How to advise your students when they’re struggling with their personal statement
As teachers and advisers, you are often the first point of call when a student is struggling with a personal statement. Here are our top ways to help your students get back on track with their statement and take ownership of the content.
Get them to brainstorm their ideas
Working on a personal statement without a plan can be really difficult and overwhelming. Encourage students who are struggling with content ideas to create a mind map or plan. Get them to think about what will be involved on the degree and the skills and experience they would need to be successful on the programme. For example, if they think being a good team player would be a useful skill for their chosen degree, they should give an example of where they have demonstrated that skill. It’s also a good way for them to identify gaps in their skill base (if they start their statement early enough!).
Encourage them to read prospectuses and course pages
Prospectuses and courses pages on university websites are a great resource for the personal statement. We often list the skills we think a student interested in a course should have; students should then give examples in their statement of where they have demonstrated these skills.
Get them to just write something!
Students who are struggling with their statement usually find it difficult because they have no idea where to start. Setting them some questions to answer can help them get content on the page. Questions might be things like:
- What do you find this subject so exciting/interesting?
- How have you developed your interest in this subject outside of your sixth form subjects?
- How will this degree help you in the future?
Also remind students that they don’t have to start with the introduction – they can start with the middle content and then write the introduction later as they will have more ideas of what to say and how it ties in with their middle section; it’s what I did with this blog!
Suggest they do an activity that would enhance their personal statement
Sometimes a student may be struggling with their statement because they think they don’t have anything to write about. Encourage them to undertake something that they can write about; good suggestions are attending university taster days (these can be found on unitasterdays.com), doing extra reading (lots of universities give their reading lists on their websites) or undertaking an online course on sites like Future Learn.
Students should then write a short summary of the experience, focusing on what they gained from the activity and how it has prepared them for the course they are applying for.
We encourage students to gain control of their statement by using the ABC Method. They can use the method to make sure everything they say is relating to the course they’re applying for, and therefore meets the criteria we are looking for in the statement.
A – Activity: Short description of the experience
B – Benefit: What skills did you gain from this experience? Or did you gain subject specific knowledge?
C – Course: How has this prepared you for the course you’re applying for?
When marking their personal statement you may find it helpful to show them the ABC Method and let them know if one of the elements is missing, particularly “C” as that is the bit we are really interested in.
We hope our short guide on supporting students who are struggling with their personal statement will help you get them back on track. If you have any questions, our Schools Liaison at City, University of London would be happy to help: [email protected]