3 Characteristics Of A Good Personal Statement

The latest annual survey of university admissions officers, commissioned by ACS International Schools, highlights the top qualities universities will be looking for in applicants’ personal statements, in addition to academic qualifications.

These are the seven qualities that you should try to illustrate in your university application. 

1. A positive attitude towards study

Students must demonstrate that they are ready to work hard – that they’re not just applying to university for the social life, but that they will be able to cope with the workloads of their chosen course and thrive at a higher level of education.

As well as good grades, students can demonstrate this in their personal statements by mentioning their extended essay or personal projects they have taken on to expand their knowledge or study skills. Linking this to their intended area of university study is helpful. Showing the ability to manage your time and workload is important, too. 

2. A passion for the chosen course subject

Students must demonstrate a passion for their chosen subject. Independent extended interest in a subject that goes above and beyond what is required in the classroom, a personal achievement and extracurricular activities can all help to illustrate this. It’s beneficial for students to show how learning within and beyond the classroom links to their chosen course.

Ultimately, passion and perseverance are qualities that are also highly sought after by employers, not just universities.

3. An ability to think and work independently

According to this year’s survey, almost half of admission officers in the UK feel students aren’t ready to step up to higher education.

Why would they think that? Well 89 per cent of respondents cite students’ inability to think and learn independently; while three-quarters believe students lack social skills and, even more worryingly, common sense.

So it is important to show that you are a well-rounded person outside of your studies. 


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4. An ability to persevere and complete tasks

Students need to show commitment and determination – 91 per cent of university admissions officers look for evidence of these qualities in applications.

Universities are looking for indications that students will complete their course and have an understanding of what it entails. If you are a member of a sports team, involved with any committees or school councils, or even have a part-time job, it’s worth mentioning this on your personal statement. All of these roles show a sense of commitment and an ability to take responsibility for tasks. You can also talk about any leadership experience you have gained or contributions that you have made.

You could also include any additional qualifications, such as music grades, or courses such as lifeguarding or first aid that you have taken.

5. An inquiring mind

Almost all university admissions officers (91 per cent) look for evidence of an inquiring mind in student applications. 

Have you taken the initiative to read around your subject outside of the classroom? Researched more about a theory you touched on in class? Talk about this in your personal statement – it not only demonstrates a curious mind, but also a positive attitude to study, an interest in your course and an ability to think and work independently.

6. Good written English

Make sure you check, check, and check again that every word and sentence of your personal statement is spelled correctly, makes sense and is grammatically correct. Ask as many people as you can to proof-read it and check that it makes sense – especially teachers who have experience in helping with university applications. Admissions officers will notice mistakes, which can suggest a lack of attention and care on your part.

7. An ability to work well in groups

Some 73 per cent of university admissions officers have said they look for evidence of an ability to work well in groups, so if you are part of a sports team, committee, club or any other group where you work with others, include this in your application to show that you are a good team player.

Many courses require group work, and universities will also want to see evidence of how you can contribute to the institution overall, whether that is being a part of the students’ union, joining a society or starting up a new club.  

The deadline for UCAS applications is 15 October 2017 for the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, and for medicine, veterinary and dentistry courses; 15 January 2018 for the majority of courses; and 24 March 2018 for some arts and design courses.

Read more: Best universities in the UK 

Writing the Personal Statement

Summary:

This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.

Contributors:Jo Doran, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2018-03-07 02:18:40

The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:

1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:

This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.

2. The response to very specific questions:

Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.

Questions to ask yourself before you write:

  • What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
  • When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
  • How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
  • If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

General advice

Answer the questions that are asked

  • If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
  • Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.

Tell a story

  • Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.

Be specific

  • Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.

Find an angle

  • If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.

Concentrate on your opening paragraph

  • The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.

Tell what you know

  • The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.

Don't include some subjects

  • There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).

Do some research, if needed

  • If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.

Write well and correctly

  • Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.

Avoid clichés

  • A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.

For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast.

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