Whether you are filling in an undergraduate or postgraduate application you will need to write an outstanding personal statement. If you are looking for some advanced tips to improve your personal statement, then you’ve come to the right place!
Don’t Tell Them. Show Them.
The most important tip that will improve your personal statement is this:
Don’t tell them you’re great.
Show them you’re great!
You may have fallen into the trap that many students fall into, which is simply stating that you have a passion for a subject rather than proving it. Observe the difference between these two personal statements. We’ve provided a personal statement for economics, but the principles apply to any subject.
“I have a deep-seated, lifelong passion for economics. Ever since I was four and my mother first took me to the local market, I wanted to be an economist. Mathematics and economics are my strongest subjects at school, and I’m especially suited to reading graphs, which I think makes me well-suited to economics. There is nothing that I want more than to study economics at your prestigious university and I believe that my hard work towards economics at school has provided me with the basic knowledge, analysis and evaluative skills that will set up me up very well for success at the next level of economics.”
On your first read, the above personal statement might sound OK. It is positive, enthusiastic and mentions the subject – all of which are important. But look deeper and you’ll notice what is wrong. The candidate keeps saying that they have a passion, but it is clear (to the trained eye) that they have no real understanding of what economics involves. Instead, you need to show your passion and understanding. Now compare example 1 with example 2 below:
“In the long run we are all dead” said Keynes. I first heard this sentence when I was four, but it was not until I began reading Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations last year that I understood the criticism. For almost a century, economists focused on maintaining long-run objectives and trend growth, but had no say in how to influence the economy when it began to shrink. This is of high importance today, when Keynes’ alternative fiscal ideas have essentially fuelled unparalleled debt to GDP ratios to combat slowdowns, and now we are starting to question where this short-sighted approach to crises may have consequences that burden future generations with austerity. I enjoy studying such differences of opinion, and how theories go out of fashion, often to be revised and revisited centuries later. This is why I want to pursue a career in economics beginning at your prestigious university. Keynes may have been that in the long run we are all dead. But what about our children?
The second is a more insightful personal statement. It uses relevant terms, famous quotes, economists, texts and most importantly, analysis. This analysis shows the application of economic theories to current affairs. It also explores opposing views and critical thinking. At no point does the student say that they are good at economics, or that they want to study it. They do not need to – it is clear from their writing.
The Expert’s Opinion: What does an Admissions Officer Look For?
Following on from this, we asked an admissions officer to give their feedback on the second example answer. Here are their tips on how to improve your personal statement.
1. Identify The Subject
Straight away, it is clear that this applicant wants to study their particular subject. It is important to state this early on in a personal statement.
Room for improvement: If a personal statement is not clearly targeted to a subject, the admissions officer can become confused and even question whether the statement is relevant. In the UK, this is especially difficult for applicants who wish to apply to niche courses. This is because each university degree may have a different course title. For example,’ Finance, Accounting and Economics’ at one university, but ‘Economics and Management’ at another. It is important to target the common themes of these subjects, such as economics in this case, and particularly focus on them.
2. Show Specific Subject Knowledge
It is clear that this applicant wants to study economics. Not only have they written about two economists, they have included a strong quote, a relevant book, and key terms. This applicant already sounds like a student of economics and that is key to a successful personal statement. No matter what subject you want to study you must include quotes from significant critics in your field.
Room for improvement: The examples used in this personal statement are very well-known and are popular choices for applicants. Picking less popular quotes can make your personal statement stand out from the crowd. However, there is a balance. If you go too niche, the admissions officer may not have heard of them either! This will require you to go into more detail in your statement about the theories you explore. Also, starting with a quote can be very cliché, but here it works because it is then analysed.
3. Include Real World Application
We mentioned this in our previous blog on postgraduate personal statements but it’s worth revisiting. One way to improve your personal statement is to demonstrate the real-world application of your subject. In the second example, the applicant has analysed recent economic slowdowns. This shows a combination of both academic theory and the practical application of these theories. When writing your personal statement think of how the academic study of your subject will have been affected by history and current affairs.
Room for improvement: A recent figure could boost this real-world application of this subject. Pick a statistic from an official source and include the reference to this source in your personal statement. An example of this could be: “High debt to GDP ratios, currently at 87.7% (Office of National Statistics, 2016).”
4. Analyse Your Topic Critically
As this personal statement is only one paragraph, it is difficult for the student to go into depth. However, they attempted to compare neoclassical economics to Keynesian economics. This is a common debate but the applicant writes like a degree-level student. To an admissions tutor, this student would seem to be less of a risky proposition for any university. It is clear that they are motivated to learn and already have the skills to do well. To improve your personal statement, show an understanding of different points of view. This will demonstrate that you are certain the subject you are applying for is right for you.
Room for improvement: The difference of opinions in this paragraph could be made clearer. To improve your personal statement clearly define any opposing viewpoints from the critics you quote.
5. Use a Binding Theme or Personal Narrative
In the second example, a common theme binds the whole paragraph together. It begins and ends with reference to the quote. Then it uses the opposing theories to challenge the short run versus long run economic positions. This makes the paragraph flow much better. Every line links nicely together and feels relevant, which makes it easier to read.
Room for improvement: None. This structure of the paragraph is clear. There are no sudden changes in tone and each idea links to the next idea. This is one of the simplest ways that you can improve your personal statement. Make sure it is easy to read.
I hope that you found these tips helpful. Just keep condensing your work and linking similar ideas together to create really insightful, powerful paragraphs. If you feel like you need a helping hand, The Profs is here to help! We have admissions tutors who are ready to help you improve your personal statement. So why not get in touch with our friendly team?