There can be a degree of speculation regarding paragraphs in personal statements.
Institutions and organisations often require a specific formatting style, especially concerning upload protocols, which can sometimes confuse applicants.
So, whilst there is no single rule for all applications, here’s a guide to whether personal statements should have paragraphs…
Personal statements should always have paragraphs. On average, a single page of typed text should contain between 4 and 6 well-written and logically structured paragraphs, and each paragraph should be focused on a single point, although a range of illustrative examples can be used.
The provider or employer you are applying to, such as UCAS or Common App, often requests that you upload your personal statement to meet a specific line count.
That can mean that you may end up condensing your paragraphs into a single block, but it’s always worth structuring your statement in a paragraph format as you write it.
Here’s an example of how structuring your personal statement into specific paragraphs can deepen its impact and effectiveness…
Your First Paragraph Should Engage The Reader
A successful opening personal statement paragraph will always engage the reader if it demonstrates elements that reflect your individuality, the quality of your academic or practical experiences and your suitability in relation to the demands of the course.
It can be challenging to fit these elements into a single paragraph, but it will be both engaging and compelling if done concisely.
You can demonstrate your individuality by giving the reader an insight into your background and personality.
You might begin by outlining an inspiring personal experience or achievement or explaining how you discovered an initial interest in the course or role you are applying for.
The important thing is to make this element of your paragraph relevant to the application by explaining just how it adds to your suitability.
You shouldn’t simply list your academic achievements or repeat factual information about qualifications included elsewhere in your application.
However, including a passage that conveys your academic or practical suitability, whether through a qualification you gained outside of formal education or a course you attended in preparation for your application, adds significant value and can be highly compelling.
Similarly, it is good practice to include a passage in the first paragraph of your personal statement that makes a clear link between a skill or experience you possess and how it connects directly to the demands of a course or role.
If a course requires candidates to be able to evidence independent research skills, then including a sentence that illustrates your strengths in this field will allow an admissions tutor or employer to regard you as a suitable fit immediately.
You can find a detailed post on how to write a personal statement introduction here, but to help illustrate the style, there’s an example below…
Middle Paragraphs Should Be Logically Structured
Let’s assume that you are writing a standard six-paragraph personal statement, even if, ultimately, you later condense these paragraphs to meet a specific line or character count.
Writing in paragraphs as you develop your document is vital, not just because it allows you to visually navigate your document more accurately, but because it allows you to structure the content logically.
The four middle paragraphs need to achieve three specific goals if your personal statement is to be successful. They must evidence your relevant knowledge by using appropriate terminology and referring to practitioners, leaders, challenges or advances in the sector.
They should give examples of how you have investigated your field of interest outside of the formal academic curriculum, and they should allow you to show how you have developed a range of skills required for the course itself.
Personal statements are most compelling when the reader can see aspects of these three elements included in every paragraph.
By connecting your knowledge, motivation, practical activities and skills together within each paragraph, the links between each are strengthened and repeated, and the impression given to the reader is far more impressive.
Here’s a table that outlines how the three elements could be included across four paragraphs…
|Subject Knowledge||Evidence of Investigation||Transferable Skills|
Your Academic Profile
|Use of online or IRL libraries or resources|
Following up on an academic topic with wider reading
Ability to research accurately and concisely
Knowledge of contemporary issues and practitioners
Courses attended, online or IRL
|Teamwork and cooperation|
Work Shadowing or Placements
|Personal experience of the industry/sector|
Contextualisation of academic theory into practice
|Application process and interviews|
Evidence of the value of the experience
Understanding of IT and GDPR
Steps to Achieve your Ambitions
|Evidence of industry and sector knowledge in relation to your current level|
Understanding of potential future developments
Videos and social media sources
Reading research and drawing original conclusions
|Informed creative and academic synthesis|
Your Final Paragraph Should Outline Wider Skills
It can be tempting to write the final paragraph of your personal statement as a conclusion, summing up the previous content and making a final declaration of suitability.
You should avoid writing your last paragraph in this style, as in most cases, a conclusive paragraph fails to add new information or further affirm your suitability.
You’ll often be working to a word or character limit and won’t have the space to repeat content.
The Admissions team at Cardiff University phrase it very clearly…
“Don’t waffle – make sure that all information noted is relevant and you show how skills learnt from hobbies/outside interests are transferable to your chosen degree”.Cardiff University Admissions Team
You should ensure that your final personal statement paragraph reiterates your academic and personal suitability. It should also contain some evidence of wider skills and experiences that can be used to support your application.
Admissions tutors are looking for candidates who not only evidence academic suitability but who will cope with the social and practical demands of a more independent Higher Education.
For example, you might include a passage detailing your enjoyment of Taekwondo. Perhaps, as well as teaching you the value of self-discipline and communication, it allowed you to improve your time-management skills as you could fit tournaments around the demands of a job or revision.
Equally, explaining how participating in the school debating club or volunteering at a local charity shop has allowed you to develop your self-confidence and critical-thinking skills would be a valuable inclusion if those skills were particularly relevant to the course.
You can check out my post on how to write about transferable skills here.
Towards the end of the final paragraph, it is essential to outline the value of your potential contribution to the organisation you are applying for. This reassures the reader that not only will you be a strong fit for the demands of the course or role, but that you will positively add to the community.
Perhaps you are looking forward to working as a volunteer counsellor on campus, or maybe your industry experience will be something you will enjoy passing on to your peers?
Showing an admissions officer how their organisation will benefit from your involvement gets you a lot closer to an offer.
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
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