Ideas for Personal Statements: An Expert Approach

Searching for great ideas for your personal statement can be time-consuming and frustrating, especially when you don’t know where to begin.

This post gives you the tools to generate some highly successful content, whatever your background, location or application type.

So, what are some expert ideas for personal statements?

Expert ideas for personal statements include evidencing wider reading beyond the academic curriculum and connecting your personal experiences to the demands of the course. You should also link your strengths with the application specification and stand out as an individual and motivated student.

Once you’ve recognised that these four ideas will allow your personal statement to reflect your suitability and convey your individuality to an admissions tutor or employer, it’s time to understand the details of each.

I’ve explained each of these four ideas in more detail below…

Evidence Your Wider Reading and Research

One of the most compelling elements you can include in a personal statement is evidence of your wider reading and research.

Admissions tutors and course leaders value an applicant who can give relevant and detailed examples of studying beyond the set curriculum. That shows that you have a motivated, academic mindset that you’re intellectually curious.

It also indicates that you’ve got a genuine engagement with a particular subject or field of study.

This can be challenging to achieve when you’re already working hard to balance your studies alongside any co-curricular activities you are interested in. However, according to UCAS, the ability to evidence wider research is a primary factor in an applicant being offered a place on a university course.

Consequently, it’s worth including wider reading and research as part of your regular study programme.

You can learn more about using the Pomodoro Technique for study productivity here or click the link below.

Powerful Sources of Wider Reading and Research

Successful examples of wider reading and research include attending live talks, lectures and presentations relevant to your choice of course.

You can search here for a wide range of opportunities. Being able to write about the personal value of these experiences and what you learned, and why it is relevant to your application is vitally important.

Depending on your area of interest, you should also consider reading relevant industry publications such as The Economist or The Nursing Times.

Specifically, you should focus on identifying key practitioners in the field alongside contemporary advances in and challenges faced by the sector.

Highly successful candidates will also offer informed opinions based on their research, strengthening the analysis within the application and limiting too much description or listing.

Online libraries, courses and other related sites are excellent resources for deepening your knowledge before evidencing it in your personal statement.

MOOCS are also a fast and engaging way to build up your wider reading, whilst sources like YouTube are helpful too.

Be careful to broaden your reading and research sources, however, as admissions tutors are looking for breadth and engagement with sources considered to be traditionally scholarly and which mirror the resources you’ll be using on your course.

Link Your Experiences to the Course Requirements

A critical factor in determining the success of a personal statement is the degree to which the applicant’s personal experiences are directly linked to the demands of the course.

If an admissions tutor can see an obvious connection between how you’ve prepared for the course and the published course requirements, you are far more likely to be successful.

It can be challenging to achieve this without making your personal statement sound like a list or a boast, but you can do it well if you approach the task correctly.

Firstly, list all the keywords that feature in the course description. You can see an example below, with some of the keywords highlighted. You are looking for words that describe the kind of student that will flourish on the course…

Connect Your Experiences with These Descriptors

Next, list the experiences you have had within education that can be used to connect with some of those personal descriptors.

You may have gone on a field trip that required you to demonstrate resilience and physical stamina. Perhaps you joined a group or club at school that gave you the chance to develop your confidence in public speaking?

Don’t write more than a line or two of notes here; just make sure you write down the experience and the connection with the course requirements.

Lastly, make a similar list of personal experiences outside of education, and link them in the same way. These could include hobbies, sports, holidays and summer camps.

What’s important is the connection to a course descriptor. Can you illustrate your suitability with an actual example? If so, it’s worth including in your personal statement.

If you’re looking for some advice on getting started with your personal statement, check out my post here.

Clarify Your Relevant Skills and Strengths

This idea for a personal statement relates to your academic qualities.

Whilst your exam results, predicted grades and references play a large part in demonstrating that you have the necessary academic ability to be successful on the course, outlining those strengths in your personal statement is also essential.

You should start by considering ways in which you can evidence the following core academic skills and strengths:

The ability to learn independently. Being able to reflect on your learning, complete the demands of your courses and develop academic work outside of the classroom is vital in Higher Education. Your personal statement should reflect specific examples of when you have achieved this during your studies.

Cooperative learning and teamwork. Joint seminars, collaborative learning and group projects play a prominent role in university study. A course leader will want to see evidence that you can work successfully with others (and support them too).

Subject-relevant vocabulary. Without sounding like a textbook full of unoriginal ideas, you should ensure that you include vocabulary relevant to your application in your personal statement. Being able to reference key terminology within the context of your own experiences of learning or practical engagement is vital.

Check out my post here for a detailed guide to writing about skills in your personal statement.

Highlight Your Individuality and Potential

The last great idea for your personal statement is to make sure that it is written in your voice and demonstrates your individuality and unique potential.

Well-meaning teachers and advisors will often stress that you need to follow a particular formula or set a particularly formal tone when you write your personal statement.

This is only partly true.

What’s important is that you include the most relevant and necessary content, that your personal statement is accurate and compelling, and that it conveys your personality.

You’ll stand out, and admissions tutors can be confident that your application is original and genuine.

You can achieve this by using the kind of language and vocabulary that comes naturally if it clearly and concisely conveys your point.

You can also include anecdotal material and personal experiences, influences and memories, as long as they deepen the reader’s understanding of the context of your application.

Writing about your ambitions from an informed perspective can also indicate to the admissions team that your potential links clearly with the outcomes of the course, making you an obvious fit.

You can check out some great careers resources here.

If you need more help developing your personal statement, check out my comprehensive post featuring a range of advice and examples.

Don’t forget that you can also grab a copy of my Personal Statement Template eBook, which includes perfect templates for writing the definitive personal statement, whatever your application.

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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