Writing a personal statement can be a daunting process. However, it’s important not to rush your drafting, and have time to consider it in full. So start the process as early as you can and don’t be afraid. By following a few key tips, writing your statement can be relatively stress-free!
1. Be honest
Never tell a lie on your personal statement. What may seem like a “stretch” when you first write it can come back to haunt you when you are sitting in an interview and it turns out you haven’t really read that book! Remember, if you are applying to study law, most universities will not expect you to have studied the subject before, so it is unlikely that you will have to meet too many specific criteria. All candidates will have different strengths – it is important to highlight yours and to set yourself apart from others, but only in a way that is truthful.
Look at any criteria for the courses you are applying for and set out clearly how you meet those criteria. If you are applying to Oxbridge, look at the criteria for that university. For a law course, consider how your A-levels are relevant for your degree – instead of just saying what you have learnt in class, talk about the skills your subjects have helped you develop and why they are relevant for studying law. If you participate in a number of different extra-curricular activities, focus on those that show skills and interests relevant for your degree or which show characteristics you wish to demonstrate (for example leadership skills developed as a sports team captain, debating skills developed in your school debating team, or teamwork demonstrated through your Duke of Edinburgh).
When putting together your first draft, include everything that you think may be useful: even if this makes your statement too long. Once you have everything down in writing, it will be easier to reassess and decide what should stay and what should go.
3. Show passion and desire
Tutors will want to see that you are committed to your chosen subject, so be clear why you want to study it. There is no “right” answer for this, but it is important to show a genuine interest. For law, it will always help if you can discuss any legal work experience. When referencing work experience don’t focus too much on what you did – an example of the most interesting piece of work you participated in is good, but also explain why it confirmed your plan to apply for law.
“When referencing work experience don’t focus too much on what you did, but explain why it confirmed your plan to apply for law”
It is also possible to show passion and desire for your subject in other ways; by outlining why the subject interests you, experiences from your life that are relevant (for example if you have experience of living overseas and a different legal system that contrasts with the UK, or have helped in relevant community or school projects or have experienced the law through attending protests), further reading or relevant extra-curriciular activities (for example debating clubs, mooting or Model United Nations). If, for example, you have a specific interest in human rights, jurisprudence or land law, explain what it is about this subject that interests you. Life experiences will help to bring your statement to life.
4. Tell a story
Remember that tutors are going to read a lot of different statements, and they are likely to remember those that they enjoy. It will help if you ensure your statement has a strong structure and direction, almost as if you were telling a story. If possible, link your different paragraphs together. For example, If you start by explaining why you are interested in studying law, you can develop this by then discussing how your school subjects, work or life experience have strengthened this interest, and then why you think you have the skills to do well in the subject. By approaching your draft with a planned structure, your statement will read well and you should ensure you include everything relevant.
5. Have a plan to stand out
Many sample personal statements that you see will begin with a punchy start, possibly an interesting quote, to grab the reader’s attention. This can be good, although always ensure it is relevant, appropriate and supported by the rest of your statement. Such an introduction isn’t however a necessity. You should also consider highlighting those things that will help you stand out; language abilities, schools awards, positions of responsibility, community work. There are many things that make you who you are: try and give the reader a sense of who you are while highlighting your key academic and non-academic achievements. Remember, even if you are applying to Oxbridge, your statement will be read by others who will have a greater interest in your non-academic abilities and interests.
6. Proof-read (and double proof-read) your Personal Statement (and then get somebody else to proof-read it)
Your Personal Statement is a chance to show your writing ability, and so make sure that you produce the best piece of written work you can. It isn’t just what you say, but how you say it. Poor punctuation, grammar or spelling can undermine what is otherwise an excellent personal statement. Remember that once you have read a document a number of times, it can be hard to spot the mistakes – so ask a family member, good friend or teacher to check it too.
7. Applying to Oxbridge
An application to Oxbridge requires a greater focus on your academic achievements than other universities. This can be done following the same advice above, but choose more of your academic based achievements than others to highlight.