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Tips for Writing and Editing Your Personal Statement

Get expert tips for writing and editing your focused and compelling personal statement for university and scholarship applications.

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Dec 12, 2023

The Personal Statement is at the heart of most university and scholarship applications and it is one of the most challenging but rewarding written efforts that you will encounter in the admissions process. 

It asks you to find a way to articulate who you are, to critically reflect on how you define yourself based on your sense of self, what you value, what you are excited about, where those interests come from and how they are both manifesting in your current experience and will likely take further shape in your future.

A strong personal statement must be focused, clear, concise, and compelling. Crafting it is perhaps the most challenging writing task you’ll encounter in your academic journey thus far, for several reasons:


  • A Personal Statement should reflect the level of critical reflection that has both shaped your sense of self and your sense of purpose. Regardless of differing styles and formats across applications, this remains crucial. What are you choosing to study? Why have you chosen that particular course? Why is that subject important to you? What is interesting about your proposed field of study? 
  • A Personal Statement should reflect your trajectory, detailing where you have come from and how that is shaping the next steps you plan to take. How do your interests align with your personal goals? How have those interests been informed and influenced by your experiences? 
  • Reflecting on your strengths, achievements, and accomplishment can pose a challenge in two ways. We’re often encouraged to be humble, making it feel odd to write about accomplishments we’re proud of. Alternatively, some students make the mistake of solely listing accolades and awards, which might already be information found elsewhere in your application
  • It is short.  The UCAS Personal Statement is 4,000 Characters and the Common App essay is 650 words. That means you have to reduce your story to fit those requirements, hence the necessity of very clear and concise writing.  

Here are some quick tips for writing and editing your personal statement:

Start strong. 
The opening line and paragraph should invite the reader in, piquing their curiosity and compelling them to keep going. 

Ensure your personal statement sounds like you.
If you gave your personal statement over without your name, would your parents know that it was you who wrote it? Would a close friend or a teacher be able to tell that you wrote it? 

Avoid using adverbs.
Modifiers such as “really,” “very,” and “so” tend to dilute your message and weaken your writing.

Don’t start your essay with a quote.
You want to catch the reader’s attention immediately and draw them into who you are as soon as possible with your own words. Staring your essay off with a quote or even using a quote can be a waste of precious word count.

Practice, practice, practice.
Even a sentence or two of writing about yourself will help. Put this into action by writing in a daily journal, keeping your academic portfolio updated or challenging yourself with daily prompts. Daily gratitude thoughts can also be a good way to get started. 

Read your essay out loud.
Read it to yourself, to your parents, your pet, and maybe a friend. Then, ask them to read it to you. Be on the lookout for bumps when you’re listening, and feel for those bumps when you’re reading. Take note of where you stumble. Your ear is more sensitive to rhythm and will be a better indicator of how fresh eyes will experience the words. Another trick is to print it up and read it. Sometimes you find things on paper you wouldn’t see on a screen.

Clarity is key.
This is the single most important part of editing, ensuring that your ideas are clear —because unclear thinking leads to unclear writing. If you’re not really sure what you’re saying, the admissions officer won’t be sure either. If you know a transition doesn’t really make sense, work on it until it does. Thinking is the hardest part of writing, but clear thinking leads to good writing.

Final Thoughts
And, of course, remember that you have the support of your peers who are going through the same process, your counselors (should your school provide those services), and there are always options to engage professionals, who recognise the difficulty of starting to write a Personal Statement and have guided countless students.  

 

We all have our own ways of brainstorming  but sometimes one of the best ways to start, is to have a good long chat with someone about what you really (really) care about, why, and where and what you hope to see all those cares move you toward.  That’s precisely what we are available to do with you – chat, listen, draw story-boards, idea webs, you name it – so, contact us to make an appointment.  There is absolutely no reason you should feel you have to tackle the Personal Statement process on your own.

Remember this is the core of your application and it is your chance to articulate your core self and what you care about in an authentic way.  It deserves all the time you can give. 

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