Beat Your Personal Statement Deadline With These 3 Hacks

Whether you’re just a few hours away from submitting your personal statement or want to plan your application in detail a few months in advance, a key aspect of any successful submission for education or employment is beating the deadline.

But what are the most effective strategies for beating your own personal statement deadline and ensuring a hassle-free application?

A personal statement deadline is the date or time by which you must submit your application. To guarantee your personal statement is written by the deadline, you must be fully informed of the process, plan your content carefully, edit with precision and gather informed feedback prior to submission.

In this post, I’ll make sure you have the tools you need to develop a compelling personal statement with three deadline-beating hacks.

Beating a Personal Statement Deadline: No Content

There’s nothing more daunting than looking at a blank page while the clock is ticking.

If your personal statement deadline is approaching and you’ve got no content at all, don’t get stressed. Just take a moment, gather your thoughts, clear your workspace of distractions and don’t overthink the writing process.

All you need to do to begin is come up with nine quick ideas divided into three groups of three.

I can guarantee that once you’ve made some notes under these headings, you’ll be well on your way to writing a well-structured, relevant and successful personal statement, whatever your deadline.

Check out my great post on how to create exceptional, hassle free last-minute personal statements, or if you’ve got a bit more time, focus on how to start a personal statement here.

You can also download my totally free template for nailing your personal statement here, or hit the banner below.

Free Undergraduate Personal Statement Template

Here are the three headings you’ll need to focus on if you’re going to create content fast and beat your personal statement deadline…

3 Experiences That Inspired Your Interest in a Subject

The first thing to do when you are faced with any kind of deadline and you need to generate content fast is to think of three sources of inspiration for the interest you have in a particular subject or role.

The ‘rules’ about what to include are simple:

  1. Did the experience or interaction inspire a specific interest?
  2. Can you link that interest, passion or connection with a relevant aspect of the course, subject or job?

Here’s a good example of a sentence that follows both those rules. It shows a specific starting point for an interest in the subject and connects that interest directly to the course:

Reading ‘The Art of Making Paperclips’ by J Watson inspired a lasting interest in the automation of manufacturing processes, and has compelled me to gain a better understanding of ways in which AI can be employed in mass production systems as part of an undergraduate study of Game Theory.

Successful Candidate

This example is less convincing, as it isn’t specific or relevant:

Unconvincing Personal Statement Sentence

Great examples of experiences that might have inspired an interest in a role or course could be:

  • A personal connection with someone with knowledge in this subject or field (maybe a parent, family friend, teacher or peer)
  • Books you have read that have awakened an interest in the field or inspired you to follow up your knowledge or understanding
  • Lectures, short courses or online tutorials that have inspired you
  • Celebrities, personalities or volunteers who have sparked an interest in you
  • Employment, voluntary work or hobbies and interests that have made an impact on you (these are excellent as they often indicate a growing engagement with a particular subject or career path, and this sense of foundation appeals to admissions teams and employers)

Remember, you only need to identify three (although if you’ve got more, great). Work out what’s inspired you, how that connects with the next step you want to take and include as much detail as you can.

3 Ways Your Studies Have Prepared You Academically

Once you’ve got your inspiration and motivation sorted, you just need to make a few notes about how the subjects you’ve studied have prepared you for the job or course you’re applying to. 

Don’t worry if, when you start to think about it, it seems as though you haven’t got many connections; you’ll find more than you might think once you start looking.

Try to develop content for three ways in which your studies have helped prepare you for the next step you want to take, even if they don’t seem directly related to your application.

You might think about:

  • Specific subject knowledge you’ve gained that relates directly to the course, role or subject you are interested in. If you can identify several different examples of these, so much the better. Just make sure to use subject-specific vocabulary as often as you can, to better convey your level of understanding.
  • General academic knowledge that might be of relevance to your application but is not directly connected to it. For example, a good knowledge of Mathematics can be valuable for an Architecture course, and understanding the fundamentals of Classical Civilisation will help you with an Art History application.
  • Academic or study skills that you have gained through your educational career and which will be of value to you as you take the step into higher education or employment. Examples of these are the ability to successfully study independently, the capacity to meet deadlines, knowledge of academic writing, research and referencing and the capacity to accurately perform and record practical work.

You can discover how a wide range of transferable skills can be used in your personal statement here, or check out these powerful personal statement strategies that will all help you create a killer application.

Once you’ve identified your three key academic skills, you’ll need to write each one up by following this model:

  1. Explain in a single sentence what the skill or piece of knowledge is (either something highly subject-specific, a more general piece of academic knowledge or a broader skill).
  2. In two sentences, explain in greater detail how you have used this skill or knowledge successfully and the value of doing so.
  3. Lastly, take a single sentence to explain how having that particular skill makes you a suitable candidate – how does it add value to your application, and how does it connect with the specifics of the course or role you are applying for?

Do this for each of your examples, and the middle section of your personal statement will be well on the way to being completed.

3 Things You Would Like to Gain From The Experience

Last of all, you’ll need to make notes about three things that you would like to gain from the role or the experience of studying on the course.

This shows that you have understood the potential course content or job description, have clear goals and are likely to add value to the institution to which you are applying.

If an admissions team or employer can see that your goals and ambitions match what the course has to offer, you will be far more likely to have a successful application.

What might you hope to gain from the experience? Well, break it down into academic, personal and social elements, and pick at least one example from each area.

The following table might give you some useful suggestions:

Academic GainSubject-specific knowledge and skills that will prepare you for a related career or for further studyDeveloping a stronger understanding of a particular passion or interest to satisfy an impulseRecognised qualifications that will add value to your portfolio and enable you to practice in a specific field
Personal GainDeveloping the contacts and networks that will allow you to thrive within the industry you are pursuingThe opportunity to act as a mentor to other students, or to contribute positively to student lifeBecoming more independent and resilient as a result of the university or workplace experience
Social GainGrowing in confidence in social situations, communal living and managing relationshipsContributing to a community and environment by applying your unique skills and experiencesDeveloping your interests through membership of clubs and societies that broaden your views and opinions
Writing About What You Want to Gain From University or Employment

Once you have established your three goals, you’ll have enough content for a first draft of your personal statement. Don’t worry if you think your personal statement is too short (you can find out more about this in my post here).

If you’re facing an imminent personal statement deadline, it is far better to send in a short application than to miss the deadline.

Beating a Personal Statement Deadline: Some Content

Hopefully, you’re not starting entirely from scratch, and you’ve already got some content for your personal statement.

If that’s the case, you might be struggling to get all of that content formatted into a great structure or be unsure about how to add to or edit your examples.

With one eye on the clock, here are three quick ways to make the best use of the content you already have…

Be Precise in Your use of Examples and Quotes

The first thing you can do to improve the content you already have is to make sure that all your references, titles, quotes and named individuals are included accurately.

I know this might seem counter-intuitive if you are up against the clock, but even if your personal statement runs a little short, if the key pieces of information are accurate, it will go a long way to giving an admissions officer or employer the confidence to make you an offer.

My top tips for using examples and quotes in a personal statement are:

  • Double-check the spelling of books, people, places and other references. The chances are that the person reading your personal statement will almost certainly know if you have got these wrong.
  • Make sure quotes are specific, relevant and not overly common. No one wants to read the same quotes over and over again. You might even decide that quotes are unnecessary, and if you feel as though you are using them to pad out your writing, then you should absolutely cut them, as they are likely to do more harm than good. My post on using quotes effectively gives you all the information you need.
  • Make sure that any references you include are used to reinforce your own achievements, knowledge or ambitions. If you are writing about someone else at the expense of yourself, you are getting the balance wrong.

Below is a good example of an effective way to refer to the work of another person in support of your own application. The focus stays on the applicant’s achievements and intentions, reinforced by their evident knowledge…

Effective use of Example in a Personal Statement

Follow a Structure for Peace of Mind

If you’re trying to manage your content, but the pressure of a personal statement deadline is making it difficult for you to decide how and what to include, then a simple structure is best.

There’s no harm in ordering your content in a clear and logical way, especially when time is not on your side. This probably isn’t the time to be innovative!

You can find out about paragraph structure in personal statements here, or for ease, just follow this easy structure:

Paragraph 1Evidence your academic credentials, and explain how the academic knowledge you have will be of value on the course or in employment. Make the examples specific to the subject.
Paragraph 2Evidence your academic credentials, explain how the academic knowledge you have will be of value on the course or in employment. Make the examples specific to the subject.
Paragraph 3Explain how you have explored your subject or interests outside of the curriculum through work, volunteering, additional courses, wider reading, discussion, online research or practical engagement.
Paragraph 4Outline your transferable skills, personal qualities and wider interests. How do other aspects of your life combine to make you a suitable candidate?
Paragraph 5Consider both what you have to offer the institution and what you hope to gain from studying or working with them. What value will you add to their organisation, and what advantage or outcome are you hoping for in return?
Quick and Effective Personal Statement Structure

Gather all your notes, put them into one of these headings, order them within each section, and you’re all set.

Edit Your Content and Make it Compelling

If you’ve got some content, but the personal statement deadline is approaching, one of the most effective things you can do is stop trying to add more elements and sharpen the content you already have in order to make sure that it is compelling and effective.

The golden rule here is not to waffle. Make your points as immediately and concisely as you can without losing detail.

Finding out how to check your personal statement properly is a great place to start, but nothing beats taking the time to edit down your content with a sharp cutting knife! A reader will always prefer a shorter, clearer piece of writing than an elaborate or cluttered one.

The example above seems over-written, and whilst the writer appears keen and informed, this passage could be rewritten into a single concise sentence without losing the key elements.

Have a go at rewriting this yourself, or check out the improved, edited version below…

Once you’ve checked your references, structured your content and made sure that you’ve edited out repetitive or unnecessary content, you might want to go back and add more elements, especially if you feel that you have missed key evidence that will support your application.

You can check out a range of personal statement examples here, or simply focus on adding content that fits into the simple structure above.

Once you’ve got your content set, a really helpful way to ensure that you meet your personal statement deadline is to use some proof-reading software like Grammarly. The free version is powerful enough to catch all kinds of errors in spelling, grammar or punctuation and will help you to create paragraphs that flow instinctively and that compel the reader.

You can find out more about Grammarly’s free offer here, or hit the banner.

Beating a Personal Statement Deadline: Too Much Content

Ask One Person to Give Final Feedback

Last of all, you might find that as your personal statement deadline approaches, you realise that you’ve got far too much content and you need to edit it down in order to meet the word count. 

Don’t worry – there are three quick hacks you can use to edit your content down to size.

Ask One Person to Give Final Feedback If you’re in a rush, the most effective way to edit your content down is to ask a single person to read through your personal statement and give you some feedback.

You can discover everything you need to know about getting great feedback in my post here.

Go Back to Basics With Your ABC’s

If you need to cut content fast, then the simplest way to do it is to use the ABC method.

For every piece of content in your draft, you need to ask yourself:

Does the point you are making relate directly to a specific Activity that is of value to your application? The activity might be something like work experience, volunteering, a course you have taken, a qualification or an aspect of study.

If it doesn’t, you should think about cutting it.

Does the point you are making show the Benefit of a particular skill or experience to you? What have you gained from having undertaken it?  If not, develop the content or edit it out.

Does the point you are making relate directly to the Course for which you are applying? If what you’ve written doesn’t evidence your suitability for a specific subject, then don’t include it.

Give Yourself Time to Proofread

Even when you are rushing to finish and meet your personal statement deadline, you need to spend at least a little of your available time proofreading your final draft. It doesn’t need to take long, and if you’ve followed the steps above, the chances are you won’t need to make very many changes at all.

However, your application is always worth a final check, as it can be exactly this kind of attention to detail that will get your personal statement generating offers for you.

But what are the best strategies for proofreading your personal statement in a fast, effective way, especially if the deadline is approaching?

  • Print your personal statement and proofread a paper copy. It can often be easier to check your writing in a printed version, especially if you’ve gone a little ‘screen-blind’. If you’re planning on doing this, then using a ruler to help you keep your place is another helpful strategy.
  • Proofread your personal statement from the end to the beginning. That way, you won’t fall into the trap of reading the words and not thinking about them. Just look for errors rather than sense and flow.
  • Look for one kind of error at a time rather than every kind of error at once. Do one pass for spelling, another for punctuation, another for grammar, another for formatting, another for flow, and so on.
  • Make sure that your personal statement meets the word or character count if one is set. If you need to re-work your content to meet this target, that’s fine, but make sure you proofread again after you make changes.
  • Once you’ve carried out your final proofread, have a break and proofread your personal statement again, just to be sure.

It’s not the end of the world if your personal statement gets submitted with a few errors, so don’t get overly anxious about it. If you are struggling to meet the deadline, then it is much better to send your personal statement in, even if it isn’t perfect.

Missing the deadline limits your chances far more than sending in a personal statement that still has a few errors in it. If you are pressed for time, it’s a much better option.

Good luck with your personal statement, and don’t forget to contact me if you’d like some 1-1 support. You’ve got this! D

Research and content verified by Personal Statement Planet.

David Hallen

I've worked in the Further Education and University Admissions sector for nearly 20 years as a teacher, department head, Head of Sixth Form, UCAS Admissions Advisor, UK Centre Lead and freelance personal statement advisor, editor and writer. And now I'm here for you...

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