Writing Your Personal Statement

Okay, so this is what anyone who’s actively been following this uni series has been waiting for (not that there are any of you) since the beginning.

By far the most daunting part of any application, not just when applying for University, but throughout all of life. Schools, colleges, jobs, anything. The bit where you have to actually *shudder* write about yourself… in a nice way

It is scary, I’ll admit. But, as someone who’s never had much trouble bullshitting my way through life, I hope I can provide some insight.

As some may know, I have been through the entire UCAS process previously, so I have written a UCAS personal statement in the past. And (not to brag), but I did manage to get offers for each and every university and course that I applied for. So… you should probably listen to me. You know, if you want…

1. Research Your Arse Off

Literally just Google the words “UCAS Personal Statement examples” and you might as well be good to go. Well, in an ideal world you would be. But seriously, looking at examples of students past and present, reading help guides online, looking at the UCAS website and, of course, reading this post one million times.

Think about it this way: you cannot possibly know where to begin if you’ve never seen a personal statement before in your natural life (or unnatural, I ‘spose). So know what you’re getting into. Find out what’s worked for others, what hasn’t. Find examples you like, and styles of writing that you feel really reflect you and who you are, and where you want to be.

Think about the Universities you’re applying for. Are they super-posh and scary Oxbridge places? Then maybe all those jokes about you in Year seven aren’t such a good idea. But if you’re aiming for creative courses and more liberal universities, then switch it up a bit. Maybe take a chance on your style, and hope for the best.

2. Plan, Plan, Plan

And here, my favourite activity finally comes into good use in an advice post…

Make lists. Make a list of what you want to include in your personal statement. Make a list of the qualities you have (or at least, the qualities you should have) that match your chosen course and Univerisity. Make a list of your previous relevant experience, and even previous irrelevant experience. Make a list of goddamn everything that could be useful to you when writing your statement. The literal worst thing is when you’ve finally got everything to the perfect word count, everything is absolutely perfect, and then you remember that you didn’t include your relevant work experience, but you actually did include That Random Award You Won for Participation in Year 3 Sport’s Day.

3. Beware the Word Limit

This is probably the most obvious tip in the world ever, but honestly it’s the biggest. UCAS will not let you submit your personal statement if it exceeds the strict character/line limit.

Familiarise yourself with this limit. Learn the limit. Love the limit. Be the limit. I’m serious.

When I was writing my statement drafts (so many drafts – more on this in a second), I constantly had to be keeping in mind this character limit, and working around it. If you forgot that you had a particular experience or skill and want to include it, but you’ve already hit the word limit, be prepared to scrimp on those fancy words you prided yourself on.

Be liberal. Take your favourite/most powerful phrases and keep them, but lose all the faff. You don’t need it. You need to create a big impression, in a short space.

4. Be Different

Obviously, you know this one. If your personal statement reads just the same as every other fucker’s personal statement then it will be skimmed over, and you will fall short of that place.

You want to stand out, obviously. But – again obviously – you don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons. Be different. Be interesting. Find a first sentence (and this is crucial) that grabs that admissions person by the eyeballs and makes them desperately want to read the rest.

If you’re going for a particularly creative course – for example Creative Writing – then maybe set your statement out like a fictional story. Or Journalism – set it out like a news piece. Or even a script, or address the person reading directly. Work with the cliches, and go above and beyond them. Don’t say the dreaded “Ever since I was born I’ve wanted to be a Dentist” or something stupid like that. Get a good momentum of a fab first sentence, then carry on through.

Also, make sure to end with the Best Sentence Ever Written. No point making the first part of your statement sound like Charles Dickens wrote it on a good day, and then ending with “Hope you want to have me on your course. xo” – again, the best thing for this is

5. Breaks & Second Opinions

Take breaks from your work. If you try and write this all within one huge, Redbull-fuelled-3am-why-am-I-doing-this Night of Terror, and then send it off – you will die. Literally. Do not do this. Do this, sure, but do not send it off. Write it when you have the mojo, and read it back over when you have it again. Take your time, and take breaks.

Linked to this, when you’re having a break, make sure to ask others check your work, and don’t just leave it up to yourself. Please.

Get your mum to check it, your teachers, your aunts, your uncles, your siblings, your dog. Because while the ideas and content of your statement might be amazing (which I’m sure it will be), and creative and fantastic, there could be any number of silly little spelling or grammar mistakes that you just didn’t catch, because you’ve been staring at this piece of writing for seventy five years. Also, spell check will only go so far. So make sure you’re constantly reviewing the written English of your piece.

6. Check, and Check Again (and again)

You might think that your statement is perfect. That it is the most incredible piece of literature since sliced bread (or some other great piece of literature), and that no one in the entire world has ever, ever, ever written anything as immaculate as this.

You might be right. But then again, you could have written the world “public” as “pubic, and you might as well just give up and buy a dishwasher for your mum, so you can use the box to live in.

I’m kidding, but seriously that would be embarrassing. So for the love of sliced bread, check your work one thousand million times before you send it off. 

Trust me, there’s no bigger turn off than bad grammar and English. (And that doesn’t just apply to UCAS, if you know what I mean…)

Aaand, there you have it. My Personal Statement tips. If you need any extra help, and want to see an example (by me, because I am clearly the best at everything) (kidding), then I will put my previous UCAS personal statement in the comments. (Which landed me five conditional places, just saying).

Good luck guys, if you have any more questions don’t hesitate to ask in the comments, and let me know how your applications are going. Stay tuned for more!

Til next time,

Jess

 

Starting Your UCAS Application

And so it begins.

You’ve had a look around. Had a think. Had more of a think. Add on seventy five more years of thinking, and now you’re here. At this point. Starting your UCAS application. 

First of all, don’t panic. As tempting as it is. Do. Not. Panic. You’re still not actually at the scary bit, believe it or not. There’s way more to come, don’t you worry.

In all seriousness, it’s okay. Even if you haven’t thought about all this as much as you think you should have, that’s okay. For now, you can just go with it and hope for the best.

The first step of this, really, would be to go to the UCAS website. But, to be honest, this you should already know. If you’re an A Level/Level 3 student currently (or equivalent, sorry Scotland) then your teachers will have been pushing that site down your throat for the past few months. So you know what it is. If you’re a person on a gap year/full-time work/whatever else, then you might not be as familiar with UCAS as you would like.

In the coming month(s), I will be providing you all with a Full Comprehensive UCAS Guide (although I’ll be naming it something different… that one wasn’t too catchy, was it?) so keep your eyes peeled for that. And don’t worry, it will absolutely be out way before the deadlines hit.

DISCLAIMER: If you are applying for medical-based courses, or to extremely prestigious universities such as Oxbridge, your deadlines might be sooner than you think! PLEASE go and inform yourself and get on your applications IMMEDIATELY if you haven’t already. DO NOT SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU. 

Anyway, now that bit’s out the way, focusing back on us average lot, aiming for the not-so-clever courses (I’m kidding). For the rest of the average-Joe lot, you need to create a UCAS account. Right now. Immediately. So you don’t forget.

You’ll then be supplied with your UCAS login name (which will be randomly assigned to you) it will incorporate some aspect of your first and last names and then a number. DO NOT LOSE THIS. Nothing awful will happen, it’ll just be a bloody hassle to find your login again. And I’d recommend just using your same-old password for your UCAS (we all have them, don’t lie to me), and you’ll receive a confirmation email, yadda yadda yadda. Done? All finished? Awesome.

Now the only other thing I want you to do for now is to explore the Track portal. That’s the thing you come onto that has all the things for your application, looks a little something like this:

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Rather than jumping right in and filling out every single thing you can at this given moment (which is what I did last year), just have a peruse, take a look at the types of info you need, what you know by heart, what you need to dig up, and what you need to work on. Maybe start making notes on each thing that you need to remember, e.g. get your passport out, ask your teachers about how their references work, etc.Trust me, as much as you want to go and get it all done as soon as humanly possible – or at least, the boring bits like your Personal Details – you cannot rush any of this. Take your time, and more importantly, Manage Your Time. You’ve got plenty of it.

Look out for more posts in the uni series coming very soon, and also look out for Sundays’s upcoming post, something a little different this time! Thanks for reading,

Jess

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What to Look For at a University Open Day

And we’re back again, with my (probably not at all) eagerly anticipated ‘Applying for University’ series.

At this point, you’ve been back at school for about a month now, and all your teachers are up your arse about getting your UCAS started. And trust me, there will be more posts about that process very soon. I will not leave you just as the hard bit starts, I promise!

My advice for this point in time, would be to create your UCAS logins. That’s it. Go onto the UCAS site, take a look around at all the articles (they’ll be a lot more helpful than mine, I guarantee you), and get your logins sorted. You don’t have to start the application process; you don’t even have to think about it yet. But definitely make use of the resources available to you. Every single piece of information you can get from sources like UCAS (you know, the legit ones) are invaluable, and can help you to the Nth degree. So that’s my first piece of advice.

But the actual purpose of this particular post was to give you some advice about open days. In my last Uni Series post, I told you to start researching potential unis that you might be interested in, using things like league tables and just taking a look at different University’s websites. From these sites you’ve probably seen a lot of adverts for open days.

Please go to open days.

Obviously, it’s not always possible. And if you’re looking to move to the other side of the country, then it might not be the most convenient option to just go gallivanting off (great word) for the week. So, try to go to as many open days as possible. And, as many are held on Saturdays (and a lot of people looking to attend University probably work on weekends) try and work around your own schedule. Some unis offer ‘Guided Tours’, which aren’t open days necessarily, but are times during the week that you can visit and have a look around on your own, whenever you’re free.

Try to go to open days that you feel you really want to get a feel of. Some unis have Virtual Tours on their websites, or live webinars you can watch, as well as YouTube videos about the uni, so if there is really no way to get there, you can still get a sense of the place through these.

It’s really just about your own personal preference, whether you want to go and be surrounded by hundreds of other people in the same boat, or if you’re more nervous in these situations, then trying to find a way to take a look of a school that fits best for you.

However, the only reason I recommend going to Open Days above all else, is that they are simply the best way to see how life works around that particular place. And, when you’re at these open days, here are some of the main factors that you should be looking out for:

  • The atmosphere/location of the Uni. Is it city-based? Or a bit more quiet? Does that suit your lifestyle/personality?
  • What are the students like (and not just the student ambassadors that show you around, because they’re being paid to be there, but try striking up conversation with any random student you see, they’ll give you a real answer).
  • What are the staff like? Do you think you’d get on?
  • Do the facilities available look of a high standard for your chosen course? (Especially if you’re doing a science, media or sports-based degree)
  • Does the course look interesting, and suitable for you?
  • What is the accommodation like? Does the uni offer different types of accommodation, that would suit you more than halls, for example student houses for first years, or single-occupancy studio flats?
  • What is the current level of student satisfaction? (Can also be found online here)
  • Transportation allowances: are you allowed to take your car? Is there a free student bus service? Is everything close together or will you need to find a way around?)
  • Are there nearby places that you could find a part-time job, if you are planning on looking for one?
  • If you have specific dietary/lifestyle/disability/religious requirements, are your needs met by the university if requested?

Alternatively, possibly an even better way to check out a school, would be to stay there for a day or two, with someone who actually goes there. Last year, when I was looking at Universities, I considered going to Brighton. A few weeks earlier, one of my cousins had started at that Uni to study Aeronautical Engineering. I mean, it was absolutely not what I wanted to study, so he couldn’t really help me there, but I got to go to his shared house, meet some of his friends, check out the area, and see what student life is like on a quiet night (because we all know what it’s like on a messy one). Then the next day I went on a guided tour, got to see the facilities, and meet staff and students.

Unfortunately, (obviously), I didn’t end up having the best time at the open day, and Brighton didn’t end up being one of my final choices. However, that experience was unbeatable, and really gave me the best chance to look around, in a way that wasn’t just student ambassadors shoving me around and staff giving me weird smiles to try and get me to attend. I got to see what life there is like through an actual student’s perspective. Which was really cool.

Obviously, this whole thing is bloody scary. It’s absolutely freaking terrifying, and I understand. But taking it one step at a time is the best thing to do at this point. Try not to overthink it, because there’s probably a lot going on at school and stuff at the minute, and I promise it will all be fine!

Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it…

Thanks for reading, and look forward to the next post in this series (hopefully) next week!

Jess

 

The Ever-Looming Present

My past month, while settling back into college life and studying and getting my head round the fact that this is my last year of necessary education – ever, has been filled with one thing. UNIVERSITY.
Ah yes, the word that sends jolts of fear through everyone in education under the age of 18 in most countries across the globe. The dreaded word that means applications, open days, decisions, money, and most importantly, the future.
As this is, indeed, my last year in compulsory education – and I do plan on going to university – the beginning few months of this academic year will be filled with such terrors. (Good thing Halloween is coming up, I’ll just go as a UCAS application…) I have already began my application, put down my choices (though who actually knows if they are the right choices for me. We’ll find out in a few years.) and am currently in the midst of writing my personal statement. By far the worst part of this entrire process. The part that can be make or break. The decider.
For those who do not know, UCAS is the University and Colleges Admission Service, a UK charity that sorts out all your uni stuff, basically. It’s where your applications go, and where you’ll get your offers from, should you get any. And the personal statement is a long-ass piece of writing that all the univeristies you have applied to will look at, and thus decide whether or not you are suitable/good enough/worthy of their education for the next 3 years (on average). And I’ll tell you… it’s bloody terrifying.
And, like the rest of life, it doesn’t slow down at any point. As much as myself and the rest of my peers would love for the world to just calm down, chill for a bit, take a break and have a cuppa, it does not. Because it’s cruel like that. And it just keeps coming at you, like a puppy that wants to play. You know, one of those ones that never gets tired? Yeah.
So if you couldn’t guess, everyone here in the UK (not sure about anywhere else, I don’t live there) under the age of 18 who is looking to get an undergrad degree next year is, in a word, shitting themselves. Excuse my French.
Actually no, at this moment I know a few people that have already recieved offers from their first choice universities. Which is amazing, don’t get me wrong. That’s somethingto be proud of, really. And Lord save the souls of the OxBridge or medical students who have to complete their applications by… well… now. Hats off to them. I, however, am still trying to get my head around how I’m supposed to ask a teacher I’ve never met to write my reference.
I will most likely be doing updates on this sort of process and maybe doing some advice-posts after the process is finished for future applicants. But until then… wish me luck!