5 Tips for Writing your Personal Statement

By Moksha Agarwal 2021-07-22

Wakey wakey, UCAS applicant! I come bearing tips on writing a winning Personal Statement.

Tip 1: Hook the reader

“I remember when I was ten years old. After returning home from school, I would spend hours putting LEGO parts together to make a car.”

How do you feel? I, for one, am uninterested. The above sentence does not engage my senses, it does not make me curious, nor does it prompt me to think. In other words, it doesn’t hook me in. 

Why is it important to hook your reader? Because you only have 4000 characters (including spaces), i.e., about 620 words on average and your goal is to impress an admissions officer who is evaluating, let’s say, 50 applications everyday. That’s a lot of repetition. What they crave is freshness—something that excites and rejuvenates them. And while you must hold the reader’s attention throughout your Personal Statement, the opening is particularly meaningful as it sets the tone for your essay.

Here are three ways to elevate the impact of your opening:

  1. Ask a question: prompt the reader to think.

  2. Start with a quote: ignite the reader’s curiosity.

  3. Jump right in: engage the reader’s senses.

The first two are fairly easy to achieve, even though finding the perfect quote may take some time. The third one, on the other hand, is trickier. You need to stimulate your reader’s imagination, guide them as they create a mental image of what you are describing. If the situation involves multiple people, you may consider opening with a dialogue. If it’s just you, it’s important to describe the setting.

Let’s rephrase the sentence we began with: 

“I toss my bag onto the bed and pull out the bottom-right drawer of my teak wood study table. Inside is a glittering red LEGO box, containing the blocks and pieces that I will soon transform into a Ferrari 488 GTE.”

Much better, isn’t it? 

Tip 2: Avoid ambiguity

Once you’ve hooked the reader, the next step is to give them the right information. Be specific. Tell them what concepts you learned from a book, what your findings were from the research paper you wrote, and what was your precise task at that internship. It is helpful to pen the motivation, action, and learning (M-A-L) linked to each of your activities before you start writing your personal statement. You are good to go if you cover these three elements and sprinkle a bit of jargon—technical words, software, theoretical concepts, you get the drift. 

Tip 3: Establish solid connections

The next bit that many applicants struggle with is moving from one activity to another. Luckily, if you have your M-A-L in place, you can easily transition from ‘A’ to ‘B’. Your learnings from ‘A’ may reflect some gaps in knowledge that may be bridged in ‘B’. You can use that to establish a link between the two activities. Perhaps your findings from ‘A’ have led you to invest in ‘B’. You should mention that.

Tip 4: Curate a meta-theme

What’s a meta-theme? It’s an idea that binds your essay together. Most, if not all, of your activities contain traces of this theme—an unending desire to connect your discipline to something bigger than itself. Perhaps you find meaning in computer science as it allows you to make technologies that can help society. Maybe you really like sociology because you’re fascinated by the interconnectedness of our world. This meta-theme adds a layer of nuance to your essay and emphasizes your personal brand. For an admissions officer, it answers the most important question: why do you want to study a given subject?

Tip 5: Be Yourself

This is something that you’ve already heard in a million different ways from a million different people, including your parents, friends, teachers, maybe even relatives. I have nothing different to say when it comes to why being yourself is important but I’ll leave you with this piece of advice: if you read your personal statement and find a sentence that you think could be written by anyone else, delete it.