useful piece of self discipline.  A good approach to the problem is to write the whole personal statement first without too close an eye on length, and then look at the character count under “Tools” in Word. Afterwards, go through it, cutting out items which are less important.  You might have some hard decisions to make here, and you may well end up cutting out more than a few lines in order to get the character count down to 4000.

As always, you should check that everything you say has relevance to the course you are applying for.  You need to look closely at the university prospectus to try to find what they are looking for in candidates.  Make that your guide as to what is most important in your personal statement – you can’t make the application “blind” just relying on your native talent because you are up against too much competition.  At the same time you must try to avoid affectation and artificiality in what you say.  Your personal statement should be honest, true and natural.

A word here about how you should write about the research you have done into your subject and your reading.  Admissions tutors are always impressed if you can talk about books you have read and say something intelligent about them.  You haven’t got much space to do this, so a sentence is often enough.  An Historian might say “I enjoy the work of AJP Taylor because his style is so lively and his thinking so original, though he is perhaps too keen on spotting paradoxes in historical events, and sees politics very often as matter of failed imagination, incompetence and cowardice.”  The Business Studies student might say “I recently read Gladwell’s Tipping Point, which, with his examination of trends and social behaviour, brought together two of my A-level subjects, business studies and psychology, in the deep insights into consumer behaviour offered by his analysis.”  The Anthropologist could say “June Hendry’s An Introduction to Social Anthropology revealed to me Malinowski’s theory of Functionalist Anthropology, in which all cultural behaviour is seen as conditioned by human need, and the contrasting Radcliffe-Brown view of Structured Functionalism, where social behaviour is seen as part of the maintenance of social cohesion.”  An Economist might write something as simple as “I enjoyed Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s book Freakonomics, which made me realise that the answers to economic problems might well come from the most unexpected sources.” (Perhaps this book is used too much, though.)  And a lady who wanted to train as a Midwife once wrote “One of my inspirations has been the books of Dot May Dunn, such as Twelve Babies on a Bike, and Bread, Jam and a Borrowed Pram, which are great fun, but also informative about the profession.  She makes it clear what human satisfaction is to be gained from being a midwife.  It was moving to see her struggling against the difficulties which she encountered in the 1950s and made me feel how much I could achieve in the present day with the advantages of modern medical technology and knowledge.”  These examples make clear how original and interesting you can appear to the reader through showing the depth of your interest and your ability to learn from your research.  There is nothing false or pretentious about this.  If you are really interested in the course you want to study you will have read around the subject and gone a little way beyond the limits of the A-level syllabus.  In fact, if you haven’t done so, you might well wonder if you’re applying for the right course.