1) Spelling and grammar mistakes
You will have all heard the advice from your peers about showing your personal statement to trustworthy friends and family. It is also a good idea to have your statement seen by someone who can really make it sparkle. The biggest help I received when writing my personal statement was from my school librarian. She was able to make the statement much more interesting to read and help the overall flow. This is really helpful especially if the personal statement seems a bit like a list.
2) Print out your statement before submitting
You would have read your statement countless times on your laptop and think you know it inside out. However, reading a UCAS Personal Statement back as a living, printed document can really help you hone your eye for detail.
3) Making things up
We can all agree that the personal statement does involve a lot of selling yourself, but make sure you can back up what you are saying. A lot of medical school interviews will ask you about specific experiences or hobbies that you mention in your statement. These questions could test if you have knowledge around the subject or activity. For example, if you say you have a keen hobby for scuba diving, would you be able to describe what happens during ‘the bends’?
4) Keep it unique to you.
The interviewers will have seen hundreds of personal statements and interviewed dozens of students. Make sure your statement is as unique to you as possible. Stay truthful to your own ambitions. Don’t lose sight that this is a ‘personal’ statement, and should therefore be a reflection of you.
5) Avoid generalisations or clichés.
UCAS have published a list of the most overused opening statements (https://www.ucas.com/corporate/news-and-key-documents/news/ucas-shares-most-frequently-used-opening-lines-university). Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by copying these. I know it is tempting, but just don’t do it. Please.
6) Endlessly listing extracurricular activities
Extracurricular activities are an important part of your statement and demonstrate that you are an all-rounded student. Make sure that you tie these in with the overall narrative of your statement, rather than just listing them out of context. Saying ‘I captained my school football team’ means nothing to the interviewer if you do not explain it in the context of your personal statement. When writing your statement, be sure to include the activities that can demonstrate your soft skills. What did you learn from doing this particular activity? Will it set you apart in your overall application? If the answer is no, then it is best not putting it in.
7) Refer to extra reading
If you have been particularly struck by an academic book or essay related to the subject, it may be a good idea to write a few lines about it. It does not need to say much, but writing a little bit about why you found it particularly interesting/surprising will give the reader an insight into how you think. This is also a good way to move interview topics towards an area you know about or are interested in, and that can only be a good thing!
The personal statement is not the be-all and end-all for your application, but it can be a useful tool to show that you are one to watch. There is no perfect personal statement and ultimately it comes down to your own personal experiences and motivation for applying to the particular degree. Submitting a personal statement is an achievement in itself. Do remember to read back over what you have included in your statement and be proud of what you have achieved up to now.
Brian Wang MA (Cantab) AFHEA PHDMAcadMEd
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