Seven tips for handling personal statements

Annie Manning

Annie Manning is a qualified NLP Life Skills Coach and Counsellor including; spiritual healing, bereavement and cognitive behaviour therapies. Annie fully values the importance of a student’s wellbeing, positive intervention and uses these additional communication skills to help coach tutors, parents and students. She runs a blog with tips on mindfulness, avoiding exam stress and promoting support charities in mental health, bereavement and anti-bullying.

She is an experienced freelance report writer, marketing and quality consultant working within Commercial and IT markets, Health, Education and NFP Sectors. Her quality projects have included speaking with schools, universities and researching protocol and purchasing patterns within the LEA nationally. As a marketing manager within IT she dealt with, schools and IDPE members on a daily basis for many years.

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I have written previously about personal statements for Innovate my School’s website and felt perhaps it was time to re-visit this subject from a slightly different angle. Let’s ensure the students not only feel the fear but follow their dream!

Firstly, it’s a huge challenge. This document can prove a real hurdle for students who may have little prior experience in preparing a document of this nature. The quality of advice and support may vary from school-to-school, and the burden of responsibility is often placed with already overstretched staff. So I am offering seven tips and points for students and teachers to consider and focus on.

1. Community experience and social skills

I had an interesting chat recently with a lecturer for Cambridge and Oxford graduates. We spoke about the importance of students developing social skills and the value of same in connection with their personal statement. I relayed how fortunately my own daughter had been gathering experience for many years working voluntarily within the area she wished to pursue and being proactive in our village community and helping at charity events. These all show confidence and a certain degree of responsibility.

2. Substance, not lip service

However, we both agreed that far too many students make a token gesture at adding things to their CV last minute, and those in the know can soon tell that they are just giving lip service without any real genuine interest or substance to what they are doing. This will soon become apparent if and when they are invited to attend an interview at their chosen University.

Action speaks the priority: “If the goal in our life is very important, and we are not taking any step to complete or fulfil that goal, then we need to reassess our priorities.” - Mahatma Gandhi

3. Appropriate content for a student’s chosen university

Parents want their children to be the best they can be, and the same goes for dedicated teachers. We want future generations to feel inspired, make the right career choice for them, and the quality of their submitted document will of course either help or hinder the secure of that choice. Universities will be looking for quality, not quantity, and instantly see that this particular student will have something different to contribute in contrast to other students with similar grades.

Example: If a student is passionate about environmental issues and has worked on projects, they can include these, as generation is seen as the last one to make climate change!

4. The right vocabulary

Speaking as an experienced writer who has worked for many sectors and ghost written articles for professionals, I know it is imperative to produce something which will come across as both interesting and appealing to the audience. Moreover, it is vital that the reader recognises the vocabulary as appropriate and that of the writer - again, on interview, it will soon become clear that somebody else has written the student’s statement.

I am always actively encouraging students to learn a few new words every day and push their boundaries to expand their use of the English language. Nevertheless, it has to be written in their own words, using a style and vocabulary with which they feel comfortable.

5. Visit the University’s website

Students are well advised to re-visit the website for the university to which they are applying. Ensure that the latest advice and criteria (which may not be on the UCAS system) is followed closely to avoid mistakes and crucial last minute information being inadvertently missed off.

6. Have they included your best achievements?

Applicants mustn’t waste valuable word count with long lists of activities; they should select carefully those skills and achievements which demonstrate their ability to be both a strong leader and be an active team player. The conception of absolute - are they working towards this?

7. Proof-read carefully

Ensure that they read and edit their statement carefully as poor editing, grammatical errors and spelling mistakes will reflect badly. Remember: first impressions are important, so students must give this document the time and energy it deserves.

Do you assist students with their personal statements? Share your tips below.

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