Most of the work during any university application comes in the form of essay writing. In the UK, the essay is a formal statement of fit and purpose called the personal statement (PS).
What is the UK Personal Statement?
In brief, the personal statement is a testament of your motivation and experience within the particular field you are applying for that you submit to UCAS. The maximum length is 4,000 characters (including spaces), and 47 lines.
Since UK universities already demand a certain minimum grade average from applicants, all students who are applying will be similar academically, especially in top-tier universities like Oxbridge or Imperial. Once you pass those minimums, universities use the personal statement to break the tie between you and another student.
However, the personal statement is unlike most of the other college essays that you write in the US or even Canada. Here are 3 common mistakes you want to avoid while crafting this application document.
1. Narrow down your topic and major
In the UK, students apply not just to a university, but to a particular degree too. Thus, the PS must cover topics related to that particular degree. If you write about two degrees – law and medicine, for example –your personal statement probably won’t explain either one of them well, given the word count limit.
This is why most students apply to the same degree across all 5 of their UCAS choices. There are exceptions to this if the degrees are rather similar. For example, if you apply to medicine, one or two of your last UCAS choices can be biomedical sciences – the PS will fit both. The same is true if you are applying to Politics and International Relations – or a mix of the two across your 5 UCAS options.
2. The PS is not your shopping list for achievements
Many students believe they need to impress the university, hence they cram all of their achievements into the personal statement and not much else. While this may appear intuitive, it is not a good strategy.
The purpose of the statement is to show how and why you are good for that specific degree. You can use some achievements, but they must be an introduction to a description of fit. If you do not supplement achievements with an explanation of what you learnt through the process of achieving those things, it will not be good.
For example, it is not helpful to say you won a national MUN competition only. Instead, explain how through winning MUNs, you gained valuable and specific communication skills or understanding about world politics.
3. Stay relevant – even if it means sacrificing impressive activities
Often, students will want to mention every interesting thing on their CV. Broadly speaking, this is not a bad strategy – showing breadth of experiences in the personal statement is good.
However, you need to balance breadth with relevance. If you are applying to medicine, it may be more important to mention less impressive achievements that are within the field (like volunteering with a hospital), vs. an impressive achievement in the arts, which is more removed from medicine.
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