University Tips Blog
Image of a student writing their personal statement
A headshot image of the author, Jon Cheek

by Jon Cheek


posted on 22 Jun '22

How schools and colleges can support students to write a great university personal statement

This blog content was kindly supplied for the Teachers' Guide to University by Orla Kirkland, when in employment as the Outreach Officer for the Midlands at the University of Exeter

Clichés, jokes and bending the truth have no place in a professional university application. You may have read a few of these yourself and have been surprised at your students’ hidden talents. Many are unsure of how to start, but it is easy, with the truth!

Passion and motivation can grab attention and quickly provide a real understanding to a student without the classic procrastination of the perfect opening line. Remind them it is not a detailed personal monologue but like a job application which needs to be formal, clear and concise.

Where to start

Identifying a student’s favourite module, topic or experience in a subject will shape the start of the personal statement, allowing the focus to be on the skills and knowledge acquired which are relevant for their chosen course.

If they are unsure which skills would be relevant, then a quick look at course modules on the website will show what may be appropriate to discuss. Identifying common research themes/modules/skills between university courses is key to ensuring that the statement will be applicable to all courses the student applies to.

Image of a student writing their personal statement

Work experience

To say facilitating work experience has been a challenging task in the last few years is an understatement. However, the skills needed can be gained and, in an increasingly competitive environment, it is vital students try to identify any skills gaps to increase their confidence and success.

It would be effective to try and gain these online, for example:
• A student applying for Environmental Science may undertake an online course on sustainability (pro-active, passion and motivation, learning outside classroom).
• From this they create an eco-schools club for younger students online (creativity, project management, leadership and teamwork).
• As a result, they designed an online proposal (written communication, problem solving, analytical skills).
• They then presented this at a virtual assembly (verbal communication, inspiring others, marketing).
• And subsequently removed single use plastic from classrooms (implementation, negotiation, evaluation).

This will benefit them on the course where they would need to find appropriate solutions to environmental problems by assessing, reporting and quantifying environmental risks.

The good news for pro-active students is that there is an opportunity to develop effective skills and knowledge without the fear of excess time, historic networks or cost of travel. An example of this is the Discover University programme at the University of Exeter. We deliver free evening sessions for students on writing a personal statement which dispels myths and gives top tips from our admissions team. I would highly recommend encouraging students to attend this style of session at the institutions they wish to apply for to gain an insight into a successful application, ask questions and learn about their process.

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