University Tips Blog
Image of students working on personal statements
A headshot image of the author, Fred Binley

by Fred Binley

UK Schools and Colleges Liaison Officer at the University of Southampton

posted on 4 Jan '18

University Personal Statements: Top tips to pass to students for preparing persuasive content

When I get talking to teachers and advisors in schools and colleges I’m often asked, ‘Can you sum up in one sentence what makes an effective Personal Statement?’ Easy! Effective Personal Statements should always answer: why do students want to study the subject and what makes them the right person for the course. From then on it’s about being persuasive.

It’s tough however for students, with just 4,000 characters (47 lines of text), to know what to include to convince an Admissions Tutor that they are a highly motivated student who has researched the courses for which they are applying and is committed to that course of study, that they are self-motivated and responsible, and can manage their time effectively showing a balance between academic work and other interests.

So here are my top 5 personal statement tips to talk through with your students.

Tip 1: Relevant and persuasive content

As mentioned above, everything a student includes in their Personal Statement should cover why they want to study the subject and what makes them the right person for the course. Often a student’s first draft can read like a CV or record of achievement rather than a piece of persuasive, discursive prose. If any vignette, example or anecdote they have discussed is not relevant to their course choice then they should take it out – it makes the writing less persuasive.

Tip 2: Students should tell us what they’ve gained from their previous studies not just what they have studied.

Strong candidates never just list what they have studied at A level or equivalent but make a series of considered and insightful comments on how the study of a certain part of subject X has complemented or affected their decision to choose course Y.

Tip 3: Encourage your students to be critical about their language choices.

Encouraging sensitivity towards the language choices students make can turn a good Personal Statement into a great one. I’m a big advocated of positive phrasing and sometimes it helps for students to read their statements aloud to gauge whether they need to find a more ‘upbeat’ way of describing something they have written.

Tip 4: Have students given some good examples of what they've done to widen their interest in the subject?

If applying for selective, competitive courses, it’s important for applicants to show they have done more than just the basics in terms of developing their knowledge of the subject. There are so many ways now for applications to demonstrate what used to be termed as ‘wider reading’. For example, what books or related academic journals have they read? Are they taking any online courses such as MOOCs that link to the degree choice? Have they taken an EPQ? Is there a specific piece of new research or current affair that has furthered their interest? Do they subscribe to any blogs or follow social media discussions on issues related to their course?

Tip 5: Make connections

Finally, in a nutshell, persuasive Personal Statements are about making a series of good connections. An effective piece of writing either reads all the way though like a series of connections where the student talks about something they have done inside or outside of school or college, such as work experience, and link it to their degree choice. Or they have, running through the piece, a strong personal trigger answering why they want to study the subject. For some students this could be a career aspiration, it could be down to a personal experience or just a real love of the subject. Whatever it is, a series of strong connections linked to this personal trigger will make the writing effective, persuasive and ensure the applicant receives lots of offers!

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