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UPDATE OCTOBER 2015: A DB FRAMEWORK
This is purely a suggestion; I'm not saying this is how all personal statements should be set out. Indeed, several of my suggested points appear on a list of cliches - though I don't think there's much to be gained from stressing over attempting to achieve originality given the sheer scale (100s of 1000s each year) of PSs issued each year. Hopefully, though, it will help you get going if you're stuck or struggling.
There are lots of documents in this post - and looking afresh at the UCAS guide below, its not a million miles from my own suggested framework!I've used 'soft' and 'hard' as very loose terms to roughly denote more personal attributes evidenced through leisure and extra-curricular activities (soft) and direct academic credentials evidenced mainly through academic achievement and activity in school (hard), though these certainly overlap. A good PS requires a decent amount of both: you're establishing that you are equipped to cope with HE and more independent living, working with many new people, as much as your capacity to read, research and pass exams.
I've numbered these as well to indicate one possible structure; you may have more than one paragraph from any one of these points, or, depending on the course you're applying for, may think it better to combine more than one into one paragraph. Just pick out what you think will benefit your application.
1: PERSONAL ANECDOTE - Common but useful starting point
My passion for/interest in x is longstanding/was sparked by... [FROM SOFT/PERSONAL TO HARD/ACADEMIC] More recently my commitment to x has been reflected in ... (eg, my own wider reading, such as the writing of x, which I found especially intriguing because... [you could also compare with a writer/theory you disagree with])
Is this a subject that excites you? Are you passionate about it? Is it a recent 'discovery' (that's okay!) or a longstanding interest? Was there a specific event that triggered this? Has some recent learning, reading or experience reinforced this? Be specific if so! You could briefly indicate why you think this is the best subject for you; where it might take you (and maybe expand on this in a final paragraph). You could include brief points on the range of possible specialisms within the field as a positive in and of itself, and/or indicate a possible focus for you.
2: DEVELOP THE HARD ACADEMIC CREDENTIALSPick out key skills, attributes demonstrated in ANY of your courses: writing, research, finding your own resources, reports, presentations, lab work, design, creative thinking, group work, collaboration, meeting tight deadlines, organising your work, wider reading, asking questions - not just being a passive learner, self-assessment: recognising your subject weak spots & showing determination (outline strategy) to overcome these, making cross-curricular links (synthesising ideas not formally linked by your teacher/subject is a strong indicator of academic prowess).
Draft points like these in detail at first then start thinking about the word limit. Don't set out to write the statement from scratch, organise a set of notes and possible points, be clear on the detail, and gradually whittle away extraneous points or detail to fit within the word limit and achieve a balanced, flowing PS.
3: BACK TO SOFT-ISH: OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL
4: WORK EXPERIENCE/PAID WORK
5: WHY THIS SUBJECT/WHY I'M SUITED FOR UNI
I hope that helps. There is much more learned guidance in the documents below!Don't be afraid to approach subject teachers - we are all rather over-stretched, but most will endeavour to help you nonetheless!
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PERSONAL STATEMENT WORKSHEETS
WRITING A PERSONAL STATEMENT
GUIDE FROM FRED BINLEY (Southampton Uni, Student Recruitment)
EXAMPLES OF PERSONAL STATEMENTS
This is how your CV should be set out, and what it should include.
You can find further helpful advice at this website (you'll need to set up an account with them to use the CV-builder tool): https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/tools/cv/Pages/default.aspx
CV FAQs (2-PAGE GUIDE)
This addresses some FAQs (frequently asked questions) about CVs and what goes in them.
DOWNLOAD A CV TEMPLATE
There are four documents below to help you with a letter of application (or 'covering letter', as this will often go with a longer application form):
- A good and a bad example
- Notes on the good example
- A short guide to the structure of this letter
- A longer guide, giving detail on the covering letter and the CV
Use the first example as a guide on how to construct, lay out and write yours - use the second example for an idea of what to avoid! Below this document is another, this time with added notes explaining what to do.
2: APPLICATION LETTER: ANNOTATIONS FOR FURTHER GUIDANCE
Here's the same example as above, but this time with added annotations, or notes, helping you understand what to do.
3: SHORT GUIDE TO STRUCTURE OF COVERING LETTER
This takes you through the structure of your letter: how many paragraphs to include and what should each paragraph focus on.
4: LONGER GUIDE TO COVERING LETTER (+CV)
This document takes you through what to include, with examples, and also walks you through the CV.