Ten Top Tips: The perfect personal statement

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Are you currently writing your personal statement to submit through UCAS? Here are 10 top tips on what to include or what not to include when you write it. 

1. Length – You only have 4000 characters – use them wisely. Don’t repeat information which is already on your application. You should look at your personal statement as an opportunity to elaborate on things that you were not able to express in other parts of your application. The personal statement is not a place for storytelling, but a way for you to show your interest in your chosen courses.

2. Structure – A well structured statement should include a strong opening and a powerful conclusion, backed up with supporting evidence, whilst displaying your personality. It’s good to use the essay structure you‘ve learned in class. Dividing your statement into a clear introduction, main point and conclusion will enhance your clarity. 

3. Language and Grammar – Ensure that the language you use is appropriate and grammar is correct because you wouldn’t want your application for History of Art and Archaeology to be confined to history through silly spelling mistakes. Ask a friend or family member to proofread before you submit. Additionally, there are several online websites that you can use for free to review your grammar – or even take advantage of the spelling checker inbuilt in Microsoft Word.

*Please note that this photo was taken pre-Covid-19

4. Clichés and Generalisation – Avoid them! The course you’re applying for also happens to be the ‘passion’ or ‘interest’ for 99% of the other applicants – This won’t stand out. If you’re thinking of starting off with that really philosophical quote: Don’t! This has been overused and most likely the person reading the statement will already have seen it in other applications. And speaking of overused opening lines, the three most commonly used opening lines in a Personal Statement were:  

  • “I have always been interested in…” (used 927 times),
  • “For as long as I can remember I have…” (used 1,451 times) 
  • “From a young age I have always been interested in/fascinated by…” (used 1,779 times) 

So try to stay away from using them, and rather find your own words to express your interest.

5. Breadth and Depth – Find the balance between the breadth and depth of the points you’re making. Volunteering at a care home or other extra-curricular activities are interesting, but a step-by-step account of your experiences might not wow the Admissions team. Try and select 3-4 points, which cover a range of areas, whilst allowing you to display your interest in good enough detail. 

6. Facts – Be careful about rolling off facts as the Admissions Tutor will probably already know them or has heard them before, and will only make your application feel tedious. 

7. Relevance – Make everything as relevant as possible and ask yourself “So what?” – including hobbies, work experience and volunteering, how do they link back to your chosen course? 

8. Show your interest – Do show your interest in the field – Expand your knowledge through podcasts, reading and online resources and mention potential career plans. The SOAS website has a great number of resources available at your hand. You can even start finding some of the academics at SOAS on Twitter or other platforms to see what type of work they are involved in. 

9. Referencing the Institution/Course – SOAS is a unique institution and we want to hear why you would be a perfect match – but that doesn’t mean that you need to name the University explicitly. You should be able to express that throughout your statement by explaining your specific interests. It would be great to choose SOAS but including the name of any institution in your personal statement won’t be a good move. Remember Admissions teams from various institutions will be reading your statement and you don’t want to close off other options just yet! 

10. Personal – This is YOUR personal statement, nobody else’s – so make sure it accurately reflects the type of person you are and your reasons for wanting to study your chosen field. It’s good to show your character by the end of the statement – you need to explain why SOAS should choose YOU specifically! 

Hope you found those 10 top tips useful and good luck with your application! SOAS awaits you.

Rut Einarsdóttir is a SOAS Digital Ambassador currently studying towards an MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development.

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