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Why so many personal statements suck, and how to fix yours

Make sure you haven’t fallen victim to these personal statement fails...

Writing a personal statement is tricky, and almost everyone will have a look online at some point for inspiration. This is your first mistake. Lots of statements you’ll find online will suck, and then yours has the potential to suck as a result.

Instead, take a look at these common mistakes to avoid, and just ensure yours doesn’t include any of them. Your admission tutor will thank you.

They’re full of clichés

“Since I was a child, I have always been fascinated by [insert course title]”. Think of how many times an admission tutor has read that! Not only is it clichéd, it’s also pretty boring. Think of your personal statement as your ‘first impression’ - don’t encourage the admission tutor to make false assumptions without even meeting you.

Avoid using any phrases that you’ve spotted online, or sentences that don’t really mean anything. It’s best to include only the really important stuff in your statement, so re-read it and remove anything that could be classed as a cliché, such as.talking about your ‘thirst for knowledge’.

They include pretentious quotes

Skip the quotes. Seriously. You need to convey your own thoughts and insights, not borrow someone else's.

If you really, really need to put one in, make sure it’s relevant to what you’re saying, and hasn’t been plucked off of Google.

Likewise, don’t name-drop for the sake of it. Mentioning James Joyce’s Ulysses when it’s barely relevant to your course (and you haven’t read it) makes you look a bit silly. Especially if they ask you about it at interview...

Random lists make an appearance

Reeling off the 10 most recent books you’ve read or places you’ve visited does not make you seem interesting or cultured. It’s actually much more likely to send the person reading it to sleep.

Your statement is a place for you to discuss what you’ve learnt from both your academic and out-of-school pursuits, so instead summarise what exactly it is a job or book has done for you. If you can’t write about that, it’s probably best not to put it in.

They try to be funny

Even if you’re an aspiring stand-up comedian, attempting any sort of humour in your statement is risky business.

Even if it seems funny at the time, jokes can be easily be misinterpreted. What’s worse, they can come across as arrogant or even make it seem like you’re not really taking your application seriously.

Adopt a confident tone but keep it formal, and maybe leave the joke-telling for your mates.

Sweeping statements, bragging or plagiarism

Avoid coming across as egotistical by leaving out any sweeping, unproven claims of your own brilliance. Obviously, you need to sell yourself, but shouting about how you’re the ‘ideal student’ or ‘going to be an improvement to the university’ will not bode well.

Likewise, don’t lie. Just don’t. You will get found out, especially if you’re questioned about said topic. This also includes copying other people's’ statements you’ve found - pretending to be something (or someone!) you’re not will get you picked up by the UCAS plagiarism checker, and could easily cost you your place at uni.

They’re full of unnecessary fancy language

There's an episode of Friends where famously-dopey character Joey uses a thesaurus to change every word in an important letter he’s written. He ends up signing it with ‘baby kangaroo’ Tribbiani. It gets a big laugh. Unfortunately, this is how the admission tutor will see your statement if it’s laced with flowery words.

Don’t spend hours going through and substituting your own words for fancier ones. This statement needs to be true to you and your abilities, and using ‘big’ words takes attention away from what’s being said. It’s distracting and also a lot more obvious to spot than you might think.

Keep things simple and to the point, but don’t be afraid to change a word if you feel you’re repeating it a noticeable amount.

They talk about 'boring' interests

Some think it’s a good idea to mention they enjoy ‘socialising with friends’ or ‘going to the cinema’ on their statement. It’s not. Pretty much everyone enjoys these pastimes, and they add absolutely nothing to your statement.

The best statements will include hobbies or interests that show effort has been made to develop skills that can’t be learnt in a classroom. Just bear in mind they’ve got to be somewhat relevant to your course, so don’t get too carried away.

Also, DO NOT reference a Hollywood movie as your inspiration for your course; Legally Blonde is not an accurate depiction of your future law degree.

They don’t focus on the subject

It’s easy to get wrapped up focussing on the word count or trying to include everything you want to, but make sure you don’t forget to actually focus on the subject.

Some students treat their statements like job applications. While it’s okay to mention your future plans, remember that you’re applying for an academic pursuit, and need to demonstrate why you’re suitable for this. An admissions tutor is not going to let you in because you claim you’re going to become a groundbreaking journalist in the future. They need to see how you’re prepared to get the grades to get there first.

Still worried? Here’s some extra tips to fix your personal statement:

Check your spelling and grammar. Mistakes make you look lazy and like you haven’t bothered to proofread.

  • Don’t use slang or abbreviations. Keep it classy!
  • Structure your statement properly. This is the first example of your writing your potential uni is going to see, so make it flow well.
  • Use all of your statement characters and lines. Otherwise, it implies you haven’t got much to say or put much thought into it.
  • Don’t mention university names in your statement. This document is going to be seen by all of your choices - don’t start off on the wrong foot with them!

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