Uni Life: Top Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Personal Statement for University
Seems a bit early to be looking at a personal statement, right? WRONG! It’s never too early to prepare your personal statement. In fact, the sooner you get this prepared and ready to go, the better! It’ll make your UCAS (if you are U.K & N.I based) such an easy process, instead of the stressful, confusing, nerve-racking process that it is for most students.
When I applied to QUB through UCAS back when I was hoping to be a Social Worker, and even more recently when I applied to QUB through UCAS to study for my Psychology degree, I had prepped my personal statement from the evening I decided I was going to apply for university. I am overkill when it comes to this sort of stuff, I like to be super- organised. Let’s be honest, it’s just so I can procrastinate with the rest of my time.
Mistakes to Avoid in Your Personal Statement
So, what are the top mistakes you should avoid when writing up your personal statement? Hopefully what I am about to talk about next will help answer that question.
1. Don’t Be Apathetic!
The last thing anyone wants to see/read in a personal statement is someone who just completely apathetic about their chosen university, or topic of study. It is so crucial that you portray yourself as someone who is engaged, energetic, loves a challenge and is an individual that deserves the opportunity to “knock em’ dead” in your chosen route of study. Make sure your personality comes out in your personal statement, ensure it’s optimistic, upbeat and portrays how you will encompass all your amazing traits into your chosen method of study.
2. Other People
I don’t mean in terms of your favourite psychologist, I mean your brother’s girlfriend’s, aunt’s sister’s husband’s granny had a degree in psychology, but she was totally crap at her job so you decided to become a psychologist to show her how it’s done. We know you’ll show said granny how it’s done, by kicking butt and getting high marks. The person reading your application wants to know about YOU and YOUR qualifications. Make it all about YOU!
Remember this is your chance to shine and show them how it’s done!
3. ‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.’
A personal statement isn’t like attending a confessional, or if like me your Protestant church. Religion has no place in your personal statement, it’s also no place to confess your deep, dark secrets or heartfelt apologies. It’s a place to write an intentional, thought-provoking piece on your academic and professional goals. You need to focus on those, just avoid any irrelevant material. Remember, you don’t have a lot of words to play with here, so keep it to the point and be precise.
4. Sex, drugs and good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll
Speaking of not confessing, probably best to leave out any mention of your promiscuity, partying, drug exploits or anything else you may dabble in whether it be legal or illegal (obey the law, kids). These have nothing to do with your education, most of you are probably reading this and are like, “Well duh!” Would you believe I actually know of at least a handful of people that have written in their personal statements how much they like a good party sesh at the weekend? Being a student, it goes without saying there will be some party antics and if you’re single and not waiting for “The One” some sexy times. Your future educators do not need to know what pool you dip your toe into if you get where I’m going with this.
5. Repetitive Information
You’ve completed your UCAS application, you’re feeling super good about yourself as you write your personal statement, you’re thinking, “I’ve got this!” As you proceed to list every single thing you just put in the application section of UCAS. Don’t repeat yourself, don’t give the same information you were already asked for in a previous section. Don’t do this, not only is it a waste of your time, but it’s the waste of the educator’s. This is why they include certain questions at the beginning so that you don’t need to waste the precious word count on it. Focus on key information like voluntary work, special projects you may have completed and any additional courses or training you’ve undertaken. For example, First Aid, Duke of Edinburgh awards, Scouts, GB and if you’ve been fortunate enough to go abroad and help those less fortunate.
6. Don’t be a Cliché, they are the WORST
So many budding students fail to realise that the clichéd approach, just isn’t the way to go. What do I mean by this? Well, silly, and outright cringe-worthy metaphors about ‘hitting the jackpot’, or ‘winning the big game’. The absolute worst thing you can do is include a quotation that will make the reader cringe so hard they break a tooth. Can you imagine reading a statement where someone refers themselves to a ‘diamond in the rough?’ Vomit! When I was having complete writer’s block when writing my personal statement for my psychology personal statement for QUB last year, I did what tonnes of students have done before me, I Googled, “Psychology Personal Statements”. I kid you not, 10 of the 30 something I read for inspiration had the exact same quote at the beginning of their statement. What was that quote? Why this of course…
‘As Thomas Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” But even Thomas Edison made fantastic discoveries, which changed his life and this world forever, and by reading this personal statement you are doing the same.’ – Firstly, never start a sentence with BUT and secondly NO. Just… NO.
7. It Ain’t about the Money, Honey!
No doubt you’ve done your homework about your chosen career path. Most people do, there’s no use getting into a tonne of student debt with no way of getting out of it eventually by succeeding in your chosen career. A lot of students take a look at the going rate for qualified – insert job title here -.
Most of us aren’t in it for the money, for example, I chose psychology because of what happened to me as a kid. I want to be able to try to stop that from happening to any other child, or if I can’t stop it, the least I can do is be qualified to the gills enough that it won’t have the lasting impact it’s had on me. Have I looked at the going rate for a qualified psychologist? Of course! Am I happy? Well, it’s more money than I’m making now, that’s for sure!
The worst thing you can do is mention you are just in it for the money. To be honest, I’d understand if it was a job, but three plus years of studying purely for the money? No, that’s foolish. Don’t include any mention of it in your statement, this also includes wanting a student loan so you can buy your dream gaming system, clothes, or those Jimmy Choos you’ve been drooling over for what feels like forever. It’s guaranteed to get you a big, juicy rejection letter from your chosen university.
8. Dot Your “I’s” and Cross Your “T’s”
I get it, you aren’t applying for a degree in English Language, so why should it matter? Well, you are applying to a university and it’s sort of a given that you check your spelling and grammar. Don’t just write the personal statement and click submit as tempting as that might be. I know the overwhelming feeling of just wanting it gone, the frustration of having to double, no triple check your grammar. I’ve stared at a word so long that even though I have checked the spelling, it still looks like it has been spelt wrong. We’ve all been there!
However, there’s absolutely no need for there to be any errors in spelling or grammar, especially not in your personal statement. It’s probably the most important statement you will ever write, next to wedding vows or a best man/chief bridesmaid/parent of the bride/groom speeches. If you are like me, you’ll write up your personal statement in Microsoft Word, first. It’s just a matter of changing the dictionary within the program to match your native tongue (for us English speakers it would be a choice between English U.K. and US English).
In fact, ever heard of Grammarly? I’m currently finishing off my first novel, and I honestly do not know what I would have done without Grammarly. It’s at the point now where I have it EVERYWHERE. Even on my phone! I literally use Grammarly when texting, overkill? Yes, it is, I am aware I have issues, but there is absolutely nothing better than starting with 8 grammatical errors which are highlighted for you and all you have to do is click them. To finishing off an important essay, chapter, or in this case, personal statement, and having Grammarly give you a pat on the back when there is a big shiny 0 errors. It’s such a nice achievement and a huge relief, one less thing to worry about. It’s the little things that make you happy people, it’s the little things!
9. Liar, liar, pants on fire!
It’s sad that as we ended 2018 and entered 2019 that there were so many people that were living the “Insta perfect life”. We all know it’s an exaggeration and no-one’s life (not even Kim Kardashian West) is THAT perfect. Whatever happened to being funky and unique? The same goes for your personal statement, your future admissions team don’t give a damn about how perfect your Instagram is, or that your Twitter following is 5,000. None of that will get you into university.
Don’t blag your way to a spot, be honest and be transparent. Even if what you deem to be little white lies aren’t caught by those reading the statement, you can trust and believe that they’ll come out in the interview process or you’ll be caught out at some point. No one likes a liar, and why would you want to crap on yourself like that? Unless you are a complete narcissist then you’re going to feel really bad/guilty for lying and doing someone else out of a deserving spot on a degree, or as some people like to say, “exaggerating the truth”. Just remember what happened to poor Pinocchio and I don’t mean his nose growing bigger than the average length of a man’s manhood.
10. “Here bes me whaaaa?!”
I know this probably goes without saying, but don’t use slang or swear words in your personal statement! You can show emotion without dropping the “F-bomb” every four sentences. Every town or place has their own little slang terms, take Belfast for instance, we’ve tonnes! “Here bes me whaaaa?!” Is one of too many to write here, but I can pretty much guarantee not a single university student in QUB or UU dropped any sort of slang or “F-bomb” in their personal statements.
11. “Don’t be such a Negative Nancy!”
There have been people I have known in the past, or my friends have known, who really is just one of those people. They’re just negative all the time, everything is someone else’s fault. I remember a friend telling me that one of the girls she went to school with had posted a Facebook rant, she’d failed to secure a place in university and thought she had it in the bag because she’d complained about her last university. Why on Earth did she think that would be a good idea? I’m sure there is some competitiveness with universities in terms of scores and high ranking alumni, but I very much doubt that bad-mouthing another university would ever help improve your chances of getting a spot.
12. “You are one Arrogant, Motherf…ker!”
This pretty much goes hand in hand with being negative. It’s key to big up your experience and skills in your personal statement, if you didn’t ‘sell‘ yourself then you may as well have wiped your butt with what you have written. However, there is a clear line between being positive and marketing yourself to the reader and being a complete obnoxious and dis-ambiguous individual. Narcissists are excellent at being both obnoxious and arrogant.
13. The Autobiography
This is something I am terrible for when it comes to writing. I get way too absorbed in the details and the next thing you know it’s 10,000 words in and I haven’t even begun to answer the question, or talked about the topic I am writing about. It as something I had to be so mindful of when writing my personal statement for QUB. As a writer, though, it’s a good skill to have.
Remember you have a word count limit, they are so strict with the limit, too so be super careful. Yes, they want to know details about you, but there’s no need to overshare in this instance. For example, they don’t need to know why you walk about in the nude with your blinds and curtains open. However, they do want to know if you are part of any (fully clothed) clubs or groups.
One of my fellow bloggers and one of my faves, made a very good point about word count. You can see it in the comments below. However, I said I would include it here as it is an important one. The word count is 4000 characters including spaces. It is 4000 characters for a reason. Full credit to Phigella for this.
14. “When I Grow Up, I’m Going to Become Superman”
Writing that you want to ‘save the world’ or ‘make a difference’ is not compelling messaging in the personal statement. Provide specific detailed information on your educational and professional goals. As much as we would all love to have superpowers, or to save the world, it’s not what the university is looking for. They are looking for facts, cold, hard, facts. Give them the facts and stick to the facts and what the personal statement is about, getting you into university.
15. Humour and Hilarity
I love a good laugh as much as the next comedian and as my followers know I love to crack jokes and share banter, especially on Twitter! However, REMEMBER YOUR AUDIENCE!
Whilst I might love jokes that are a bit on the dark or risque side, it doesn’t mean the person reading your personal statement will, and there is nothing worse than a joke that doesn’t land. #cringe
I’m looking forward to seeing some #cringeworthy jokes the comments below!
16. What is This Utter Shoite?
Basically, in a nutshell, don’t stray from your essay by talking about how you are teaching your pet hamster how to hula-hoop. It has nothing to do with why you have chosen to study Economics. Keep to the point!
Charity work is important, hobbies or interests that link to your studies are important. That one time you tried to put a cucumber up your butt in the name of science, isn’t!
17. Don’t Over Compensate with BIG Words
It’s understandable that you want to come across like the intelligent person that you are, especially in your chosen degree. Although for some people that can come across as showing off and if you are using complex terminology but fail to use it correctly, it won’t come across very well and you’ll look a bit daft. Again, it’s about knowing your audience.
Your area of academic interest is very important – why else would you want to pursue it? – but lecturing others on it isn’t likely to be effective. Address your topic in a dynamic, personal way that demonstrates your interest in it. Don’t lecture, the lecturer’s on what they plan to lecture you on. Capishe?
19. Beggin’, Beggin’ You
Don’t beg for a university to give you a place. I’ve heard horror stories about students that have begged a university to give them a space in their chosen major. One or two of the stories have included students threatening to end their lives if they don’t get a place, or their parents disowning them. Neither of these are reasons for giving someone a university place and the individual’s that have written said statements should perhaps look into some form of counselling and/or therapy.
20. Be Respectful
Even if it isn’t your time, this time around, be respectful. You never know what may happen in the future, people withdraw applications all the time and it could be you were next on the list. If you aren’t selected there is no point in sending a shitty email to the university about how unfair it is, or just being outright rude.
With that being said, if you feel you have been discriminated against then do take the necessary steps through the universities complaints procedure. You can find this on the majority of their websites, or either email/call the university and ask them to email you the policy.
So there you have it, everyone, I hope this has helped even a little bit. It’s always good to plan ahead and have at least a draft done as application time comes in way too quickly!
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