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What to Avoid and What to Include in Your Personal Statement

Each personal statement should be unique. However, there are certain recommendations that may help writing personal statement and get the attention of the admission tutors. In this article, you will learn ten things that will help you create a winning personal statement and other ten things that you should avoid when writing this document.    

10 Things Not to Include in Your Personal Statement

1. Quotations

The tutors want to hear your voice and opinion – not the voice of a famous scholar, actor, or artist. Therefore, you should not put the quotes in your text unless they are really necessary to support a crucial point since it will be a waste of your word count.

2. Random lists

You should avoid creating a list of all the companies you have worked for, all the books you have read, and all the countries you have visited. Firstly, such lists are boring to read. Secondly, what really matters is not what you have done, but rather what experience you have got and what lessons you have learned. You will make your statement much more impressive if you properly demonstrate your experience and skills.

3. Overused clichés

You will never stand out from the crowd of other applicants if your statement is full of phrases, such as “I have a thirst for knowledge,” “since I was a child,” and “I’ve always been fascinated by.” Such phrases are usually found in hundreds of personal statements, and they don’t really say a lot. 

4. Being too generic and making unproven claims

You should also avoid sweeping statements, such as “My achievements are vast” or “I firmly believe I am a highly motivated person.” What you should do, if you want to demonstrate your achievements and motivation, is provide the specific examples and evidence.

5. Excessive use of the word “passion”

The word “passion” and its derivatives are extremely overused. You may try to express your passion using some other words or specific examples.

6. Stilted vocabulary

Some words and phrases may sound somewhat artificial and fake. The phrases, such as “I was enthralled by” or “it fuelled my desire” may be all right for a fictional story, but will be definitely inappropriate in your personal statement.

If you don’t use a certain phrase in a day-to-day discussion, you should avoid using it in your statement. Do not be too humble and always try to provide impressive evidence.

7. Plagiarism, lies, or exaggeration

Be sure that if you have copied anything from another source, this fact will inevitably be revealed. Everyone can use plagiarism detection software, and the admission tutors are no exception.

Furthermore, if you don’t have certain skills or knowledge, you should never claim that you have them. If you have read only one chapter of a certain book, do not say that you have read an entire book. If you have just started learning Chinese, do not say that you can speak it fluently. Otherwise, you risk being caught out at a university interview or elsewhere.

8. Trying to sound funny

Although the humor and informality can be effective in the appropriate context, using it is risky and requires an especially careful approach. Some tutors say that including humor in the personal statements can be impressively good or extremely bad as you can never be sure that the admission tutor will appreciate your sense of humor.

People perceive humorous and informal style differently. If your readers think that your humor sounds weird, they would hardly agree with the point you are making.

9. Negative comments or excuses

For some people, it is rather difficult to “sell themselves.” Such people may not know on which facts they should concentrate to make their statement more convincing.

What you should not do, is telling about what you haven’t accomplished and why. You should always focus on a positive perspective and present your achievements.  

10. Irrelevant personal information

You may have dozens of hobbies, but it does not mean you have to write about all the school trips, baseball games, and dancing contests you have participated in. Every fact you plan to include in your personal statement should be carefully assessed: does it really make a contribution to your statement and helps convince the admission tutors that you should be admitted to the course? If it does not, then it should be left out.

10 Things to Include in Your Personal Statement

In this section, you will get even more help writing personal statement.  

Here we will present ten things that the admission tutors usually expect to find in the personal statements. These are the things that will help you get noticed regardless of the subject you want to study. Remember that every phrase that you write may become a determining factor in the choice between you and another candidate.

1. Explain the reasons why you want to study the course

What is your basic motivation to take this course? You should explain how your interest in this subject has developed, what you have already learned in this field, what has inspired you to continue your studies, and whether you already have any achievements in this field. Be enthusiastic when describing your interests and demonstrate your willingness to learn more. However, you should remember to be specific from the very first line.

2. Explain why you are the right person for the course

You should provide solid evidence that you fit the bill. It includes not only matching the selection criteria but also having a deep understanding of what the course will involve and your readiness and willingness to accept the challenge.

The admission tutors seek candidates that have done a certain research and know very well why they need to do the course. A determined person that has clear purposes is very likely to be favored over the one that is just wandering around.  

Apart from this, you can also show your personality and your individual skills that will help you during your studies. However, you should avoid any vague and unproven statements. If you want to demonstrate how confident and responsible you are, provide specific examples of how you convinced your audience to accept your point of view, or how successfully you overcame the obstacles in order to do something you promised.

3. Tell about your achievements outside the classroom

If possible, you should describe how you have pursued your interest in the chosen subject beyond your current syllabus.

For instance, you can mention a wide range of literature you have read on the subject and outline your reflective opinions or critical views about it. You may have studied books, periodicals, scientific journals, and websites; watched films; attended trainings, seminars, and other activities in the field. It will be a substantial advantage if you include these things in your personal statement.

However, you should avoid speaking about more extensive reading that is too popular. Instead of making you stand out, it will put you down into a huge list of the other applicants.

4. Why your achievements are relevant to your course

To continue the previous point, you should provide a direct link between your experiences and your interest in the subject. Explain what you have done, which lessons you have learned, and how these things triggered or supported your interest. Such activities may include summer schools; volunteering; visiting the galleries, museums, or theaters; your work experience; travels or competitions.

These experiences may and should vary from one candidate to another, but one of the main things is that they do not necessarily need to be fancy. You should just state them as they are, without trying to impress your readers with your creativity. Your achievements, if presented properly, will speak for themselves.  

5. Why your achievements are relevant to the career you have chosen

Your personal understanding of the skills required for the profession you have chosen is very important. Furthermore, your understanding should be consistent with the experiences you have already obtained and the viewpoints you have formed.

You should not just describe your experience, but rather reflect on it. It is a career you are planning, so you should demonstrate a deep understanding of what you have already observed in this regard. You may talk about the ways you obtained your knowledge concerning the chosen profession and explain how your experience helped you develop the required skills.

If you manage to prove to the readers that you have consistently moved toward your goal and that your experience and skills are relevant, your chances for the admission will substantially increase.  

6. If you can demonstrate any transferable skills, you should do it

All the skills that may help you become a successful student, learn effectively, and become an efficient team member are likely to be favored by the admissions tutors. If you are able to work independently, be a great team player and a team leader, plan your time and solve the problems efficiently, you should tell it to your readers.  

There is also an important thing, such as a “wow-factor.” Tell your readers what is so special about you. It is something that will help you become remembered. However, just like in the previous sections, make sure to provide only relevant examples. If you consider yourself exceptionally beautiful, it is probably not the best point, unless you are applying for a beauty contest.

7. Concentrate on the most relevant skills

However talented you may be, do not just list everything you are capable of. But rather try to assess which skills relate the most to the course you are applying to, and then show how you have developed and improved them. Do not forget about specific examples that may include:

  • The projects and assignments, accompanied by the description of your personal role in them.

  • Your specific achievements, and the way they improved your self-confidence.

  • Sport, music, or drama you participated in, and the lessons you learned from your role and experience as a team-player.

  • The awards you received, and the challenges you had to overcome to get them.

  • Your part-time jobs or volunteering, including extra responsibilities you have taken on, the observations you made, and the skills you demonstrated.

8. Showcase your critical thinking

Being a successful student implies the ability to think independently and analytically. If you are able to demonstrate that you already possess these skills, it will be your big plus point. But again, you should provide respective evidence: for instance, you may explain how your previous subjects, assignments, or additional studies helped you start thinking more critically.

9. What is your long-term plan?

Remember that you are planning nothing less than your future career. Therefore, it will sound thoughtful if you refer to your longer term goals. If you have a specific path in your mind, you should tell the readers about it in brief, including how exactly you plan to achieve your goals, and whether there are any interesting approaches you can select. However, in this part, you should not just outline generic and obvious factors, but rather try to show your individuality and imagination.

Do not just say that you want to become a journalist. It will never make you different from other candidates. If you cannot determine your future goals yet, you can speak about what you are looking forward to at the university, what you want to get from your course and university life. Being honest is much better than trying to hide behind the sweeping phrases.

10. Keep it positive

At the very beginning, writing your personal statement may seem difficult, but you should not panic. There are numerous ways how you can get help writing personal statement. You should remember to focus on your strengths and enthusiasm for the course, and speak positively about yourself.


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