When you’re applying to university, it can be hard to know what university admissions officers are looking for in a candidate. So, what are they really look for in your personal statement?
Passion for your chosen subject
You can convey your interest and enthusiasm for a course by explaining your related extra-curricular activities, voluntary and work experience in a relevant field. For example, applying to study History of Art would be well-supplemented by experience working in a museum or art gallery. Or applying to study Primary Teaching would be well-supported by volunteering as a classroom assistant at your local primary school.
If you don't have experience, talk about a related lecture or event you attended, or relay information about a subject related blog you follow or wider reading you have enjoyed. You can show genuine interest and enthusiasm by avoiding clichés such as, "I want to study medicine at university because I want to make a difference" or "law is what I've always wanted to do since I was a child" or "I want to solve real-world problems”.
Perhaps a personal life-event has led you to want to study a particular subject. Be concise about this, and describe why it had such a profound impact on your subject choice.
This will not only show your interest in the subject but also communicate your wider goals and ambitions. More on this a little later...
Genuine interest in the course
As you are likely to be applying to more than one university at time, in order to have an insurance choice, you will find your personal statement easier to write if the courses you are applying to are similar, as it allows you to find common modules across the courses. You can then mention general module or topic areas, and elaborate on how your current studies will be furthered through these. If you can link your experience to these modules, then you will be able to show genuine interest - a treat for any admissions tutor to chew on!
For example, if you want to apply for a social policy degree, talk about your current sociology course explaining why the work, poverty and welfare topic had driven you to find a degree which addressed how social issues manifest themselves through income inequality in the UK. Perhaps you have even raised money for a local charity which helps address the needs of children and families. Bringing your academic and extra-curricular experiences together in this way can be very persuasive.
Aside from the programme itself, if you find yourself applying to just a single university, you might want to write about the specific degree pathway or the institution's reputation. For example, you might detail what it is specifically about The University of Sheffield's state-of-the-art medical facilities that have motivated your application.
Goals and ambitions beyond study
We touched on this one earlier but it's deserving of its own explanation! Some people know what career they hope to achieve after university, whilst others will not know what they want to do. Either, and anything in-between, is fine!
Reflect on how your chosen course will support any career aspirations you have. For example, it is clear how an engineering course could lead to an engineering career, so try to be more specific about the streams of engineering you are considering, and why, and how the course content or access to employers supports this. This requires research! For courses with a less obvious career path, talk about why the subject and, again, how the specifics of the course might support your career goals. Perhaps you have spoken to professionals who do your desired job and they also did the subject you are considering, proving that your subject choices are well thought through.
Don’t panic if you don’t know what you want to do, but do discuss how the course can help hone your skills and knowledge, and which services you will access at university (such as the careers service, or attending employer events and lectures) to support you in your decision making.
In addition, briefly discuss how you plan to integrate into the university community. Perhaps you are currently a school prefect and would like to continue doing something similar as a staff/student liaison for your course. Maybe you love debating and want to join the mooting society? Or perhaps you want to explore the opportunities at the volunteer centre, or want to work in the university library, in widening participation or at university events as a steward.
Personality and interests outside of studying
Although academic performance is important, admissions officers are also interested in personal interests outside study, which demonstrate rounded individuals with desirable skills, including study skills such as perseverance, time management and organisation.
There's a fine balance to strike, though, with UCAS themselves stating that applicants should talk about their hobbies and interests "in a way that supports the rest of your application."
For example, if you're a keen musician, talking about your love of composing, singing, recording, video editing or creating and building a community around your music should be linked to your chosen study path. For example, if applying for a Marketing degree, emphasise your skills in video editing and brand building. But, applying for a degree in Music, you'd need to highlight your talents in composing, plus the dedication it took to hone your talent.
Whilst grades are important, admissions officers will expect students to have successful study skills that indicate the ability to study at degree level. After all, the universities want to make sure they accept students who will keep their pass rate high!
Ensure your academic reference comments on your study techniques and strategies, including how you approach difficult tasks, dedicate additional time after college hours and meet deadlines.
So, what are admissions officers really looking for?
Admissions officers want someone who has a genuine interest in the subject they’ve chosen, someone who has the study skills to succeed at university, someone with goals beyond just studying that will help them succeed after university, and someone who has well rounded interests and a thirst to get involved on campus. Don't forget to leave plenty of time to write your personal statement and ask trusted friends, family and teachers to proof read your application before submitting it. Good luck!
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