Starting Your Personal Statement: What Not To Do

Learning Tips, Writing Tips

Exams are looming for many students, so it may come as a shock to find that there’s something else to start thinking about: your personal statement! If you’re considering applying to Oxbridge, your personal statement needs to be submitted by October – which means the summer months are vital for whipping it into shape.

When working on your personal statement, it’s easy to focus on crafting the perfect opening line – a process that can take a lot of time, and cause a lot of stress! Whilst it’s a good idea to make your introduction memorable, resist the urge to overthink: you have plenty more words with which to make an impression on the reader.

Sometimes it’s best to think about what not to do, rather than what you should be doing. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of things to avoid when composing the introduction to your personal statement.

1. Steer clear of overused openings.

2018 marked UCAS’ first year of utilising new software to assess personal statements. Their review of the data concluded that not only were a whopping 4,000 personal statements plagiarised (a big no-no, obviously!), but also there were ten very common opening lines:

  1. ‘From a young age, I have (always) been [interested in/fascinated by]…’
  2. ‘For as long as I can remember, I have…’
  3. ‘I am applying for this course because…’
  4. ‘I have always been interested in…’
  5. ‘Throughout my life, I have always enjoyed…’
  6. ‘Reflecting on my educational experiences…’
  7. ‘[Subject] is a very challenging and demanding [career/course]’
  8. ‘Academically, I have always been…’
  9. ‘I have always wanted to pursue a career in…’
  10. ‘I have always been passionate about…’

Admission tutors read thousands of personal statements each year, so the likelihood is that no statement is going to be a complete surprise to them. However, you can make things a little easier by avoiding sentences that are completely overused, like the ones mentioned above.

2. Don’t quote – use your own voice.

If you’ve come across a turn of phrase that you find particularly inspiring, or if you want to demonstrate how much you’ve read, you might be tempted to start your personal statement with a quote. Don’t. Chances are someone else will have already used that quote; and, more importantly, the admissions tutor wants to learn about you. They’re probably already familiar with what Chaucer has to say about women, but they’re not familiar with you: your background, your voice, what you’ve got to say about your subject and experiences.

If you really want to use a quote, steer clear of the big hitters. Choose a lesser-known expert in your chosen field and find an epigraph that you’ve found truly inspiring, or which really captures your enthusiasm for the subject.

3. Don’t be long-winded.

Sticking to the personal statement word count can be the most difficult task of all – there’s so much you wish to get across, but relatively few words in which to say it all! As such, you really don’t want to pad out your introduction: this is the place to be both clear and concise.

Resist the urge to use hyperbolic language or academic jargon in your opening sentence, and play around with it until you’ve communicated what you wish to say in as few words as possible. Successful opening sentences tend to be succinct. Being verbose will not be helpful: less is more!

4. Avoid joking around.

What’s more memorable than humour, you might think? Perhaps you have the perfect pun or joke to start your statement with. However, humour is a very particular thing – and there’s no guarantee that the person reading your statement will share yours. In addition, the most important thing to convey in your personal statement is your enthusiasm for and dedication to the course you have chosen: starting with a joke could undermine your commitment to academic study.

5. Don’t start with your opening sentence at all…

If you’re not sure how to start your personal statement, don’t spend ages agonising over it. Instead, leave it until later on – or even last of all – and revisit once your statement has started to take shape. You may find that a fantastic opening line comes to mind as you’re writing other sections: it’s amazing how the human brain works! In addition, as the rest of the piece comes together, it might be easier to decide what you would like to focus on in your introduction.

Our expert tutoring team comprises senior teachers and examiners, all of whom have considerable experience with the university admissions process. Please get in touch with Mentor Education today to find out how our online tutors can help your child get into their first-choice university. We look forward to hearing from you!

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